closeOn Reinventing Myself

What I am doing is reinventing myself as a poet/artist.  One who is working in a meditative way with words and images in a polyphonic manner.  A polyphonic manner is kind of like the way we go through life.  You know: sex when it occasionally happens in the morning, breakfast, a stop at the thrift store, pondering thrift store items, lunch at a fast food place, good conversation with a friend, stopping and getting annoyed at a gas station, reflecting on evil, reflecting on good etc. etc. I’m having fun just being myself.

closePoetry and Ancient Aboriginal Art

Along with poetry I have been interested in ancient aboriginal art.  We have a site close to Billings that is free of the stereotypes and clichés most frequently associated with that genre.  At this site the work is more in keeping with the third and last phase of abstract expressionism – the abstract imagists, which I learned about in of all places an Encyclopedia Britannica (Macropedia) dated 1978 on page 35.

Last summer I read a book by Stephanie Stoner Saunders "The CIA in the Arts and Letters – The Cultural Cold War".  Wow! What a read!...very funny and downright annoying.  It changed how I work and how I teach and how I see the world.  Ramparts Magazine in California was the first to expose the whole thing in about 1976.  Art Forum later picked up on it and really did an expose.


CloseBetter With Age

One thing I have noticed is that when young artists receive a lot of popular support they are like beer. I like to think of older artists – in our age group – as being like wine. Beer doesn’t keep but wine generally becomes better and more valued with age.

A regional artist of good repute, Rudy Autio, once said that most students who earn an undergraduate degree in art have no sustaining interests in art within three months of graduation and that MFAs who earn their degrees in their mid-twenties generally no longer have an interest in art after about the age of thirty-three. He noted that those artists who maintain an active interest in their work often really blossom in the fifty-five to seventy year range.

I believe he is right.

CloseHow I Work

Here is how I work. First of all I do as I please. I let my work lead me. I don’t try to lead it. I believe that the only thing I can do is try and even if something doesn’t agree with me then maybe later on it will. 

I always approach my work as a new experience never knowing quite how it will turn out and I always look to be pleasantly surprised. The biggest event in my life happened when I decided to make a concerted effort to promote myself in any venue that came along. When I made that decision everything opened up. I began to see myself and my relationship to the world in a brand new way. Knowing that whatever I do is good as long as I don’t try to be a big shot or try to do something important. 

The bottom line is that I follow my heart not knowing where it will lead me. I use painting and drawing as a self-teaching activity.


CloseFavorite Readings and Intelligent Essays

One thing that has really helped me has been reading Dana Gioia’s book, “Can Poetry Matter.” Gioja in his book presents very intelligent essays about Wallace Stevens and T. S. Elliot. Wallace Stevens, one of the very best poets America ever produced was a successful executive with Hartford Insurance. What Wallace did was to work as a businessman, a very successful business man during the day and at night and on weekends he wrote poems. T. S. Elliot did the same thing. Elliot was a banker during the day and a poet in the evenings and on weekends.

That, for me, has been something that came into my life that has been very helpful. During the day I teach rather rote types of things about rendering color and lines and during the evenings and weekends I paint and draw.

CloseHaving Come of Age

Having come of age during the sixties and seventies when I really admired my teachers for what I gained in my interactions with them gave me an odd sense of feeling that I should also do the same for my students. I really didn’t understand that in my teaching it was not about me but about the subject and the student’s relationship to the subject…realizing that if a student becomes a painter or draughtsman or develop strong compositional skills it will because they discover it and I can’t do a single thing to facilitate their discoveries.

CloseOn Writing

“On Writing,” by Stephen King has been a most useful book. I found it very readable and loaded with insight. King notes that when his son was taking saxophone lessons he would dutifully go to his lessons and practice but he could never reach a point of becoming enthralled with what he and the instrument could do. I thought the lesson was a good one for me since It gave me a sense that some people flirt with a subject, perhaps most flirt, while a few become enthralled because they find it so interesting.

CloseWhen Drawing Nudes

When I draw from nudes the figures end up looking pretty good but while they look good they really don’t have much to say. So what I did was to begin to add corsets and garter belts to the figures to heighten their presence. What fun! To put together something highly charged, erotic and sensual.

I don’t know about your experience with drawing from nude women but I can’t do it unless I get a longing to want to know the model better. So I draw from people, not from figures or models. I draw with empathy, sensitivity and imagining myself going to bed with whoever I am drawing from. I once found that the word “Draw” means to bring forth as in drawing water from a well. When I found that out it made it easier for me to draw from people. If I can’t develop a feeling of empathy from whomever I am drawing from nothing happens. I’ve looked at a lot of drawings out of art history that were fine delineations but had no sense of presence in the form of life. That’s what really got to me when I was looking at erotic art on the internet. Pretty lifeless stuff – nothing I would like to crawl into bed with.

CloseI Don't Pose People

All of my work is done directly from people. I don't pose them and they can hold a pose for as long or as short as they like. I began working maternal themes after I found out that I could actually draw directly from a Mother with her Baby. At the time I didn't think I could. My involvement with this theme came after a near accident, not of my creation, that could have ended my life.

