In the early 1950s, James Juthstrom studied painting and life drawings at the Brooklyn Museum Art School. While his life drawings were showed only at the Brooklyn Museum, Juthstrom's landscapes from this period became widely celebrated, especially by Professor Bill Kienbusch (Modernist painter, 1914-1980) who described Juthstrom's work as 'very exciting, authentic, and with true conviction.' The landscape paintings landed Juthstrom his first solo exhibition at Gallery G, 200 East 59th Street, and his first critical review from The New York Times Sunday:
By contrast James Juthstrom's abstract landscapes at Gallery G are austere. Mostly they depict wide fields sliding up crookedly to a small band of sky at the top of the canvases. It is the view from an airplane banking over endless farm country, cut up into semi-geometrical earth-colored areas for variegated spring planting and reaching to the horizon. The sense of empty spaciousness of such landscapes is well conveyed.
- The New York Times Sunday, 1957
1960s - 1975
Following his initial success in the 1950s, he found himself depleted, no longer able to paint. Instead, he traveled the country in 1961-62, taking in the radiance of the Hawaiian Islands, mountains of Southern California and highlands of the Southeast. When he returned to New York in 1965, Juthstrom leased the top floor of an abandoned, burned out brownstone building on Broome Street and West Broadway “as is.”
After moving into his new studio, Juthstrom moved away from his early representational landscapes to capturing the breadth of the city. Throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, his paintings began to reflect an abstracted skyline of SoHo, reducing the buildings outside of his loft to fields of color. Working in oil on board, Juthstrom formed rich cityscapes, drawing inspiration from the same movement as Richard Diebenkorn for his abstract Ocean Park paintings. During these years, he also became fascinated with astronomy, celestial bodies and earth plate tectonics.
Around 1972, Juthstrom was diagnosed with ocular melanoma, and his vision began to gradually deteriorate. Soon after, his paintings of fire escapes and brownstones evolved into intricate, patterned mazes overlaid with structural motifs, evoking the mystical style of Mark Tobey and the early Fauvist work of André Derain. The fire escape paintings series was completed in 1975, when Juthstrom fell off a ladder onto an open flat file drawer, as he attempted to paint the ceiling of his studio.
After Juthstrom returned from the hospital, he began purely abstract work, no longer choosing to capture a representation of SoHo's gradual gentrification. As he was confined to his loft, he created complex metaphysical paintings on shaped stretchers, spending countless hours painting mazes of colored circles.
The abstract paintings are meditative and rhythmic, calling on the viewer to connect on a subconscious, spiritual level. Juthstrom applied cryptic patterns and hidden formations, sometimes visible only under light, revealing his fascination with the cosmos, mathematical formulas and biology. His process was focused, spending months on one painting and sometimes over a year on larger work. Because he did not have a commercial outlet, his artwork was a pure form of creation.
By the 1990s, Juthstrom's vision worsened, and his friends and acquaintances he formed from his years at the Brooklyn School of Art and through Joe Cartuccio's Project for Living Artists in SoHo began to leave. Soon, he fell into a reclusive depression, and began painting the memories and spiritual reality he associated with his loft.
His figurative works are haunting and melancholic, depicting anonymous figures populating deserted indoor spaces throughout his Broome Street loft. Other motifs represented in his figurative works include floorboards, mirrors, birds, fisherman, angels, and the occasional noose.
In his later years, Juthstrom set up still lifes composed of common objects including cups, spice shakers, bird figurines and butterflies.
For over 30 years of his life, Juthstrom had constantly removed himself from the commercialization of his artwork to focus on his art. The artist died in May 2007, leaving behind a legacy of his lifetime dedication. Since the release of his estate collection, museums and collectors are discovering the history of this brilliant artist.
WESTWOOD GALLERY NYC owns the Estate of James Juthstrom.
Artwork © WESTWOOD GALLERY NYC