James Vetter (American artist)



Jim Vetter’s interdisciplinary path explores landscape painting, assemblage, “combine” construction and photography, along with poetry and performance art. His self-described goal is to “push landscape painting beyond what I have experienced to date.”

Vetter’s artistic world was shaped early by his grandfather, who was a welder, tinkerer and outsider artist. In his grandfather’s junkyard as a child Vetter recalls, “I would attempt to build functioning rockets to go to the moon using sheet metal, wood, wire and tar.” As an adolescent, he began skateboarding as a creative outlet- reinterpreting the urban playground and becoming part of a larger community of like-minded individuals. At sixteen, skateboarding blended with the artist/punk-rock scene. On the verge of not graduating high school due to his poetic rebellion contrasting the formalities of the English structure, he embraced ceramics, photography, painting and physics. Additionally, at sixteen, he enrolled in Psychology and B/W Photography at Shasta College in Redding, California, which solidified a lifelong passion for the arts and culture.


At Shasta College under the guidance of Richard Wilson, Vetter developed craftsmanship, draftsmanship, and his concept of an artist in society. There, he began to understand form, color and design, including the tactile nature of the entire process of painting. At the suggestion of Wilson, he transferred to study at San Jose State University (SJSU), working regularly with professors Patrick Surgalski, Sam Richardson, Rupert Garcia and Wilson’s mentor Frederick Spratt, SJSU Professor Emeritus. There he gained invaluable insight characterized by intensive experimentation, exhibition, performance, as well as artistic and professional development, while experiencing the thriving arts culture first-hand at the Citadel Studios artist community, where he lived and painted, amid the boom and bust backdrop of the Silicon Valley tech bubble.


Frederick Spratt recalls becoming familiar with Vetter’s work in 1996, “It was an abstract work, to be sure, but it looked like it barely made it to the wall…Either it was simply terrible or it was pretty good-independent and refreshing,” referring to his first purchase of work by the young artist. Spratt visited Vetter’s studio soon after, igniting a professional and personal relationship. Formally apprenticing with Spratt for two years, he honed his craftsmanship via constructing frames from scratch for high-end fine art, installed art for gallery exhibitions and in homes of collectors throughout the Bay Area. Through late night conversations over dinner about art and jazz, Vetter was able to learn directly from Professor Emeritus Spratt, and by 1998 had established himself as a respected local artist in San Jose, joining the Frederick Spratt Gallery.


In 2000, Vetter launched the 706gallery out of his living room at a new location on South 8th Street, becoming a catalyst in the underground downtown San Jose art scene, featuring nineteen monthly art exhibitions, four live music performances, three performance artists and film presentation by international filmmaker and photographer Fan Ho. A majority of the artists showing at 706gallery have become professional artists, gallery owners, college and high school art instructors, etc. Jack Fischer, San Jose Mercury News Art Critic wrote, “And while it is the Park Avenue joints that get the notice, I happen to think the real virtue usually lies closer to Jim’s end of the spectrum.”


Additionally, while in San Jose, Vetter performed solo multi-media performance projects, exhibited his paintings as the culmination of a three-month Artist-In-Residence program at the WORKS/San Jose Gallery, maintained professional representation with Frederick Spratt Gallery, and was an Art Educator for the Triton Museum of Art in Santa Clara.


In the wake of the tech-bust, Vetter moved to Sacramento, establishing a reputation as a respected and diligent artist, while maintaining his professional relationship with the Frederick Spratt Gallery through 2004 into Spratt’s retirement. One of Vetter’s most meaningful experiences began in 2004, co-launching the SKYLAB Youth Development Program for 200 homeless youth in a permanent-supportive housing project in Sacramento. Over six successful years as the SKYLAB Youth Development Program Director, he designed multiple programs incorporating elaborate arts curriculum, service-learning, leadership development, while building a dynamic team of employees and network of partners, and securing sustainable funding through writing several successful grants and the follow-up analysis. Blending his passion for nonprofits and the arts, Vetter became a volunteer Board Member for Chalk It Up! Sacramento, where he planned and facilitated an annual three-day event to raise funds for children’s arts education, serving approximately 20,000 attendees.

In 2013, Vetter secured his second BA Degree, in Anthropology, with an emphasis on culture. Specific aspects of his more recent academic studies began to inform his approach to painting, including Folklore, Linguistics, Archaeology, Human Behavioral Ecology and Origins of Agriculture, adding a depth and complexity to his work. By understanding concepts like vernacular architecture, literary structures such as Propp’s narratemes in storytelling, or variations on a theme like in 1950’s free jazz, Vetter translates, adapts and makes reference to a wealth of rich material.

In 2014, following two years as a K-12 Art Teacher for YoloArts, serving public schools throughout Yolo County, including Dan Jacobs Alternative School at the Juvenile Hall in Woodland, Vetter joined the Performing and Fine Arts Academy at Natomas Charter School as the new full-time Visual Arts Teacher, teaching drawing and painting to middle and high school students. He continues to live, paint and exhibit in the Sacramento region.

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