Deborah Ross
May 2014

Viewing a Jim Waid abstract painting can be an almost decadent experience. There is a tendency to linger in front of it, the better to gaze at the lushly colored suggestions of insects and flora, and to drink in the exuberant forms, patterns and textures. Waid parlays that exuberance into large-scale works, which were lavishly on display at Bentley’s spacious, restored red-brick warehouse. The Tucson artist, who is included in several museum collections in the West, is celebrating a career of more than 40 years. In 2013, the state of Arizona honored him with a Governor’s Arts Award. Although Waid has often been categorized as a landscape painter, his work references elements of Abstract Expressionism, Color Field painting and Victorian botanicals. Genres aside, he is clearly a reverent observer of life forms and landscape features, largely thanks to desert hikes and time spent in his garden. At the canvas, he is a process painter, willing to let one idea grow into another, based on his observations. Dryad (below left) (all works cited 2013), for instance, at 11 feet wide, might have started as a habitat alive with floating flowers, thick vines and caterpillar-like forms, but it turned allegorical when Waid added a partial nude form in the left-hand portion.

Close-up viewing of Waid’s paintings reveals that his process frees him to try almost anything with acrylic paint, from using an impasto technique to dabbing or flicking it on, even throwing it on, and then scraping through the layers with various tools. This not only creates texture, but also brings about the abundance of lines, swirls and shapes that are characteristic of a Waid work. In the seven-foot-wide Crick Crack (above right), the blue background has been thoroughly striated, with a segmented brown limb popping from the composition; its inclusion makes the sound of broken branches almost visceral. Meanwhile, Waid’s bold use of bright yellow, tangerine, scarlet, magenta, lime and other such colors can rival a bowl of jellybeans. The 66-inch-wide Jaunt (left) lets a gradation from white to yellow predominate the canvas, suggesting that the brightly colored flowers and birds on the periphery are being drenched in desert light. Conversely, Websong (right) (also 66 inches wide), with its purples, reds and greens against black, delves into the mysteries of a garden at night.

Waid said in a recent artist’s statement that his paintings are not illustrations, but “enactments of the world around me.” His wish is for viewers to “step right in” and experience the paintings, to which viewers can respond, “Gladly.


Richard Nilsen
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 25, 2008 03:30 PM

I want to live in the world of Jim Waid’s paintings.

I want to climb into the frame and walk around, to lie down among those radiant leaves and branches, to have that butterfly alight on my knee, pick one of those incandescent blue plums. Perhaps to look back out of the frame to the gray world I came from. What would it look like then?

Waid’s paintings are a sense riot, where every color is an ocular orgasm, every texture is an eye massage – and every bush is the burning bush.

The first wave of effect is that of pleasure: You cannot but enjoy that yellow, those blues, these tangy reds. Waid’s spiritual progenitor is Henri Matisse – paintings made for pleasure.

The second wave is recognition: This world is a reflection of the real one. They may appear pure fantasy, a siren to seduce us from our daily world, but instead, something in them calls us back to our own lives.

They refresh us like a great meal when we’re famished.

Waid shows annually at Riva Yares Gallery, and it’s a highlight of the season. This year, the show features a group of tondos, or round paintings, and they’re among the most engaging, delicious and exotic of his works. Being round, they’re more porthole than window.

The landscapes could be the underwater scenes of a tropical scuba diver. You look for the fish, for an eel coiled in the coral.

Take Grandiflora, for instance, with its blue-black surface scraped back to expose an orange underpainting, like the glow of coals in a fading hearth, shimmering in its own heat.

Others shiver with reds and greens.

Or the rectangular painting, Algiers, with its blazing rose garden nurturing seven small, intensely blue fruits. They look like they might well be forbidden.

The colors are so vivid – and so alive for Waid’s careful juxtaposing of them so they exaggerate each other – that you can forget to notice the shapes and textures. The landscapes are busy with articulation, fairly buzzing in the eye. Color alone makes a flat painting. Texture adds depth. You can walk into them, live there, at least for a while.

And when you walk back out of the gallery, into the plain light of the day, the light takes on new hues, new radiance.

