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Pottorff’s images of outer space inspire his creative side


Jerry Pottorff’s interest in art began at a young age, as he became fascinated with shapes and colors. Though becoming an artist was never in his plans, he stayed close to creative endeavors. He graduated with a degree in biological science and entered the advertising field, eventually starting his own marketing consulting business. But the fine arts kept calling to him as he started to develop his own art form which uses images from captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. Now Pottorff works full time as an artist, and his paintings are currently on display in an exhibit at the Ankeny Art Center, 1520 S.W. Ordnance Road.

When you were a child, did you ever imagine yourself working full time as an artist?

It was totally a fascination with shapes and colors, and I never saw myself going in that direction. I realize now that I always stuck close to creative endeavors, even when I was getting my degree in the sciences. I also had an interest from a research standpoint. It was the process of creating something new that drove me in that direction in the first place. It wasn’t so much the sciences themselves.

Did advertising become an outlet for your creative tendencies?

Yes. I would still make paintings in my spare time and I did some freelance writing for a public relations firm because it was what I liked to do. I guess in some way I’ve been really fortunate over the years because I had no problems getting into advertising. I just feel like I lucked into it in a lot of ways. Art was a lot the same way. I’m not at a point now where I would say I’ve got it made by any means, but it’s going a lot better than I anticipated.

What made you decide to start your own marketing consulting business?

I always had a burning desire to not work with anybody. Not that I thought I could do it that much better than anybody else, but just to see if maybe I could. I grew up on a farm and you ran your own life and I just wanted to run my own life. For better or worse, I wanted to run my own life.

What did you love most about your career in advertising?

I loved seeing a company that I worked with do something that I had developed for them and seeing it make them a better company. That was really where the enjoyment was to me. If they were better off after you started helping them, then there was a great sense of accomplishment. And I still miss that today.

Was there one big push that encouraged you to pursue your artwork full time?

I had comments from people who encouraged me to pursue it. I got slides taken of my work and began to send them out to galleries. I got the usual rejections but also received encouragement. A small gallery in Burlington began showing my work and people began buying it. Not only were people buying multiple pieces, but they never quibbled with me on prices. That encouraged me to get into it in a much more serious way. All this didn’t happen overnight.

When you left your career in advertising, had you already been marketing yourself as an artist?

I really hadn’t. But what I really decided was, to be successful you had to devote all your energies to it. You could play at it and dabble at it, but it had to be treated like a business. It was after people began telling me that I should sell this stuff that I made the move. There was at least some assurance that it wouldn’t be a total waste of time.

How did you develop your art form?

Through magazines and different publications, I ran into Hubble Telescope photos. I looked at those and said, “Those are absolutely incredible paintings in their own right.” I didn’t want to duplicate them. I’m just not a realism person – I don’t have any desire to paint things that actually exist. But I thought what if I took the textures, the colors as they’re combined in these photos and the overall concept, and then created paintings that had all these elements. It’s evolved, but they all remain true to the concept of objects that exist in space that the Hubble has seen – the textures, the shapes, the colors.

Are your paintings your interpretation of what you’re seeing or are you pulling out different elements and piecing them together?

I would say it’s both. I take different elements and arrange them in combinations that don’t exist normally. So there it’s my interpretation. But I do try very hard to remain true so that what is in the painting does exist somewhere, somehow. I try not to invent shapes, just rearrange them.

What are your goals as an artist?

I think that, to me, it is a business and my goal is to keep growing the business. By that I mean to have more places to buy my paintings and in places where more people can buy them. And I also want to evolve the work itself. I haven’t done my best work yet, so I keep getting better at what I do. It’s like the carrot – you keep trying to reach it and it becomes an obsession. If there’s a demon to art, that’s it.

What struggles do you encounter with your artwork?

It’s never done. I’ve had a few where I’ve said “That’s as good as it gets.” But that is such an exception. I think it goes with the territory. To me, there are quirks that go with everybody and every field. And to me, the brain that makes you good at something carries some of these characteristics along with it, whatever they may be.

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