Creativity Interview: James E. Scherbarth, artist

Jim Scherbarth is a visual artist living and working in Minneapolis, Minnesota. We first met in 2018. He works in a variety of media including oil and cold wax paintings, mixed media on paper, and weaving. 

HW:  What was your background and education with regard to your art and creativity in general?

JS:  Early in life my family environment was not really a creative one, although later in life both my parents had creative aspects to them. Some of the guiding principals I incorporate into my approach come from them.

I was in Viet Nam in the ‘70’s. I spent a semester at Minneapolis College of Art and Design, so that helped me reconnect with my art. But that decade was very difficult for me. I had lost my way. For a decade I was trying to find it again. My GI Bill ran out, and I never returned to a formal school.

Artist Jim Scherbarth

I’ve just always been a creative, found it best to keep my hands busy. I like to make things. I like to tinker. I like to explore. And create. I like working with fiber; I did some weaving. 

“Vessel #73A (Home), hand woven telephone wire and fibre, 2020

H:        I’m hearing a lot of what they call “self taught”.

JS:        Oh, definitely. I’m an avid reader. If I don’t know something I get a book, or go online, to learn. To find out. Or l seek out the person I need, doing exactly what I’m interested in, and I’ll learn from them. I’m Self-Motivated. I’m a continuous learner. I hope that never stops.

“Life Goes On”oil and cold wax, 36×36”, 2020

We learn from so many people, our teachers, our parents, our friends, the stranger that just walked by and impressed us, imprinted on us. Or made us aware of something we hadn’t noticed before. It’s from awareness I guess.

We tend to think that creativity is for the few anointed ones, where in reality I strongly believe we all are creative. The real task, I think, today is to help people engage with their own creativity and bring it out. It’s there

They told us you can’t make a living at that. It’s not a career. Poppycock. If you want it badly enough, you can make it happen! I’m living proof. I didn’t get back to my art until I was 60 years old.

Some of Jim’s painting supplies

In 1980 I had to be a responsible adult, earn my own way. I worked for the telephone company, and spent 30 years there, doing very little art. Slowly but surely it started to creep back into my life. The more I got to travel and see other cultures, other people, other art, the more and more I wanted to get back into it. In 2007 I up and left the corporate world, with the personal “condition” that I get back to my art. Then the question was, “What is your art, Jim?” What do you do? 

I wanted something. I wanted to be a “real artist”. And to me that meant painting. So I spent more time with my paints. I spent a lot of time researching other artists, reading about their work, reading what they wrote about their process, their thinking behind or supporting their work. 

“Anticipating Monet” oil and cold wax, 30×30″, 2018

In February 2010 I came across some paintings that, online, I thought were remarkable. They spoke to me. I was very excited to learn that this artist lived only 2 ½ hours away from me. Her work was hanging, right that very moment, in downtown Minneapolis. So I jumped in my car and ran down to see the work, and instantly knew I had found something that I could relate to. I wanted to be able to create, to work, like that. It spoke to me! 

Her name is Rebecca Crowell, and a few months later I drove to Wisconsin to her studio. Without missing a beat, from the beginning to the end, she always spoke to us (her students) as an equal, and always referred to us as an artist. It was significant. It was the first time anyone unrelated to me saw me, treated me, and respected me, as an artist. No questions asked. It was very impactful.

I find 99% of artists are the most generous of spirits.

HW:    Can you talk about your creative process? 

JS:   I’ve only had this working studio for about 4 years, so it’s a real gift. It is my Church. It is my Sanctuary. I love spending time there, even when I’m not very productive. Just being there. 

Jim pulling an oil print

As far as always leaving a problem to return to the next day, that’s not an issue! There are many unresolved things every day, and that’s what brings us back in. That challenge. I can either pick up where I left off the other day, or can immediately start something new. Go to one table, or go to my easel, or work on something I left.

HW:    What are your most significant sources of inspiration?

JS:  Like so many of us, I respond to Nature, landscape, the environment we live in, and all the variations to that around the world. That is one reason to travel, to see all the wondrous places and vistas, and colors and textures. That all informs the work. 

HW:    You also mentioned about language. You talked about the ancient Irish alphabet.

JS:        The Ogham alphabet. It’s an ancient alphabet, no longer used. It was first used to write the old Irish language, and most of the remaining existing examples are etchings on the standing stones of Ireland, Wales, and on the Isle of Mann. Nowhere else in the world. Instantly I knew I had something I was going to be able to work with. I was standing in this beautiful landscape with these ancient beautiful stones. Marked with this language. 

