Jamison/Thomas Gallery: 1985

This group exhibition Jamison/Thomas Gallery 1985 is a recreation of the Jamison/Thomas Gallery when it opened its doors in 1985.  Sales from the proceeds of the exhibition will benefit the William Jamison Scholarship Fund at PNCA.

This group exhibition closes SATURDAY, December 19 with a Reception from 4-6 pm

Jeffrey Thomas Fine Art is pleased to present the historic retrospective Jamison/Thomas Gallery 1985 as the final thematic addition to this year’s exhibition calendar of curated group shows.  Jamison/Thomas Gallery 1985 is a recreation of the influential Jamison/Thomas Gallery circa 1985, with selected artwork on exhibition that is specifically dated to that period.  It is an opportunity for the many cultural denizens of Portland, both new and old, to immerse themselves in downtown Portland’s early contemporary art scene.  

The Jamison/Thomas Gallery opened exactly 30 years ago.  Twenty years ago, William Jamison passed away after a long and valiant fight with AIDS.  Today we can continue to appreciate William Jamison’s gentle community-minded spirit in the fountains and common areas of the Pearl district park that bears Jamison’s name. 

This exhibition, Jamison/Thomas Gallery 1985 is also organized as a fundraiser for the William Jamison Scholarship at PNCA.  Every art piece in the show will be for sale through a discrete silent bid process, providing tremendous opportunities for “feel-good value” among both experienced and beginning art collectors. 

“What’s so amazing about so much of the work we show is that the first people to recognize and respect its importance are often other artists. Then, with that kind of support, other people begin to see the work in a different way.” William Jamison

Visitors to Jamison/Thomas Gallery 1985 will experience a time warp of sorts, a memorable look-back at a downtown art scene which has been shifting and blossoming ever since.   From a curatorial point of view, this exhibition asks the question: what is art that is dateable and what is art that is dated?   Why is it that some artwork exists only as a reflection of its time in history, while other artworks continue to stand the test of time?  What work from 1985 is still powerful, engaging and relevant today?   This exhibition attempts to answer that question by pulling together different strains of artistic expression in Portland circa 1985.

Portland was a very different town in 1985.  Jamison/Thomas Gallery 1985 is an unvarnished exhibition that will showcase “the good, the bad and the ugly” of the 1980s mainstream art scene in Portland.  No punches are pulled.  Some art works remain as fresh and relevant as the day they were made.  Other art reminds us of a specific period in history, the Reagan years, when the world started moving towards   design-based explorations of surface patterns and effects over deeper emotional content.

In 1983 Thomas took a job with William Jamison’s Folkcraft Gallery because he had interned at a prestigious New York gallery while in high school and knew the business.

“Only 3 years old, the Folkcraft Gallery – really a shop at that time - was struggling. Together Jamison and Thomas began shifting the emphasis toward a gallery with regular thematic monthly shows and solo artist openings.  At the time, the flame of the visual arts was fanned by only three galleries: Elizabeth Leach, an artist-run effort called Black Friction, and, of course, the ever-dominant Fountain Gallery.”

Randy Gragg, The Oregonian Nov. 23, 1990

It was an interesting partnership from the start, Jamison/Thomas formed by two partners who could not have been more different.  Jeffrey Thomas was born into a family of mainstream contemporary art curators and collectors from New York City, and he was Jamison’s junior by 15 years.  William Jamison, on the other hand, was raised in a small community in Ohio where he had taught painting and sculpture; he was more interested in artists who were not academically trained but whose work deserved attention and exhibition.   Needless to say, when they both finally agreed on an artist to represent, the work was always quite interesting and deserved attention.  

Together, Jamison and Thomas began searching for self-directed or “outsider” artists, following up on clues, tracking word-of-mouth, listening and looking.  It took a lot of investigation. Sometimes it took months to work out the details with the artists, many of whom were reluctant to show their work to the public in the first place. 

“The artists didn’t always trust us.  Fortunately, William had a talent for artist relations and was persistent in his efforts to win them over with his charm and Cheshire cat-like smile.”  Jeffrey Thomas

Jamison and Thomas were vocally passionate when discussing their artists, which raised both the profiles of their artists as well as awareness among collectors. In 1985 Thomas became a full partner and the Jamison/Thomas Gallery was born. 

“I suppose it had always been in the back of my mind to open a gallery. I was interested in artists who were not academically trained. It was an evolutionary process, one that went much faster once Jeffrey got involved”.” William Jamison

And as fate would have it, just after the Jamison/Thomas Gallery had opened its doors in downtown Portland, Thomas met an influential art critic on one of his trips to New York, a publisher who was personally interested in this new “outsider art” that was starting to gain attention.  In November 1985 the new gallery received an unexpected christening, a major boost in the “Dealer’s Eye” section of House & Garden magazine.  Their phone started ringing off the hook.

As more and more inquiries were being fielded from collectors back east, Thomas saw the need for expansion beyond Portland.   In August of 1986, with Jamison holding down the Portland homestead, Thomas moved to New York to open a tiny gallery near Bleeker Street in a West Village storefront he co-rented with a divorce lawyer. 

By 1988, the Jamison/Thomas Gallery had moved into a large prime SoHo space carved out of a former brassiere factory on lower Broadway.  It was at this time that the New York gallery’s focus shifted to contemporary New York artists and away from art with an “outsider” edge.  In 1990 the art market bubble collapsed, and by 1992 Thomas closed the New York gallery and headed back to Portland.

In 1995, just 10 years after opening his gallery, William Jamison passed away, Jeffrey moved to the creative services industry as a producer and so the Jamison/Thomas Gallery closed for good.  However, the two directors of the Jamison/Thomas Gallery in Portland, Jane Beebe and Charles Froelick, went on to open their respective galleries that have carried the torch into the light of the present day. 

In 2015, earlier this year, Jeffrey Thomas opened his own gallery after a 20 year hiatus.

This exhibition makes evident that from the very beginningJamison/Thomas Gallery 1985 displayed art that was NOT similar to anything else being shown at the time. This criterion of authenticity was applied by the team of Jamison and Thomas in judging all the work that they handled.  One of the major attractions of work from this period was its purity and humor, qualities Thomas thinks may have been sullied by the hard realities of an art world moving towards conceptual work and digital manipulation.

“We showed unique works of art that did not demand that you read a book or digest a plateful of critical theory in order to engage and understand them.  While it seems like a long time ago, but I will never forget the good times working with Wiilliam Jamison. We had a good run and I cherish this opportunity to share the spirit of 1985 again”.  Jeffrey Thomas

About Jeffrey Thomas Fine Art:

An exhibition like Jamison/Thomas Gallery 1985 brings together many diverse and well-established artists who rarely are seen together under the same roof in the same exhibition.  The mission of Jeffrey Thomas Fine Art is to keep significant NW artists in front of the public through focused group shows such as this one, each devoted to an important theme that can be explored by placing different artworks in a “visual conversation” with each other.