Jim Jenkins likes to think big.
A sculptor by trade and by passion, he is best known for his grand-scale projects with local public libraries, including the enormous ring-like structure outside the new Aurora Public Library building and the glass collages inside the New Lenox Public Library that detail, in his words, the “evolution of knowledge.” Jenkins’ work is not only grand in scope, but finely detailed, its themes and secrets revealed only after repeated observation.
All of which makes this Geneva artist a perfect choice to partner with the country’s premier particle physics laboratory, where scientists construct gigantic experiments to uncover the mysteries of the universe’s smallest details. Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory has chosen Jenkins as its 2017 artist-in-residence, and over the next 10 months, he will meet with Fermilab researchers, learn more about their work and create new pieces of art to reflect it.
“I’m the luckiest person I know,” Jenkins said. “I’m just delighted about this.”
Jenkins sees plenty of overlap between his work and more scientific endeavors. His sculptures, he says, are “puzzles, for both me and the viewer,” and he embeds hidden themes and clever allusions within them. His work, he says, is “technical, philosophical, poetic, and it uses language and puns,” and he develops his multilayered concepts over time, writing each day as he works through ideas.
He brings a unique perspective to his work, informed by more than two decades in manufacturing.
“I was exposed to a lot of things during that time, including engineering,” he said. “My work has a lot of electrical and mechanical components to it because of that exposure.”
His sculptures are formed mostly with metals, but he uses many other mediums as well.
“Whatever I need to accomplish the piece,” he said.
“We were drawn to Jim’s playful yet sophisticated use of imagery and language,” said Georgia Schwender, curator of the Fermilab Art Gallery. “He has a history of using physics and physics references in his work, and his enthusiasm leapt off the page of his application.”
Jenkins is a graduate of the University of Iowa with a degree in fine arts, and he rents studio space at Water Street Studios in Batavia.
He also brings a decades-long fascination with Fermilab. The laboratory is known not only for its cutting-edge physics research but also for its physical beauty, an aesthetic that traces back to founding director Robert Wilson, who was a sculptor himself. Fermilab launched the artist-in-residence program in 2015 as a way of connecting the laboratory’s science with new audiences using the medium of art. Oak Brook textiles artist Lindsay Olson was the first artist-in-residence in 2015, and Chicago multimedia artist Ellen Sandor of (art)n held the position in 2016.
As artist-in-residence, Jenkins will produce new works inspired by Fermilab’s work, and he already has several ideas. As he usually does, he also plans to compile a book explaining his work and donate it to the Fermilab Art Gallery.