“Celtic Code II” Oil and cold wax

That ancient language is 20 or 25 characters, basically hash marks. I didn’t want to use that literally, like a saying spelled out in Ogham. But I wanted to imply some type of mysterious message in the work. So I decided I would break it down to its basic element, which is a single mark. A line. 

If you blow that line up a little it becomes a rectangle. If you blow it up more it becomes the stone itself. If you use that mark repeatedly in different directions you start to build pattern textures. 

Experimenting with that: What can I say with that? What can I do with that? led me to a body of work, The Ogham Series. Twenty-some paintings and I still feel there are more to come.

HW:    Thank you, that was a really good description of how something can be an inspiration, not a literal copying of it. How it can be used in other ways.

HW:  Have you experienced “Creative Block”? If not, why do you think not?

“Envelope Collage #1” sympathy card envelopes, pen, pencil, 2018

JS:  No. I can’t say that I have ever felt Blocked, in the sense that it was ever just cut off, or stymied. I sometimes run out of an idea, or the energy on a certain direction. But then I just start making marks on something, or tearing something apart and gluing it back together. Or just anything which generates the next thought or next action.

HW:    And does that take an hour, or three months?

JS:        To get through that period? No, maybe an hour. Who’s got three months to waste being blocked? Maybe some people do, I don’t. I don’t. 

If this isn’t working, just do something. Do something. That’s how I don’t get blocked. Even if that means go out and take a walk. Get some Nature time, fresh air, and thinking. Then the head is full of ideas and we don’t have enough time to execute those ideas! 

“Vessel #72 (Hope Stone)” handwoven telephone wire, fibers, 2020

HW:    How often do you go to your studio?

JS:        I try to go to my studio every day, when I am in town. 7 days a week. Including Sunday, the studio is my church. Painting time is precious. I will go every day somewhere between 3 to 5 hours. Somewhere around 3 hours I start to get tired, and when I’m tired I start to make poor choices. So part of my discipline is to work about 3-5 hours, then I have permission to leave until tomorrow.

HW:  What have been the biggest rewards of your creative life?

JS:   Knowing that I am an artist. It’s given me purpose. The rewards are so many, and many of them are very intangible. It’s priceless. It is. 

Jim experimenting with color and shape

A little bit of bee’s wax (used in his painting process) has opened up my world! It’s taken me all around the country, meeting other people, taking other people’s workshops. It’s taken me to Paris, where I taught a workshop. It’s kind of mind-boggling! In a very wonderful way! So it’s all very rewarding. I don’t see any down side to any of this. I just don’t. I’m very blessed. 

HW:    What advice would you give young artists/Creatives?

JS:   For anyone, for any age, for any endeavor: Just do it. Just show up. And give it your best. Where you find you lack knowledge or experience, find out how to get that. Seek out the people who can help you. Read the books that relate to that subject or that endeavor. 

The immediate end-game should be to show up and do the work. And improve, and explore your reality and expound on it. Just grow

“Wee Creature” hand woven telephone wire, 2020

Update:  2020 brought significant changes to our lives.  For me it was not only the Covid confinement to my home, but a major health challenge as well.  I closed my studio and now work on my dining room table.  This does not allow me to paint with oil and cold wax presently, so I shifted gears, returned to the basics and began drawing and collaging on a smaller scale.  I’ve also resumed hand weaving telephone wire and fibers into small “soft” sculptures.  I believe inherent to the creative process is the need to remain adaptable.  I continue to use my themes/inspirations of nature, stones, currachs, colour, line and texture.  Examples of the most recent series – Currach & Stone – (collage-drawings) can be seen on my website. 

“Passage” oil and cold wax

6 thoughts on “Creativity Interview: James E. Scherbarth, artist

  1. This was a deeply satisfying article. I really connected with Jim’s situation (making a living, working for decades without much art or creativity in life, but then feeling it creep back through he seams). I like what he ultimately came to when he followed those creative impulses – esp. the Celtic Code series which seems to pull in thoughts and references to other areas of human experience, like language.
    Finally, I like Jim’s flexibility and adaptability. I’m not sure what Jim’s circumstances are that don’t allow for more “traditional” creative work like large-scale painting, but the fact that Jim finds ways to create despite obstacles is reassuring and inspiring.
    We should all be this resilient.


  2. Helen I Love these interview!! How do you choose your artists?? We Need to set a date for out next crit!! Love Bess

    Sent from my iPhone



  3. Just read this today – I really enjoy these.  He sounds quite interesting; the woven telephone cables are lovely.  He sounds very upbeat and positive.


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