Looking at Jeff Boutin’s painting September is a sensory exercise in memory. The acrylic on canvas painting stirs memories of running a young hand over curling, rough birch tree bark and the sound of early fall winds circling high above ombre, trembling leaves.
While his abstract Imagine That, an oil on canvas, pulls another memory into view when a young woman stood flush with curiosity during her first viewing of Jackson Pollock’s Mural.
It’s no surprise that Boutin’s work brings to mind such visceral images. Boutin dips his inspirational brush into the likes of Pollock, Leroy Neiman and Vincent van Gogh to create paintings that straddle what he describes as “somewhere between impressionism and expressionism.” “I love what [van Gogh] did to the art world,” the Eden Prairie resident says. “He didn’t care about the traditional art world.” He also points to wildlife illustrator Robert Kuhn and painter Nathan Oliveira as professional favorites.
Boutin translates his inspiration from other artists into his work. “I get a lot of compliments on how happy my paintings are,” he says, calling it the Dessert Effect—“You work on a painting until it’s [good enough], so you want to eat it.”
He attributes this notion to his success, particularly in the Twin Cities’ market, and his accessible art is drawing art lovers into purchasing his work for their homes and businesses, including Regions Hospital and other area medical centers.
While Boutin makes it easier for people to incorporate art into their everyday living, art took a roundabout route in his life before it finally took up residence in his soul. Boutin was raised in Milaca, Minn., in a home with three brothers, mother and father, a plumber, so it might be easy to understand why Boutin says, “Art wasn’t even discussed in the family.”
Yet, his mother received an art scholarship to college when she was an eighth grader. For a reason that was never explained, his mother didn’t grasp that opportunity. Talked about or not, art was part of Boutin’s DNA.
Just a few months into his sophomore year of high school, Boutin’s health forced him to drop out of school. Born with epilepsy, the frequency of his seizures became debilitating. An experimental procedure to alleviate his condition had a 60 percent survival rate—odds he didn’t want to gamble with, so Boutin decided to set school aside and work for his father. (He’d later get his GED.)
Thankfully, Boutin’s seizures ceased in his early 20s, and he began decoratively painting cars, followed by creating custom carpet and rugs, later owning a carpet mill. He also began painting—on canvas rather than cars and carpets. “It’s always been a part of what I’m doing,” he says of his artistic endeavors.
Boutin sold his carpet business in 2004, and a friend discovered one of Boutin’s paintings. Encouraged to present it to a gallery, Boutin sold his painting on the spot to Art Resources Gallery.
Today, he sells more than 150 pieces a year, with the price point ranging from $300 to $5,000. Beverly Madden-Bishop, manager at Art Resources Gallery, says Boutin has been the gallery’s best-selling artist for the last several years. “He has tremendous mass appeal, and his work is very décor friendly,” she says. Calling his style eclectic, Madden-Bishop adds, “He doesn’t limit himself in terms of style, which is very unusual.”
While a primary style may not be his moniker, Madden-Bishop says Boutin’s calling card may be his use of color and texture. A palate knife is Boutin’s tool of choice, loving the texture it provides his pieces. “One or two strokes and you get that depth,” he says.
Wildlife and plants are reoccurring themes in his work. Boutin’s study of birch trees could fill a gallery.
Boutin has also delved into mixed media to satiate his thirst for texture. Sweet Boy and Sweet Girl use children’s clothing pieces, plaster of Paris and acrylic to illustrate innocence. “I was trying to connect with people’s childlike feelings,” Boutin says. “It did seem to strike a chord with people.”
His work also struck a chord closer to home. Since retirement, his father has become an artist in metalwork, selling his pieces alongside his son.
Art at Home: Tips for incorporating art into your space
For the uninitiated, purchasing art for a home can be intimidating. Local painter Jeff Boutin offers his pinpoint opinion. “Buy what you like,” he says. “If you connect with a piece, it will match. Décor and art should (reflect) your personality.”
Mary Mackmiller, of mackmiller design+build (mackmiller.com), is well versed in purchasing art and offering a guiding hand to clients. “In a word, (art) should enhance the décor,” she says, adding, “It should be an exclamation point to a room.”
Taking this into account, she cautions against over decorating a space. “If you have too much to look at and the room is visually cluttered, your eyes don’t know where to look because as the designer, you haven’t allowed them to focus,” she says.
When investing in art for a home, Mackmiller says, “If you can afford it, purchase original art.”
Not only does she suggest supporting local professional artists, she recommends pieces by college and high school artists, as well, and it’s as easy as keeping an eye out for local events. “For example, some high schools have art sales and shows,” she says. “Every year, the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) has a student art show the weekend before Thanksgiving.”
Sometimes original work can come with a hefty price tag—the key word being sometimes. “If you shop right, you can usually purchase original artwork at or below some reproductions,” Mackmiller says.
Ready to venture into the art world? Mackmiller provides a checklist:
•Pay attention to scale. “If it is too large for the space, it will overwhelm it. If it doesn’t fill the space, it will look out of place and as if it doesn’t belong.”
•Prior to purchasing, measure the intended space and take photos of the room for reference. “(Buyers) make an impulse purchase instead of considering where it will fit or look best in their home.”
•Consider other art pieces in the room. “For example, if you have a contemporary room with contemporary art already in the room, a Western themed painting probably would not enhance the space.”
•Be clear on your style. “Spend time on Houzz.com and look at photos of the room you are purchasing art for that is a similar to the décor, (for example) traditional, contemporary, mid-century modern, et cetera, of the room you are purchasing art for.”
•Take notes. “Start an idea book on Houzz and make notes of why you like an art piece.” Note the style of the art piece (realistic or abstract), the medium (oil, acrylic, watercolor or mixed media), the main colors of the room it will be in and the colors of the other artwork and scale. “Review your idea book, and a clear picture should emerge of what you like and what will look best in the room.”