FAIRBANKS, Alaska — From his attic studio on the third floor of Fairbanks’ Co-Op Plaza, Tanner Jackson Rhines makes contemporary art with his trusty G2 Pilot pen. On any given day, his work could be sold at a local First Friday event or at a studio in New York or Europe.
Rhines, 23, grew up in Fairbanks. In an interview last week, he discussed his journey from West Valley high school student to internationally exhibited artist.
Rhines is an Alaska artist, but is by no means an Alaskana artist. He takes inspiration from modern artists such as abstract expressionists Mark Rothko and Jeff Koons, the artist famous for his stainless steel balloon animals. Cartoons such as Pokemon and Mario also influence Rhines, along with dozens of his own characters, such as a bomb-throwing economics professor superhero, and Inky, his take on a Sumarian god of creativity and fertility.
Many of Rhines’ drawings are tiny cartoon details contained in a simple silhouette of an image such as a skull or a Pokemon character. He calls this approach “condention,” a word he made up when he was in high school. It’s based on the word “compression,” and Rhines defines it as a “psychological labyrinth of characters and life energies.”
Rhines took out one of his condention drawings to demonstrate as he explained the idea. Each detail has a storyline in Rhines’ mind.
“I know every line that I have, almost,” he said. “You can point to anything and I’ll tell you what it’s about.”
The walls of Rhines’ studio hold a handful of his pen and ink drawings, as well as an abstract acrylic Rhines said he painted just to be different. The piece is titled “Just to be Different.”
“For someone else, it’s probably not different, but for me it is,” he said.
He’d like to do some more work in other media, including 3D printed sculptures, wood panels and mandalas, a style of Indian religious art. Sometimes it can be hard to expand because of his success with pen and ink.
“I’ve always wanted to do wood panels. I’ve had people try to block me from doing wood panels. They’re like, ‘You need to stick to your black and white style,'” he said.
Rhines spent most of his career working as an artist. He’s also a part-time baggage handler for Delta Airlines and has worked as a welder and labourer. Last year he and his cousin launched Modern-Volume, an online store that sells shirts and bags with Rhines’ designs.
Rhines attributes much of his career success to the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, which he entered when he was at West Valley. It’s a contest that launched the careers of many famous artists and writers, including Andy Warhol and Stephen King, Rhines said.
“Scholastic was the doorway into everything,” Rhines said. “I really do encourage anybody who is in high school and interested in art to enter.”
Today Rhines is featured in the famous artist section of the contemporary art online marketplace Artsper. He said he’s never felt overwhelmed working in the international contemporary art world.
“I feel right at home. I’m an artist. I couldn’t imagine my life being any other way,” he said.
Part of the reason he wanted to work for Delta is that it the job’s travel benefits will make it easier for him to get to art shows around the world. But Rhines has no plans to move to a larger art market. He likes it here, he said. In addition to all his international work, he’s trying to do more locally, with shows this year at Good Cannabis, Hoarfrost Distilling and Bobby’s Downtown.
His work will also appear on a new downtown mural this year. In 2017, Rhines worked with fellow Fairbanks artist Amanda Wells on a mural at Fourth Avenue and Lacey Street. This year he’s planning to add a second mural in the patio of Lavelle’s Taphouse.
Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com
Sam Friedman, The Associated Press