This particular image was done at about the time that my Father was dying. Within themes of Mothers with their Babies I sometimes sense my Grandmother with my Father, My wife with either of our children or our Daughter with her Baby.

It's all about empathy, mindfulness and gesture.

View the Mother Child Series here.

CloseWhatever is Within

My experience is that whatever is within will eventually find its way to the surface. That is if I let it. I remember when I saw my first good abstract expressionist painting and had an epiphany. I couldn’t believe that a spiritual presence that really resonated could be created with just line and color. It was like Mozart made visible.

From that moment on all I wanted to do was be able to create abstract expressionist paintings. It was a feeling that I felt in my soul. And from that point on my education began. I wanted it so bad that I often found myself praying for it. Eventually it happened at a kitchen table in a flash. I learned how to let a line be a creation of itself rather than my being the creator of the line. In that very brief moment my entire life changed. I went from a spiritless existence into that of becoming fully alive and engaged in the world.

It seems to me that whenever I try to make it happen nothing happens and when I don’t try to make it happen it is suddenly there in some way unpredicted. What I have learned is that my responsibility is to respond to those things I find and not dismiss the findings as being inconsequential.

The same thing happened when I desired to draw from people with a classical feeling. It eventually happened and it came as a surprise to learn that I could actually do it.

I of course now realize that my experience with abstract expressionism is what provided me with an ability to be able to draw from people – in the context of their life rather than my posing them and expecting them to hold a pose for a certain length of time, which I think is a waste of time, the person’s time and my own time and it doesn’t prove anything.

I think that for my interests the philosophy of simply letting go and having faith is the best.

CloseTeaching Graduate Students

If I were teaching graduate students I would not talk about style. I would instead encourage them to follow their instincts and to promote themselves because that is how I work and how I learn. I think that I would be most interested in having graduate students talk to me about what they were learning in the process…I would be having them teach me rather than my teaching them. The only thing I would have to offer would be my experience.

CloseBecoming Fully Engaged in the Discipline

When I began to learn it was when I made up my mind to become fully engaged in the discipline. To that end I did my work on paper and kept it on one size so that I could easily take slides of the work. Paper enabled me to work quickly and it also eliminated problems with storage. I figured that since I already knew how to paint then whatever I did was all right. That I would learn as I went along. I would have good paintings and for work that was less than satisfying I would find the answer in four or five paintings down the line.

CloseFinding Grace in the Relationship

There were some paintings that were plain and unassuming, which I didn’t know how to read and couldn’t appreciate. They were like old friends and were not like the fast and friendly folks that I would like to have as friends. As it turned out those plain old paintings have, over time, become quite good friends. I now can see beauty in them that I could never see before. I am happy that I didn’t try to make them over to fit my unrealistic needs. I accept them and find grace in the relationship.

CloseSubmitting Work to Galleries

I was unusually fortunate in that early stage because I responded to a call for slides in Art Week that gave only a PO Box number. I mailed a portfolio in ’89 with a dozen slides and was sent an invitation in ‘90 to submit work to the Aldrich Gallery in San Francisco. Bear in mind that at the time I was working with an electric typewriter and that word processing was still some short years away. What I learned from the Aldrich Gallery was how to write an artist’s statement and how to arrange my resume. They also had some luck in selling my work. Because I was going after everything that came along – a shotgun approach – I ended up with an NEH Grant to study the history of drawing and prints and Columbia under David Rosand.

This was a good learning experience for me because it gave me the confidence to just go ahead and do it without thinking about it.

CloseA Most Uncanny Experience

It was in this early stage (1988) that on one Saturday afternoon at the university where I was painting I had an uncanny experience where everything I was doing seemed to fall into place without any effort. It was like a window had opened. The work was happening quickly and easily and it felt like I could do nothing wrong. I finished a number of paintings that I could really feel as being good and left the university in an elated state. As soon as I walked into our front door Gleva told me that Bob DeWeese had called. That he was in the hospital here in Billings. I called him and told him about the experience and mentioned the fact I had been thinking about him as I painted. He said that he didn’t know why but he had a strong urge to call me which he did. I told him about how the paintings I had been rendering that afternoon were all happening easily and simply without any effort and how elated I was. He said that that is what it is all about. I visited him at the hospital that evening where I met, Pat Zentz, a well-known local sculptor who had also studied in Bob’s classes. The three of us visited and shared some stories about control-freaks in the art world.

The next day I was off on an elk hunting trip and didn’t give much thought about Bob. When I returned from hunting I assumed that he was all right because he didn’t appear to be suffering when we had visited. I didn’t know that he passed away shortly after our visit.

I think that in some ways this happening provided me with the confidence to continue with my work which for me has to happen easily and simply with no apparent effort. I honestly believe that there is something else that artists can touch into but I am not smart enough to know what that something else is.


CloseWhere Insights are Found and then Shared

My experience tells me that when I was a young faculty member I desperately wanted my students to touch into what art meant to me. Now with age I want only for students to become fully engaged in the world. It doesn’t matter if they do or don’t become painters. What is most important is to provide the means for students to never distant themselves from the world…from those who love them and from others with similar interests. This is not a who-is-the-best game. I have come to see it as being a self-teaching activity where insights found and then shared make for a better world.

