I’ve known Ian Jehle for many years between our overlapping lives as artists living in both Berlin and Washington D.C. During all this time he has consistently embodied a constant craving for exploring new ideas and techniques from a genuinely thoughtful, humble, and congenial approach. It came as no surprise that his work, at the time, was about people.
Expertly executed, Ian created large scale, delicately detailed pencil drawings of friends from the D.C. art community. The drawings conveyed an empathetic, yet distanced mood from each subject. That was in 2008.
Since then his work has evolved from representational figurative work on paper, to mathematical inspired abstractions on wood that are about process, history and material. What remains, however, is a connection to empathetic ideas of humanity now manifest in the material itself, coupled with the theories that inform them.
Before he and his spouse Phil moved to Berlin permanently in 2019, I had the opportunity to visit Ian’s studio in Washington D.C. where his work had already changed to an analytical investigation of color and math that resulted in highly controlled abstract paintings. His studio was full of Lego and Tinker Toy constructions that were small studies and exercises in geometry and light. They were super playful – they were toys after all- and I could tell he was having a lot of fun making them. And yet the fun in the making of these objects served as a serious training ground for his two – dimensional work.
Arriving in 2019 just before the Pandemic, Ian began his new life in Berlin at a fairly well known residency called Glogauair located in Kreuzberg. While most people vacated the residency, Ian was able to continue working in solitude churning out new ideas every day. During this global health crisis, much of the world turned to social media and online technology to try and maintain our lives both personally and professionally.
Thanks to Instagram, I was able to stay informed with what other artists were doing including Ian. We met virtually during the summer of 2022 to talk about where he was at in his work. His ideas and inspiration had taken another incredible turn both materially and conceptually, and only after a few minutes of speaking with him and seeing the work from his camera, I knew I wanted to include the new works in a group show I was curating at the time at Addison Ripley Fine Art Gallery . Titled “Holy Inventions“, which opened in January of this year, the show included Ian’s work along side the work of Leo Bersamina, Tom Bunnell, Cheryl Edwards and Caitlin Teal Price.
Ian conveyed to me how he started collecting particle wood panels that were left around the Friedrichshain and Lichtenberg neighborhoods in Berlin, where he now respectively lives and works. The shards of pressed and glued wood resonated with him, perhaps akin to the lego bricks but slightly more ‘organic’. Moreover, the idea of salvaging something left behind is another idea connected to ideas of mapping, people, communities and their detrius. The art of the found object is a practice inherently laden with nostalgia and sometimes even with pain.
Reinvention is what Ian does best. The inspiration behind this current work is a theory called the Four Color Map Theory, which states that “any map in a plane can be colored using four-colors in such a way that regions sharing a common boundary (other than a single point) do not share the same color. This problem is sometimes also called Guthrie’s problem after F. Guthrie, who first conjectured the theorem in 1852.” (mathworld.wolfram.com).
After touring his main studio spaces, he led me to another smaller space one floor below that is his small but very spiffy workshop, thanks to Ian’s collaborator and assistant Mario Ego Aguirre (more about Mario below). Our conversation shifted to talk about the large polygonal column lying horizontal, and practically taking up half the space. After squeezing my way into the room, Ian addressed the idea of folding and how he is inspired by the art of origami and envisions the construction panels as something mutable where it can be folded into a multitude of iterations. See video below:
It is this current work that Ian has been awarded a generous grant from the Canada Council for the Arts . Ian was born in Canada and is half German and now joins the community of millions of ex-pats who live trans-continental lives. Ian also received a fellowship from ZKU Berlin located in Moabit. and through this award, was able to bring over artist and collaborator Mario Ego Aguirre, who hails from Miami. As an artist himself, Mario will be included in an upcoming group show Ian is co-curating with Clara Gross titled simply “Lumber”. The show will include his own work along with artist Carrie Stubbs from Zurich.
“Rooted in existentialist philosophy of Kierkegaard, Camus and the Kyoto School, lyrical historians such as Dave Hickey and Donald Ritchie, and writers Virginia Woolf, Iris Murdoch, and Kazuo Ishiguro, Jehle is interested in the ways in which systems of belief, whether they be personal or political, scientific, philosophical or religious, are experienced not as ends in themselves but rather as means of coping with the basic dilemmas that all human beings experience as part of being alive.”
Ian received his MFA in Visual Arts at Columbia University. Before that he earned a Post-Baccalaureate in Painting from Brandeis University, and a B.A in Art and Philosophy from American University in D.C. As a devoted educator and mentor, Ian continues to support younger and emerging artists in any way he finds possible. You can contact Ian at www.ianjehle.com
Mark your calendars for:
September 13 – 24 | Opening September 15, Friday 6 – 9 p.m. Warshcauerstr. 10, Friedrichshain, Berlin.
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