Jacob A. Pfeiffer | Visual Surprises

Obvious Choice, oil, 14 x 11
Obvious Choice, oil, 14 x 11
By Gussie Fauntleroy

Like a magical bookcase that swivels to reveal a hidden room, the bookshelf in Jacob A. Pfeiffer’s attic studio holds a secret. Pfeiffer loves to lead unsuspecting guests to the renovated third-floor workspace under the roof of his almost 100-year-old home. Through gabled dormer windows he points out the Madison, WI, skyline. Then he walks across the room and, barely suppressing a smile, gently pulls one edge of the wooden bookcase. On well-hidden casters it glides away from the wall, revealing a secret compartment for storing frames.

What motivated the 33-year-old artist to design and build the mystery bookcase is also the source of inspiration for much of his meticulously rendered art: a love of visual surprise. Which is closely related, in both his paintings and personality, to an irrepressible passion for puns, whimsy, fun, and what he considers an almost inborn sense of Midwest silliness—but intelligent silliness, of course.

“I don’t want to take myself too seriously,” Pfeiffer reflects, sliding the bookcase back into place in the wall. Then he adds, “These are serious times we live in; you’ve got to be able to laugh.” Paradoxically, perhaps, he is very serious about his art. He was serious about it even back in his teenage years, when his native Milwaukee was one “giant cement playground” and he fearlessly launched himself, via skateboard, off ramps and down flights of steps.
Reaux Sham Beaux, oil, 14 x 11
Reaux Sham Beaux, oil, 14 x 11

It helped, of course, to have a father who taught high school art, encouraged Pfeiffer’s interest in drawing, and gave him art supplies as gifts, even after divorce removed him from his son’s daily life. “In high school my father proclaimed that I was a better draftsman than he was. That was kind of a turning point for me,” Pfeiffer reflects. At least as important was his mother’s foresight in enrolling her son in magnet schools for the arts, beginning with first grade. Throughout elementary, middle, and high school he absorbed the fundamentals of drawing, painting, and representational art. His mother, artistically inclined herself, was involved in non-profit organizations working to combat poverty and domestic abuse. That activity provided her son with a sense of social justice and political insight—traits that today are revealed in subtle ways through his art.

Like many kids, Pfeiffer drew cartoon and comic book subjects and graffiti-style flourishes that impressed his friends. Later he sharpened his figurative skills by drawing skateboarders doing fantastic feats. “I was always attracted to realism. It required discipline, and not everyone could do it,” he confides. By the time he entered the University of Wisconsin’s art program on a full scholarship, he saw himself as fortunate to have gained an artistic head start. He was able to apply credits earned in high school, move directly into advanced courses, and benefit from one-on-one instruction with his professors. He graduated with honors in art education while continuing to refine his painting skills and develop his own style…

Featured in June 2007
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