Abstract Surrealism

Jamie Niles A Contemporary Artist

WORDS BY Heather L. Young  

Every ArtNite excites me. Without fail, I walk into the newly outfitted gallery and find something that captivates me. A new style, a new artist, something that just jumps off the walls and grabs my attention. That’s the instant response I had to the work of Jamie Niles. Soft spoken, quiet demeanor, his work in no way matches his personality.

His resin works are loud and energetic, his metal sculptures, sharp and intense. If I didn’t know better, I’d think they were the works of two separate artists.

Jamie, a retired Blackhawk helicopter pilot, started painting while stationed in Iraq. His early works are more illustrative and figurative than his current collection but exhibit bold colors much like the palette he uses today. You can also see abstraction and a love for graphic shapes starting to emerge in his military series.

Jamie and his family have called Richmond Hill home since 2005. Liliana (his wife) is an artist, too, formerly an art teacher in Chatham County and now a Spanish teacher at Richmond Hill High; his daughter Marcela is a graduate of GSU and his son Austin attends Kennesaw State. Jamie retired from the Army in 2012 and enrolled in Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) that same year. He intended to double major in painting and furniture design. Then he took a job at Fort Pulaski where he worked as a National Park Ranger which put his SCAD education on hold for nearly 10 years. Determined to finish, he graduated with a BFA in Painting in 2023 and has since been making his way in the fine art world. Fort Pulaski has one of his pieces in their permanent collection and SCAD has added seven of his paintings to their’s. He also capped off his graduation year with two works featured in the prestigious Port City Review, a publication that features the best of SCAD student work.

Jamie’s abstract paintings feature layer upon layer of texture, bold shapes, and color. Some have an all over consistency reminiscent of Jackson Pollock, others allow more resting space for the eyes. All of them have a surface depth that draws you in. You’ll find bits of cut paper, pills, candy, and foil layered between paint and resin. He builds his own sturdy panels and each piece averages 10-12 resin pours. They are heavy! The result is something only fully appreciated in person, a visual journey he describes as “illustrative, abstract, surrealism.”

As with his paintings, his sculptures combine materials like stainless steel, copper, wood, bronze and natural found objects. Crab Evolution features seven horseshoe crabs stacked into the shape of a scorpion complete with nails and screws. His sculptures feel edgy whereas his paintings feel more organic. He can’t tell me his favorite medium, and he’s quite skilled at both.

His more recent paintings are exploring positive and negative relief. He’ll drill a hole through the panel, then take the plug and adhere it to the surface of the piece to allow him more depth to play with. “That’s where I’m going. I want to blur the line between painting and sculpture,” he says. A few of the small pieces he’s showing at the gallery look as though the painting is melting off the panel. He’s allowing the resin to run over the edges, but what looks unfinished is actually shaped to his liking. “When I’m doing abstracts, I keep turning them and turning them.” The viewer can hang his work upside down and the composition still works.

His process is forgiving. He points out a dull spot on a shiny resin panel. An unlucky fly landed in his resin, so he carved him out. The dull spot will vanish when the next layer of resin is applied. That said, I find the most interesting thing about his work is the unexpected narrative. Each piece has a dreamlike quality that very much reminds me of works by Kandinsky and Miró. (He should have immortalized that fly.)

When asked where he plans to take his art career next, he suggests maybe finishing that furniture degree, a masters in painting, or even going to school for welding, a skill that would easily lend itself to more sculptural ideas.

While his larger works are costly to make and therefore carry a heavier price tag, his collection of smaller abstracts are perfectly attainable. He’s certainly one to watch and a contemporary breath of fresh air to the Richmond Hill art scene.

You can view his work online at www.JamieNiles.com. I highly recommend visiting the Arts on the Coast Gallery located at 10750 Ford Avenue (inside the Visitor’s Center) to fully experience some of his works along with those of over 30 other artists currently on display.

Join us for the next ArtNite December 15th, for a small works show, just in time for holidays.