When Billings artist Jon Lodge speaks, a different language flows through him.
It’s a world where art and the printing business and jazz engage. It’s a world where random meets contrived and the natural world meets the industrial.
Big Timber artist Jerry Iverson, who exhibited with Lodge at the YAM in 2000, said Lodge sounds like a wild man, but he’s actually very down to earth.
“He sounds obscure and spacey and distant and he talks about things in a different world,” Iverson said. “But when you get to know him and get to know his work, he is very practical. He is influenced by the materials of his daily life. He is surrounded by inks and paper and film at Artcraft Printers.”
Lodge has worked in the printing business for years, managing Artcraft Printing in Billings. His work reflects some of the materials from the printing business. A series he is working on involves dropping white paint into squares created by a grid. He then lays carbon paper on top of
the wet drops, waiting to see how much carbon is absorbed by each drop.
“It’s setting up the rules then letting it run the course,” Lodge said.
His 2000 multimedia work, “Stochastic System No. a3P,” is part of the YAM’s permanent collection. The piece, which uses graphite, carbon, body color, ink and thermal paper on canvas, is on display in the YAM’s Visible Vault through the end of August.
YAM executive director Robyn Peterson considers Lodge one of Montana’s most fascinating and “mind-bending artists.”
“When I look at Jon’s work, I see paradox materialized. I see focus combined with distraction, order and randomness, the rich colorfulness of non-colors, and sound made visible.”
Lodge frequently uses sound as part of his artist talks and demonstrations. He studied arranging, jazz improvisation, and composition at Berklee College of Music and performed jazz from 1964 to 1973 in the Boston area before returning to Montana.
When the 2000 exhibit, “Native Eloquence,” opened at the YAM, Lodge invited several community members, including Marvin Granger, former director of Yellowstone Public Radio, to read different publications in unison. He said he chose the group because of their vocal pitch.
For this article, Lodge invited a reporter to create a work of art, using his explicit instructions, including listening to the sound produced by the spray of gas-propelled aerosol adhesive. The project involved gluing nine sheets of clear mylar to a white sheet of paper. The yellowish bubbles from the adhesive could be seen in the shiny mylar windows. Lodge jumped up and clasped his hands in excitement at the subtle nuances of the squares.
“Look at this one, it looks like Yellowstone Park with the ground bubbling up, only this is a toxic chemical. Isn’t this great!”
Lodge’s childlike wonder at things and his enthusiasm for experimentation are part of his charm.
“He pays attention to very minute things. I love that sensibility, it’s extremely subtle. It’s from the gut,” Iverson said.
When Lodge presented a solo exhibit at Catherine Louisa Gallery on North Broadway in Billings last fall, his invitation was an art project that invited the participants to explore static electricity.
“His work forces viewers to search for small things and to notice the barely noticeable,” Iverson said.
Lodge encourages viewers to vocalize their impressions about his artwork and for an experiment, he asked that random viewers without any prior introduction to his work view one of his pieces and respond to it.
Michelle Kay brought her 11-year-old daughter Makayla to the Visible Vault to view Lodge’s piece, “Stochastic System No. a3P.”
“I thought it looked like sheet music or wood when I first saw it,” Michelle said. “But when I see it from close up, it looks like scratch paper.”
Jordan Webber said it felt like an experiment that could lead to something else.
“I have no visceral or cerebral reaction to it,” Webber said. “Perhaps hate is too strong a word, but it reminds me too much of crunching data for my thesis.”
Makayla said it reminded her of a road map. When asked whether or not she viewed it as art, Makayla said, “I would probably say no.”
“It looks like a kindergartener did it,” Makayla said.
Lodge was not in the room when the three people viewed his work, but he said he did interact with a young volunteer at the YAM’s annual art auction who confronted him about his work.
As the young woman was holding his multimedia piece just about to walk across the platform where it would be sold at the live auction, she looked over at Lodge and asked if he was the artist. When he confirmed he was, she said, “How can you call this art?”
Lodge said it was one of the greatest moments of his life.
“She was expressing something about the piece, her gut reaction to it. It was fabulous,” Lodge said.
The work, like so much of Lodge’s work, relates to jazz and to the king of that genre — Miles Davis.
Davis is so important to Lodge that Lodge noted on his resume the first time he heard a Davis recording, which was when Lodge was 16 in 1961 and living with his family in Red Lodge.
“The story is that John McLaughlin came to Miles and said ‘I don’t know how to come in on guitar.’ Miles said, “Just play like you don’t know how to play guitar.’”
Lodge said that is the concept behind his artwork, removing the obsession with technique and focusing more on the process.
As a kid growing up in Red Lodge, surrounded by beautiful mountain peaks and rivers, Lodge said he was more attracted to the crumbling concrete, rusted steel gears and the orange water flowing out of the old mines there.
“I didn’t want to make pictures of nature. I tried to get out and find out what makes nature work. I was looking for the surface tension of the molecules and their relation to the atmosphere.”
When you view Lodge’s work, he suggests that you look for the energy in it. When creating his artwork, he is concerned with the way it looks to him but just as important, Lodge said he craves the pure stimulation of a piece of art.