By Judith Levine
It took several months for us to be in the same place with enough time to do an interview, but it was worth the wait. Jonathan Jaeger’s sunny disposition and huge warm smile just pull you right into his world.
The artist was born in 1970 in Oklahoma City, adopted in 1973 where he would end up with two brothers and a sister and many relatives who form his close-knit family. The family moved to Washington, Pennsylvania to be closer to part of that extended family in 1975. He spent his time growing up in Pennsylvania.
“My earliest memory is from 2nd grade when I realized I wasn’t an ace artist straight away!” he said. Though he had not had formal classes, he began to do a lot of sketches. He only took one art class in high school but was disappointed when it turned out to be very formulaic and lacking in passion for art. He began university at Dayton University in Ohio as a communications major. Jaeger returned to Pennsylvania, switched to Mercyhurst College and earned a Bachelor of Science in psychology in 1998. Other than the one Art History class at Dayton, art faded from his life
The next five years saw Jaeger working for the state government as a social worker. “I continued to pursue a career in social work and believed it was my calling [but it was] not my passion,” he said.
That first year saw him at a halfway house, focused on helping troubled youths. “I realized I wasn’t cut out for the turmoil.” He switched to a program that focused on troubled families, a job that lasted for four years; then a friend mentioned he was moving to Washington, D.C. and Jaeger decided to go with him and spend more time with family in this area. He got a place in Germantown and, “I thought I had landed in heaven!!”
The places he had grown up and worked in were fairly homogeneous and for the first time he was living in an area well known for its diversity. The artist is multi-ethnic and says “I had some racial issues growing up, sometimes I still do, I am always walking the line between one race or the other and that causes me to feel like I have no identity.” (He is part White, part African American and part Polynesian) He met his wife online, and they married in 2006. They are currently raising their son and daughter in Silver Spring.
Initially the artist continued to do social work but he began to realize he needed to decompress. He left social work behind and went to work at Washington Adventist Hospital as a transporter and art came roaring back into his life. “Art was sort of looming...I was into tech...” so he began using a digital app to make paintings and drawings that he shared on social media such as FB. “One day I said to myself ‘If I can paint on digital, I should try doing it using actual paint’. So I went to my basement and did. [I realized] it was a passion thing and I couldn’t stop.” Soon he became a member of the Olney Art Association, he then met Sandra Perez Ramos leading him to both Montgomery Art Association and the Washington Projects for the Arts Gallery where he currently exhibits regularly.
When asked about artists that he gravitates to, he immediately mentioned Jean-Michel Basquiat. Anyone familiar with Basquiat can see why. Both paint in a somewhat similar style, use of colour with those fierce yellows, oranges and greens. Both show profound passion in their paintings. The biggest difference is that Basquiat paintings show the inner torment that led to his early death while Jaeger’s deal with things around him, things that see him using the full range of emotion. He closely identifies with Van Gogh for similar reasons, the colour, the movement within the compositions and the intensity. The third painter he feels a kinship with is Picasso. And like Picasso, he has no plans to end early. It is not to say that he doesn’t feel things to the depth of him-he does. It is that he has refused to allow it to destroy him. He sees a passionate need to speak through his work as the way to feel complete. All those years he pushed his passion for art down are behind him. He now can no longer imagine a life without being an artist.
Jaeger’s advice to a new artist is “Feel what you are painting. Don’t be judged by society. Follow your ethics.” Johnathan Jaeger is a deeply religious man. He continued, “This conflicts me sometime when the passion I reflect, how I think how G-D would judge me as opposed to how my church would see it. In the end, freedom is very important to me when I choose what to paint.” We finally agreed that we see our talent is something we personally see as a G-D given gift to be used as honestly as we can. To that end, the artist hopes to do a lot more travelling across the United States and eventually to Europe where, hopefully he will be seeing his work exhibited. And yet it is here he expects to keep returning, where his family, his friends, and his heart remains.
Note: To view title of work just hover your cursor over the lower right bottom piece.