No longer is a leaf just a leaf, but a catcher of busy shadows and scattered colors. The world is transformed. Spend time looking around you, especially at the foliage. What would have looked plain and gray before is now kaleidoscopic, bursting with color and life.

It’s the darndest thing: Waid is actually painting reality, but you have to have eyes that are awake to see it.

This is what art is supposed to do for you: to wake you up so you can see the world you live in without the dulling varnish of habit and burnout. It slaps you once and you begin breathing and squalling.

And reminds me I am living in the world of Jim Waid’s paintings.


Dottie Indyke
Albuquerque Journal
Friday, November 17, 2006

A walk in the Sonoran Desert is like a visit to Oz, as the 2-foot long Gila monsters, with their pink bead-like backs, slither across the road and the saguaros stand sentinel like cowboys in a comic book. Jim Waid was so mesmerized by the desert it made him stop and rethink his artwork. “I thought if the gods can get away with this bizarre, surrealistic landscape, I should be able to open up,” he acknowledges.

Once a dyed-in-the-wool abstract theorist, today Waid is unabashedly passionate about the richness and sensuality of paint. His large canvases, part of the 20th-century painting collection at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, will be unveiled to the public tonight at Riva Yares Gallery. They literally pulsate with color and light, their virtual jungle of plant life seeming to envelop the viewer. In “Narcho’s Blues” (on the right) the blue-black light of evening emanates in waves; in “Summer Torch,” (below) it is the hot yellow light of a summer day.

Hiking in the desert, observing the amazing camouflage patterns of insects and animals, and working in his Tucson garden provides a wealth of visual stimuli. This, and his interest in scientific imagery such as illustrations of molecular structures, figure largely in his work.

Once this material is “processed through the scrambler,” as he puts it, he is ready to begin a painting. His tendency is to work on multiple pieces simultaneously and to approach his canvases with no concious preconception. He rarely makes preliminary drawings; all his thinking takes place as he goes along. Often the paintings start on a table , where Waid uses bushes, comb-like tools and kitchen spatulas to pour, scrape, brush and smear. Soon it is moved to an easel or a wall, where the physical labor continues. One of his goals is to create the sensation that the life of the painting is taking place before the viewer’s eyes.

“My paintings are about organic imagery and they are organically arrived at.” he says. “The first part of the painting is the seed, then it grows to the size that it should be. And it’s funny…the painting develops its own personality.”

Born in Oklahoma and raised in Carlsbad, Waid earned his undergraduate degree at the University of New Mexico in 1965 alongside classmates such as Jenny Lind and Allan Graham, who have gone on to become nationally recognized artists. For three years he lived in New York City, where his frequent exposure to art taught him as much as his college education. In 1968 he moved to Tucson to attend the University of Arizona and, after completing his master’s degree, remained there. He has worked as a full-time painter for more than 25 years.

Although his aesthetic has varied greatly over the years—moving from abstract experssionism to color-field and vertical stripe paintings to his current woek—his focus on improvisation, intuition and the artmaking process has remained constant. Although he loves to look at cutting-edge art in the big cities, he has no intention of leaving Tucson. “I don’t think of myself as a desert painter,” he says. “But the Sonoran Desert is the thing that awakened me. I have a real attachment.”


Tom Collins
The Albuquerque Journal
Friday, November 24, 2006

If you’re feeling a little too autumnal, in the need of a bit of colorful visual stimulation to pick you up, stop into the Riva Yares Gallery, immediately, and check out Jim Waid’s newest paintings in his one-man exhibition, “The View From Here.” These big, wildly colored, intricately scarred and textured jungle-like abstractions of nature and the natural process are some of the trippiest canvases you’ll certainly ever see in the post-Abstract Expessionist oasis of Rares, and maybe in this town.

