Vietnam the Inspiration for Jim Finnerty's 'Final-Final' at Grove Gallery
Painting memories can be a challenge, but for veteran Jim Finnerty, they were cathartic abstractions of his experiences in Vietnam. He was studying at Milwaukee’s Layton School of Art when he enlisted at age 19 in order to, as he put it, “get it over with.” He served a three-year tour that included service during the Tet Offensive.
The return home was abrupt. An article written by Nan Bialek for M magazine in 2011 describes his transition back to civilian life. “It was a 48-hour trip from the battlefield to his living room where, Finnerty says, ‘you’re watching the war you just fought on TV.’” Finnerty went on to finish his degree at Layton and establish his graphic design firm DesignCor. His successes include designing the mascot for Irish Fest, which is still in use (sans original pipe).
Finnerty said little about his wartime service to those outside his closest circle, but in 2008 was diagnosed with PTSD. As a means of grappling with his wartime experiences, he began painting them. An exhibition including 20 of these, “Final-Final: Paintings by Jim Finnerty,” is on view at Grove Gallery in Walker’s Point.
The paintings are abstract and bold, many large in scale along with some powerful smaller canvases. What you will find is a gathering of works with expression and insistency that convey recollections of feeling without resorting to overt detail. In a painting like Night Sky, the horizon is marked by disjointed strokes of green that separate hills washed in orange and red, touched by blue and purple. The sky is like an ink-washed print, blotting over the rosy tinges at the top. As with many of these compositions, there is an energy and understanding that comes through the artist’s handling of color, materials and varied textures. They stand on their own but their source of origin cannot be denied.
Finnerty died of cancer in 2016 at the age of 68, and this exhibition marks the first gallery showing of his pieces since then. They are resilient paintings, echoing and transforming the struggle that helped create them.
Through Sept. 22 at Grove Gallery, 832 S. Fifth St.