The Mixed Media Brilliance of Jon Rollins
By Jim Dodson • Photograph by John Gessner
On a golden Indian summer afternoon not long ago, mixed media visual artist Jon Rollins, 29, stands with a visitor in the middle of a quiet gallery room at High Point’s innovative COHAB space talking about the power of being an underdog.
This is hours after the soft opening of Rollins’ first solo show in his home state, and the second since his first solo show of his contemporary abstract paintings in New York City in early 2019. In a normal year, at the height of the fall High Point Market, the COHAB space and this gallery would both be bustling with buyers and sellers.
But 2020 is anything but a normal year.
Several of Rollins’ large and striking contemporary abstracts on display around the stark, white room were originally meant for a private showing by a corporate client that got delayed by the COVID crisis, prompting COHAB owner John Muldoon to propose a last-minute public showing at the popular shared space facility on West English Road.
“It means a great deal to have my first showing in the state here in the town I call home,” Rollins quietly explains. “There’s a bit of the underdog mentality about High Point which I’ve always been drawn to.” High Point, he says, doesn’t have a terribly strong art vibe the way, say, Greensboro, Winston-Salem or the Triangle do. “On the other hand, that strong underdog ethos can be a great motivating factor in a place like this. You see it going on all over this town, a kind of awakening. I am pleased to be part of that.”
This thoughtful son of a Wesleyan minister grew up in several smaller central North Carolina towns before graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill with a B.F.A. in 2013. He made a beeline for High Point, where he took possession of a house near the campus of High Point University that belonged to his late grandparents, transforming it into both a home and studio.
He relates to the mind of the underdog, he explains, because he wasn’t exposed to much visual art growing up, and while he fell in love with printmaking during his high school days, he went off to college thinking he might actually study journalism. It wasn’t until his junior year at Carolina, in fact, that he became a committed “inner art nerd.”
Whatever insecurities Rollins may have had about his new calling, he found a way to brilliantly metabolize and transform them into dramatic abstract canvases using a variety of materials from his past, a trove of what he calls “personal artifacts and scraps” that tell the story of his journey including childhood scribbles, doodles, rags, tape, old sketches from high school, newspaper clippings, forgotten notes, table coverings, even pieces from abandoned works.
“Some of these [scraps] are from last week, others from 20 years ago,” he explains in a fascinating 12-minute YouTube film he made of his process of creation last spring, one he compares to playing chess. “I’m never quite sure where a piece is going to lead me,” he amplifies as his visitor follows his eye around the gallery. “I sometimes think of this as someone learning to dance for the first time. It’s uncertain, fragile, unknown even to me.”
Part of the allure of his craft is the breadth of his chosen working materials.
The introspective scope of his works are presented with a variety of mixed elements ranging from ordinary house paint to crayon, from toner ink to masking tape, from charcoal to chalk, from pen and pencil to cardboard and old receipts, forgotten notebook entries and so much more. Black is a recurring color, he notes, simply because it speaks to his first love as a printmaker. “All printmakers love black ink,” he says with gentle understatement.
Remarkably, the unpredictable fusion of these everyday scraps and elements produces compelling textures and bold images that are laden with surprises that grab the eye and set the viewer on his or her own imaginative journey within.
On this particular afternoon, a quiet work called Ground catches this visitor’s eye along with a pair of magnificently subtle and related abstracts full of architected lines named House, Ascending and House, Descending — perfect for a bare wall that need a little personal introspection.
And so the journey begins. It’s a bit like learning to dance. A kind of awakening that the viewer is very much a part of.
Search “Jon Rollins: Scrap Painting” on YouTube to view the artist’s documentary of the making of a work titled Ponk. His show, undo, may be extended into December and may be viewed at COHAB Space, 1547 W. English Road, High Point. See more from Jon Rollins at jonrollins.com.