Jayme McLellan, founder and director of Civilian Art Projects in Washington, D.C., began her career as an artist in 1996 with an exhibit in her house. Since then, she has organized 120 exhibitions of over 1000 artists, sold hundreds of thousands of dollars of artwork for other artists, received over 80 press reviews and participated in a dozen art fairs. She has taught 10 college and grad level courses at The Corcoran College of Art + Design, MICA and St. Mary’s to name a few. She has traveled from Canada to Belgrade and back again in support of artists and has loved “almost every minute of it.”
Now she comes full circle with an exhibition of her own artwork Jealousy of Clouds, featuring an installation with photography and video work. It runs June 14 through July 27 at Heiner Contemporary, located on 1675 Wisconsin Ave. in Washington, D.C.
The title of the exhibit Jealousy of Clouds refers to “desiring the unobtainable,” clouds as subject, and the inaccessible combined with jealousy, Buddhist mindfulness and letting go. The work is informed by a Buddhist fable by Thích Nhất Hạnh in which a stream is jealous of the clouds. McLellan explains, “This is a tale about opening up, letting go, and being. But it is also about jealousy and control. We all seek to control the uncontrollable. Tame the untamable. And in doing so, we crush a bit of our own wildness and freedom. The trick is to be able to master yourself and your own need to control and own.” At the end of Nhất Hạnh’s story, the river learns “there is nothing to chase after-we can go back to ourselves, enjoy our breathing, our smiling, ourselves, and our beautiful environment.”
The sea and clouds have been subject to many throughout the course of art history. However, McLellan finds a deeper meaning and concept in the work and represents the fable in an installation featuring text, video and photographs. The images are captured with a digital SLR and smart phone during many of her walks and encounters with the sky. The point of view is consistent, taken from the ground up. The images are culled from many locations during her travels and include Mexico, Miami, D.C., among other locations.
Recently, I had the opportunity to interview McLellan and find out exactly how she has managed to produce the exhibit and honor her work while maintaining a busy gallery.
EBR: Tell me bit about your background and how you got into being an art dealer in the first place.
JM: I don’t like the word dealer and I don’t like the term stable of artists. Dealer to me implies a car dealership, a casino, or someone who sells drugs. Everything I’ve done in my career has started small and built into something larger and it has grown based on the relationships I’ve developed with friends. From showing my own work to working at DCAC to starting Transformer — it is all connected. From working with artists in the community, Transformer was born. From Transformer came Civilian. The artists that I worked with at Transformer needed a gallery. So I created one for them. Teaching also came from this work, from what I had learned before and whom I had met and connected with. My work was known by friends and colleagues, and they thought I would be a fit for my work at the Corcoran. In my opinion Civilian is a social practice project to see if the community can support a gallery. And so far, it’s working.
EBR: You’re a busy woman! How do you find time to work?
JM: I’m not really that busy, or I guess a better way to put it is, I’m as busy as I can stand to be. Sure I take on too much and become exhausted and overwhelmed but then I rest. I have run myself into the ground before and climbing out of that hole is tough. I’m trying to be better about balance and to take the time I need and know when it is there to be taken. Does that make sense? Some times are times to work really, really hard. And other times, you can feel there’s a bit of a lull and it is an OK time to rest and replenish. Part of living, part of creating the life that works for you, is understanding the need for boundaries and barriers. You can’t say yes to everything and expect to be good at everything. You have to self-select what you can and can’t do. It’s a constant to be vigilant in one’s pursuit of a balanced life.
EBR: Please tell me more about the work and what motivated the exhibition?
JM: My work in the arts, as an artist, curator, teacher, administrator, activist, all of it comes from the same place — that our lives are fairly short. What do you want your life to mean? The world is so beautiful, and so [messed] up at the same time. I wish I could shake people and say, “We are only here for a minute. Make it count people. Make it count.” And I think that because of this reality, people must dissociate. It’s just too much to handle — the sheer impermanence of all of it. They must burrow into the mundane tasks of life, the every day. And it is so easy to get twisted and myopic — to disengage with the big picture, the reality of who we are. We are organic life forms capable of good and bad. We are here for a minute. We are as impermanent as clouds yet we have petty jealousies and desires that ruin our lives, or create small prisons when in reality we are pretty damn free. I’m not immune to this. It’s as much a comment on my own self as it is on the human condition. We are all fallible, even the best of us. Buddhism teaches detachment. We will all grow old. We will all suffer. We will all die. We will all lose the ones we love. Why not just try to enjoy this life? Thich Nhat Hanh says something like “the miracle is to walk on earth.” And if you think about that long enough it makes a lot of sense.
EBR: What’s next for Jayme?
JM: More of the same. Teaching, running the gallery, curatorial gigs, more travel. Much more travel. I’m working on launching a new project in the spring. A sort of “dream initiative” to help make my dreams come true and other people’s dreams come true. I’m also committing to a balance of administrative and creative work. If I do a bunch of accounting, I’m going to also do a bunch of writing and photography.
Jayme Mclellan: Jealousy Of Clouds will be on view at Heiner Contemporary June 14 – July 27 2013. Heiner Contemporary Is located at 1675 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. For more information about the gallery and any upcoming exhibitions, email [email protected] or visit the website at www.heinercontemporary.com.