Greg Jaris Unleashed

Time is Jaris’s nemesis. He yearns to add art to everything he sees, and dip into every medium. He adds wooden puppy dog tails to benches and conjures a dancer with pink toe shoes from a pine branch, turning the burls into boobs. Recently he started printing cormorants on Tibetan peace flag look-alikes. "I like cormorants. I feel sorry for them because they are persecuted. They should eat the perch first – they were here first, not the fishermen."

Jaris dives downstairs into the basement to his ceramic studio and printmaking shop. Beside the kiln sprawls a treasure trove of junk ceramics. "Anything broken and ceramic ends up here," he says. He combs garage sales for broken teapots, or finds nodules of purple glass or cast-off bathroom tiles left as offerings at his doorstep. Jaris plunges his hand into a stack of tourist plates from Niagara Falls, Chicago and Mackinac Island. "These are terrific! Look! Where in the world would you find a plate that says Chicago like that when you needed it?"

Jaris moves from the ceramic debris to a new line of prints. He holds up a black-and-white print showing two kids out in a boat at night. It’s part of a new "flashlight" series to capture the thrill of going out in the dark. Next he shows the same print filled with vivid color – the flashlight’s beam suddenly illuminates frogs, fish and turtles. "I love this intense color!" he exclaims. "Why not? We need to inject more color into life."

Back upstairs, Jaris pauses at the gallery door. There’s one of the abandoned teapot lids, embedded in a doorway mosaic. It’s part teapot, part woman now, since the round handle forms a pert nipple sticking out of the mosaic. What would the original tea-set owner think? "I like to push it to the edge," says Jaris. "Get people off-guard, push people and inspire them."

If you see a man in one of Jaris’s pictures, it’s bound to be Jaris himself. He likes to add a small anchor tattoo on his right bicep, though in truth he doesn’t have one. And the blond swimmer? Always Linda.

Today, Jaris’s art would not be the same without Linda. She is his business manager, artistic foil and architect (she designed the gallery). She’s an artist in her own right, but has channeled her artistry into the Trick Dog team. "I wouldn’t be anywhere I am without her," Jaris says.

Greg and Linda married right out of college in 1970. Their daughter, Meghan, was born eight years later. At first, Jaris taught drawing and design at Grand Valley State University, and together the newlyweds ran a pottery studio. They moved north in 1983 in search of the small town life Jaris loved so much. For years, they sold Greg’s art through galleries and shows. Just when Meghan went off to college and money was tight, the Jarises opened the Trick Dog gallery. "It’s every artist’s dream," he said. "Intuitively, I knew it was going to work. As you get older, you trust your intuition more. It was now or never. You just do it. Believe in yourself." The gallery came first, but Linda said customers persuaded them to add a cafe. "People would hang around so long, they’d ask, ‘Do you have a sandwich?’"

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