Jim Wheeler’s creative journey had led him across the world. The veteran sculptor, now based in Auckland, is currently showing his solo exhibition Following Nature until 22 August at Artis Gallery on Parnell Road.
Nearly 50 years since his 22nd birthday, he reflects on what advice he would young Jim about what he then considered the impossible task of being a professional artist.
I was born in the USA, where life is all about work and being practical – not exactly fertile ground for a budding artist.
My younger self had no illusions about what to expect upon leaving university with a fine arts degree.
you’ve already made your first important life choice.
At 19, I learned how to meditate and I permanently stopped partaking in the Hippy Dippy party choices of the sixties. The immediate mental clarity from meditation taught me to value and develop my subjective potential.
Your struggles to establish balance in all aspects of life is important, but you will never achieve it.
Work through your priorities and sieve out the most important aspects in your life. Spend more time on those while letting go of the lesser ones.
Learn to live with negative outcomes, they help to develop strength towards the positives in life. Take on a long-term view where small outcomes are building blocks.
At 22, working as a young man meant scratching for a living - making art at the same time was a struggle.
Logic taught me to do what I could to get by while expanding my knowledge and network by finding and interviewing specialists in interesting professions. Over a few years, there were some possible options but they weren’t right for me so I rejected them all.
When I heard about The Johnson Atelier Technical Institute of Sculpture (the Atelier) my intuition stood to attention.
I then made my second major life decision. Essentially I became an apprentice in a bronze sculpture foundry - not a comfortable career choice - except all apprentices and staff members were practicing artists.
Here I began a two-year emersion into the time honoured tradition where artists are taught by masters all aspects of making sculpture. A priceless opportunity to learn within a nearly extinct model.
I completed the programme with honours while working on projects with world renowned sculptors. It was also a time where I learned the importance of living within a community of working artists. My first professional exhibition experience was here in 1979 at an International Sculpture Conference.
A younger Jim Wheeler. Photo: Supplied.
Your natural optimism regarding your future will be confirmed in modest, slowly developed ways through personal growth and earned relationships.
You will be surprised how far this will take you.
Near the end of my two-year apprenticeship, I met David Reid - a Kiwi travelling abroad who visited the Atelier to learn some fine points in casting bronze.
My intuition kicked in again, I asked him for a job and he said yes. I delightedly came down to New Zealand in 1981, helping set up Art Works Studio Ltd. where we re-established bronze sculpture casting in Aotearoa.
Jim Wheeler. Photo: Supplied.
When it does, hold it gently.
I have lived here ever since. Working in many fields, exhibiting, teaching, being a part of several artist groups and balancing life’s many aspects - including my most important life choice- marrying, having 2 children + 3 grandchildren and being a part of a wonderful whānau plus surrounded by dear friends here in my home beautiful Aotearoa.