Jim Denomie and The Creative Oven: Over 15 years in the making

The NRA, See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, triptych by Jim Denomie
The NRA, See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, triptych by Jim Denomie

The Creative Oven, a new painting by Jim Denomie, has been in the works for over 15 years. The diptych, which is 12 feet tall and 7 feet wide, is about the creative process. Over the years, he has done sketches, trying to work out what the painting would be. A recipient of the McKnight Visual Artist Fellowship, Denomie will be showing the piece along with several other works alongside his fellow recipients, Chris Larson, Ruben Nusz, and Natasha Pestich starting this weekend at MCAD. We caught up with Denomie.

The Creative Oven by Jim Denomie
The Creative Oven by Jim Denomie
Can you describe this new piece you've created?

It's called The Creative Oven. It's a concept I've had in my head for about 15 years. Sometimes, when I'm into a painting, I just get absorbed in it. I forget about time, and I forget about other things and often I miss deadlines, like paying bills or returning a call or something.

In this painting there's an artist on his hands and knees. He's sticking his head into a gas oven and cranking up the gas. His head goes through this smokestack, up through the sky into this second panel which is the dream world, and he sees this scenery. 

There's lots of colors, lots of creative imagery, both art history -- there's Picasso, Van Gogh, Dali, Rousseau -- and then there's my own creative images that come from my imagination and from my dreams. The rest of the real world is filled with these distractions, these obligations, that obstruct me from getting my head into the creative oven. The pick-up truck with the ladder and tools in it represents my job, the mail truck represents paying my bills, and there's all kinds of things in there -- family events, mowing the grass, golfing, fishing -- that compete with my time for getting into the studio.

I have other dreamers and thinkers in there, too. They all have these minds that head up toward the dream world and are connected to these heads that are popping up through these volcano forms. And so it's a place where all artists go for their inspiration. 

Are the other pieces you are showing for the McKnight reception that are also looking at the creative process? 

Well, I'm going to put in several other paintings. A couple paintings were done more recently -- the last couple of years -- and then some newer portraits that I've been doing while I've been working on the big painting. 

Remote by Jim Denomie
Remote by Jim Denomie

What are the portraits? 

Well, one is a play on the NRA: See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil. And then I'm going to put in three other portraits that aren't titled, they're just kind of disturbed people. 

Did the McKnight Award allow you to spend more time in the studio than you might have otherwise? 

Well, there's a $25,000 cash award with it. It sounds like a lot of money, but it's really not when a third of it goes toward taxes, and then towards some health issues. I was able to take off some time to work on The Creative Oven, among other things. So yeah, it bought me some studio time and supplies and materials. The canvass itself cost me about $600.

Is the work in this show a change for you, or how does it compare with your earlier work? 

I don't think it's a change for me. I've had this concept in my mind for probably 15 years, and this seemed like the right opportunity to produce this painting. But as far as the other work, I think it all just fits into my evolution as a painter: going from one painting to the next and seeing what opens up and what is discovered and what's developed.
For the big painting, once you started it, how long did it actually take you? 

I started it last summer, probably last July or August. I started to do the undercoating, but I had other deadlines I was working toward as I was working on this painting, too. So even though I started it last August, it wasn't worked on exclusively. In fact, I put it aside for a couple months. I was looking at it in February and I thought, 'I've only got two months. I need to get this thing ready.' So that's when I took off about a week and a half, and really paid full attention to this thing and brought it to an interesting position. 

Badass by Jim Denomie 
Badass by Jim Denomie 

Were there specific choices that you made in terms of the kinds of color that you used? 

Yeah. I love color, and I try to mix it up every time. I start paintings differently, and I've been playing with undercoating by doing these impulsive undercoatings with different shapes and colors here and there. 

Was there a reason you made this a diptych? 

My garage is only eight feet tall, so it had to be two separate pieces. But then a month ago, the colors were too close between the sky in the lower panel and the ground of the dream world. I had the photographer join the two panels seamlessly and put a white space between them. After looking at that, I decided to put the white space between the two panels. 

And why are they not of equal size? 

The dream world had to be bigger because its more expansive. It's unlimited compared to the real world.  When I started this painting last August it was a smaller size. It was going to be 10 feet by 6 feet. When I started it, it seemed too small. Now I wish I would have made it 8 feet wide and 12 feet tall. 

What else do you have coming up besides the McKnight show? 

David Feinberg from U of M is doing an alumni staff show, and he asked if I wanted to show with him and another friend of ours. That's coming up in September. And I'm doing a show out in Allentown, Pennsylvania, at Cedar Crest College. I'll fly into New York and drive to Cedar Crest. There's a reception and an auditorium slide lecture. Then I'll go to New York to see some art and make some connections.  
Jim Denomie and The Creative Oven: Over 15 years in the making
Eminent Domain: A Brief History of America by Jim Denomie

And you recently sold a painting to the Denver Art Museum? 

Denver bought Eminent Domain. It feels tremendous. Museum acquisitions are the premium recognition for artists. I was hoping to be able to show that painting here in Minnesota. It went to Santa Fe for a group show, and then went to Denver Art Museum and they purchased it. 

The Eminent Domain painting, and others you've made over the years, have a seething political voice mixed with emotion. Do you have to be in a certain state to create work like that? 

Significant work like Off the Reservation [a part of the 'We are Here' exhibit at All My Relations], Attack on Fort Snelling Bar and Grill -- they don't come every day. I do landscapes or animals -- those can come spontaneously.


"The 2012/13 McKnight Visual Artists Fellowship Exhibition"
Featuring Jim Denomie, Chris Larson, Ruben Nusz, and Nastasha Pestich.
There will be an opening reception 6:30-8:30 p.m. p.m. Friday, June 14
MCAD Gallery
Through July 14

Denomie's work can also be seen as part of Artists in Storefronts at GM Wurtzel Custom Furniture and Designs (2613 Stevens Ave. S., Minneapolis). 

Use Current Location

Related Location

MCAD Gallery

2501 Stevens Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55404



Sponsor Content


All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >