James (Jim) Herbert, American painter and filmmaker, has earned his reputation largely through his exploration of nakedness and how it relates to human relationships, with ourselves, with others, and with the wider environment. His art is often described as sexual, but it is rarely just sexual. When asked in a recent interview whether creating his art was an erotic experience, he replied, ‘No, because the narrow utility of the attraction of sex gives way to the whirling dervish of making, an entirely different kind of focus and excitement. For me making art is a sensual, playful experience – but with the possibility of a wreck on every turn.’ Which is maybe a really helpful way of thinking about sex in general.

Herbert was born in Boston and grew up in Rhode Island. He began his informal art education as a teenager, attending figure drawing classes at the Rhode Island School of Design. He earned his BA degree in art history from Dartmouth College in 1960 and his MFA in painting in 1962 from the University of Colorado, where he studied with the abstract expressionist painter Clyfford Still and the experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage.

In 1962 he moved to Athens, Georgia, where for many years he taught painting and filmmaking at the University of Georgia. While in Athens he made many music videos for REM and the B52s, together with numerous short films of nudes in the Southern landscape. An early film, Porch Glider, made with a grant from the American Film Institute, premiered at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

His first solo show of paintings in New York City was in 1970 at the Poindexter Gallery where he showed for many years until it closed. Herbert’s paintings have been exhibited in numerous solo and major group exhibitions including two Whitney Biennials, the Walker Art Center and the Los Angeles County Museum, and his work is represented in many museums and private collections, including the Centre Pompidou in France and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

In a 2016 interview with Paul d’Agostino in Art Interviews NY, d’Agostina wrote ‘Jim is among the most prolific and existentially devoted artists I’ve ever known. His large, indeed mammoth paintings are manifestly gestural, chromatically invigorated portrayals of sexually exploratory intimacies on monumental scales. By blowing so far up and out such ostensibly private moments of variable ardour, discomfort or bliss, and by doing the thrust of the painting with his hands or improvised tools as opposed to brushes or knives, Jim mines the allegorical and titillatory potential of some of life’s most delicate details in a visceral, consummate manner.’

You can read the whole of Paul d’Agostino’s interview here.

Jim Herbert’s website, with many more examples of his work and information about exhibitions, can be found here.

Example illustration