MoonriseOf course, the Oklahoma-born Waid—who got his bachelor of fine arts degree at the University of New Mexico in 1965 and has lived in the Tucson area since the late ’60s—has never been shy about making very large, vividly hued abstractions of desert flora nd fauna. Indeed, you might say that few artists have done it longer or better. Personally, I’ve never really connected with Waid’s all-over botanical-scapes; until these, that is. Multiple layers of acrylic paints are poured, brushed, daubed and troweled directly onto the canvases and then further incised and scraped upon with everything from hair combs to spatulas to tiling tools. The huge canvases fairly jump off the wall in a riot of color and physical surface energy. Discernible flowers, vines, stems, and leaves in “Summmer Torch,” (above) for example, move in and out of focus and abstraction in the pulsing field of a thousand quick brushstrokes of gold and yellow. Meanwhile, the floating floral arrangement of “Moonrise” (on the right) floats in a supercharged optical field of incised, white-in-black strokes swirling throughout. Odd that so much electrified, polychrome vegetation should come out of the Sonoran Desert landscape; but Waid evidently knows just where to find it, and how.

Richard Nilsen
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 29, 2005

“Jim Waid may be the best painter in the state”.

The Tucson artist has been creating abstract landscapes of buzzing visual energy since at least the mid-1980s; they are large canvases with scumbled color and heaped bits of detail that don’t so much describe the gardens and desert scenes visually but re-create them emotionally.

“I don’t want the paintings to be like you’re looking at a landscape,” he has said, “I want them to feel like you’re in it.”

When you enter the spacious, white gallery of Riva Yares Gallery in Scottsdale, you do feel like you’ve entered a garden, or perhaps a desert hothouse. There are flowers, foliage, rocks, insects and birds.

But what gives Waid’s paintings their power is not their subject matter: They are abstract paintings, more or less. It is rare in them that you can point to a detail and say, “This is a quail,” or, “This is a globe-mallow.”

Rather, it is the sense you get in nature of the rhythm of infinite and discrete bits and layers: colors, details, lines, shadow and light, curves and squiggles. These are the visual molecules from which the landscape compounds are constructed.

Winter ThicketWinter Thicket, for instance, is a 7- foot panel of stuccoed white, with lines of black like winter twigs stick- ing through snow. At the bottom are some seed heads, long panicles of black punctuated with white “ber- ries” made by dotting the nozzle-end of the paint tube onto the canvas- doink, doink, doink.

Or the blue-ribbon painting in this show, Narcho’s Blues, with its night-in- the-tropics lushness: Palm trunks are effervescent with white fizz dots like the bubbles collected on the inside of an opened champagne bottle. Along the bottom of the scene are “fireflies” of deep blue: Their intensity comes not from their brightness but from the dark intensity of their chroma.

These are oneiric landscapes-in less profound form, they are the tropical rain forest of Disney’s cartoon Brazil; one looks for José Carioca.

Even in a less successful canvas, such as Evening Note, with its simple saguaro and flecks of color dots, there is a richness. In this case, it comes from its scratchboard technique: the details are literally gouged Winter Thicket “Jim Waid Paintings” out of a tar-thick layer of black semitransparent paint. Metaphorically, we see this as a night scene where the vegetal elements are not painted on a background of night but, rather, as a thick goo of night flowing over and obscuring the daytime reality.

These are hard to see merely as rectangles of art material on a white wall, but insistently ask to be taken as primary experience, just as insistent as real jungle.

In the current Phoenix Art Museum show of Theodore Robinson’s work at Giverny in France, you can have the experience of seeing the difference between the few master paintings of Claude Monet spread around the gallery among the more workmanlike paintings of Robinson. As you stand at one end of the gallery, you can spy at whatever distance the instant difference between Monet and the American. Monet’s paintings pop. They virtually jump off the wall at you.

Waid’s paintings pop in the same way. They feel alive.

Waid makes the Arizona desert seem as rich as the gardens of Giverny. One of the interesting aspects of Waid’s technique is its hybrid nature. Paint has power in its color: Brilliant vermilion or acid alizarin crimson can grab hold of an eye and transfix our vision solely for their hues.

Black-and-white work, though, such as drawings or etchings, have to find their visual energy in other means. They get their ocular juju from texture rather than hue: There are cross-hatchings and stippling, line strength and dots.

Waid manages to cross-pollinate, using the jots and tittles of the draftsman, and even the plewds and squeans of comic strips, but doing them in paint instead of ink, so that the visual energy is multiplied: Hue times texture equals Jim Waid. It’s a formula for magic.