Greg Jaris bumps his red pickup truck along the dirt drive to his art studio, and two dogs bound to the driver’s side. Trick is black; Pip is gray. They’re medium-sized mutts, tails flapping, paws leaping until the engine shuts down. Jaris punches the steering wheel and delights in the moment – the likes of which he has so often painted. "Yah! You’re home! See that moment?" he says.
Jaris paints moments. He sculpts them. He captures them with ink, watercolor, acrylic, wood and broken teapots. He stuffs moments into lamps, benches and mosaic floors and, with a twist of Jaris magic, elevates them into art.
The studio here at his home is outfitted with a dog flap in the door, and boxes of Meaty Bones and Scooby Snacks. Outside there’s a chainsaw, cans of spray paint, springs and a pink plastic pig. A clothesline stands nearby that he designed for his wife, Linda. The clothesline poles are people, and the line that stretches between them is not just a clothesline but an enormous game of cat’s cradle. "Why do it plain?" says Jaris, who is also proprietor of Elberta’s Trick Dog Gallery and Café, where he sells his work. "It doesn’t make sense to me. That’s how I see the world."
Jaris looks the artist – black sweater, paint-splattered blue jeans and a tiny gold earring in one ear. His mop of dark hair is graying, and his eyes crinkle from a lifetime of smiles. Jaris worships the goofy, the joyful and the bizarre.
His wife, Linda, enters the studio. She’s blond and wears a dusty pink Trick Dog sweatshirt. They met in college during a water fight. Back then, Linda was the art major and Greg an undeclared junior, both at Michigan State University. He used to come over to her studio to study. "He started saying, ‘Can I paint? Can I work with some clay?’" Linda recalls. "It was amazing, all the creativity that came out." Jaris switched tracks to become an art major, despite the art advisor’s initial discouragement. "He told me I’d have to take so many basic courses. It took me 10 seconds to say, ‘I’ll do it!’" Linda and art, Greg Jaris had found the two loves of his life.
It took him a few more years to find his home in Northern Michigan. He moved to Frankfort 24 years ago, and now much of his art is inseparable from the region. In his work you’ll spot images of the Betsie Valley Trail, the Lake Michigan car ferry or the lighthouse at Point Betsie. Jaris swimmers splash by the dunes and hunt Petoskey stones. He carves from local pine and cedar, and paints local summer fun such as fireworks, firecrackers and sparklers. "I love fireworks," he says, with a hint of the pyro-crazed child. "I was in trouble with fireworks all my life."