By Molly Barber
Sometimes our lives seem to work like a classic James Joyce novel. We might not realize when the circle begins but more than likely we feel that familiar déjå vu tingling as the circle is coming to an end. And in that “Aha” moment we see and understand the twists and turns that seem to have brought us full-circle to this special understanding. Jake Early witnessed his circle coming into fruition as his passion for creating serigraphs grew from hobby to career.
Jake is a Chico native but that’s not where this circle begins. We have to go back a little further than Jake, back to his mother and aunts. These sisters attended a Catholic school in Hollywood during the 60’s. “Just a normal Catholic high school but it so happens that the art teacher, who was a nun, was also a world famous artist and she screen printed all of her work.” Jake explained. Sister Corita was her name and she was contemporaries with Andy Warhol and other activists who fought against poverty, racism, and injustice. Screen printing was her medium and she was famous for incorporating popular song lyrics, slogans, literature and bible verses into her work. These were the images Jake saw regularly. “I grew up surrounded by her screen printing artwork, I think it made an impression and it’s something I’ve always been attracted to- just the way it looks.”
Jake attended Chico State studying graphic design, a couple years into school he was hired at a local screen print shop. This particular shop not only screen printed shirts but also paper. This was were Jake’s passion for the art began to grow. “All of a sudden I’m now making screen printed posters and it’s kind of all connected. I remember this big moment of realizing, ‘Hey this is what my mom’s art teacher did’ and it kind of struck me that I really like this stuff.”
He graduated and moved around the country before he found himself back in Chico working a pretty good gig at Enloe Hospital. He’d been there for a couple of years when he started to really miss screen printing posters. “I had this idea that I could build a printing press and manually operate it and I could do it with scraps.” Jake said and he did just that. Now with his own printing press, Jake was able to work on his own posters after work. Around 2002 Jake had his first two prints and he took them to the farmers market to try to sell. “I literally got laughed at, didn’t sell a single thing.” Jake said with good humor. It was a little while later he got a call from Chico Paper Company. “I think she bought everything I had that day. And they started selling. They bought almost everything that I had in the first three prints and I was planning on a fourth. I got that (fourth print) done sooner rather than later and they took all those. And all of a sudden this whole little business started going and it took off from there.”
His serigraphs are gorgeous and can be recognized not only by his vivid color schemes or the unique look of screen prints but more so by his ability to replicate the feeling of the place. Whether you’re looking at his Chico collection, his California Lake series, or any other piece of work, if you’ve been to the area that he’s so perfectly captured in his layers of paint, you can feel the emotional connection. A good example of this can be seen in one of Jakes earliest prints- the water towers on third and orient in Chico. This was actually one of the prints Jake took to the famers market to try to sell. He explained that when he was younger his favorite thing to do with his friends was to draw but then being little kids naturally had trouble with some of the techniques. Their parents got together and hired a Chico State student to tutor the kids. After school they would walk to her house for their lessons. “The only way we could find her house on our own was she lived underneath those water towers. So it was like, ‘If I can find those water towers, I can find my art teachers house.’… So they’re really sentimental- those water towers.”
If you are interested in serigraphs or just want to see Jake in action, you can go to his website, Jakeearlyart.com, where he’s posted videos of him working and you can also check out his awesome prints. It’s refreshing to meet artists who find inspiration for their art in what has impacted them and then can transfer that emotion so readily and seamlessly to the viewer. This incredible ability is a common trait in Jake’s work. “I think there’s one thread that goes through all of my work and it’s about place. And it’s that everything I do has a sense of place and I’ve been doing this for 15 years or so on my own and every single print I’ve ever made, that place has been meaningful to me. Somehow, I think it’s intangible but if I have a connection to that place, it makes the print better… I have to know what the place feels like and smells like and looks like and what color it feels like.”
Jake is able to look back and see the twists and turns that brought his circle round again. We all have these circles that have played or are playing out in our lives now. Sometimes our lives seem to work like a classic James Joyce novel.