CloseHow Things have Changes over the Years

I find it hard to believe the transition I have gone through. On one occasion over this summer I found myself going through Esquire magazines that were from 1966 through 1967 and was quite alarmed to realize how much has changed. In 1967 through 1969 there were not many exhibition opportunities, 35 mm film cameras were very expensive, film processing was expensive and word processing was nonexistent. Power tools were expensive and materials like plywood were expensive. There were no self-tapping screws and power screwdrivers with variable speeds were not yet developed. UPS did not exist and so if one wished to compete then it involved a trip to the train or bus station. The hundreds of local public art centers such as we have today did not exist and art history literature was dismally lacking.

If one wished to connect then the only option was to move to a cosmopolitan center and if luck prevailed a connection with high quality painters might be established. The gallery scene was limited and there were not as many artists running around like there are today.


CloseThe ‘Popeye’ Philosophy

I also meant to add that some painters such as me take their delight in fast and fluid expressions while others do not. I think that how one works; whether deliberately or quickly, well-crafted or controlled sloppiness is a function of temperament. As the Popeye philosophy goes: I yam what I yam. It is not a bad philosophy and I have on occasion found it comforting.

CloseI Nearly Gave the Whole Thing Up

In 1988 I nearly gave the whole thing up. I was painting large paintings and found myself painting ourselves out of our home. I found that I was nearing a point where without an audience I could very well find myself in a losing situation. What happened in ’88 was that I began to go fly fishing on the Big Horn River and managed to figure it all out. It was in 1989 that I began to put myself into motion: I thought that if I could teach myself how to fly fish and do well with it then I should be able to teach myself how to function in the painting world. Where luck favored me was through a local painter who was achieving significant recognition: He was painting small on paper (oils) and sending out slide portfolio after slide portfolio. What happened was that I modeled my own performance after Ted Waddell’s and that is how it began.

CloseGraduate School is a Group Effort

So from my experience whatever little I do has not been by myself alone but has instead been a group effort by many people. I think that I have been very lucky to have had so many qualified teachers in my life.

In Graduate School I just wanted to get the degree and get on with living. I had had enough of controlling people while in the Army and so I went out of my way to avoid them while in graduate school where I learned that the word Humor which is a good word means to go along with rather than fight it. What it all boiled down to was that I had my vision and wanted to pursue it under the most comfortable means possible. I could politely listen but that didn’t mean that I would believe it as canon and dogma. It wasn’t easy to break free of it because of the dynamics of the situation but within three years after completing my degree I did and in doing so found relief.

CloseVisual Arts Regarded as Antiquated

Today with all of the literature in the visual arts that has been published since 1990 I doubt whether a graduate school situation such as the one we experienced would exist and if it did it would be regarded as being antiquated.

I think that the means for personal expression is better today than it ever has ever been: today we have better tools, better literature and a much better base of shared information. Along with Utrecht art suppliers.

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Reunion Site for MSU Masters Degree in Art Earners in 1969
This is how I looked last summer with our grandson Rory.  We were atop the Pryor Mountains near a herd of wild horses that numbered well over 200 head.

Neil Jussila has been a faculty member at MSU-Billings since 1969 and is a graduate of MSU-Bozeman.  The Montana native, a Vietnam combat veteran, has over the past 13 years been a featured artist in over 82 national, refereed, exhibitions that featured either his work alone or was featured in limited group shows.  He has done post-graduate work under Robert Morris at Atlantic Center for the Arts, and David Rosand, art history, at Columbia University.  The Montana Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities and MSU-Billings, where he continues to study and teach, as in part funded many of the ideas behind his creative work, which he generously shares with students, one of whom went on to be a Fulbright Scholar, Anna Elkins.

View a FLASH Slide Show from the Toucan Gallery.

Visit the Toucan Gallery for more about Neil's show back in February of 2001.

Whatever it is, to experience empathy with another, I feel when drawing from people.  If I draw from a fine-looking woman it is because I have a feeling for her.  To draw, in any other way, is like drawing from a  stuffed owl--a dead, passionless experience!

A mother and child lead me into seeing my own mother, my grandmothers, and our daughter.  If I draw from another man I see my strength.  My drawings are of people--not figures.  The term "figure drawing" is a pretentious term.  In each of my works is a complete and total story unto itself.


Musings and Random Thoughts on Art and Life
»On Reinventing Himself.
»Poetry & Ancient Aboriginal Art.
»Better With Age
»How I Work
»Intelligent Essays
»Having Come of Age
»On Writing
»Drawing Nudes
»I Don't Pose People
»Whatever is Within
»Teaching Graduate Students
»Becoming Fully Engaged in the Discipline
»Finding Grace in the Relationship
»Submitting Work to Galleries
»A Most Uncanny Experience
»Where Insights are Found and then Shared
»How Things have Changes over the Years
»The ‘Popeye’ Philosophy
»I Nearly Gave the Whole Thing Up
»Graduate School is a Group Effort
»Visual Arts Regarded as Antiquated