There’s something down to Earth about how Jimmy Wilson discusses his photography.
Where artists can hide behind mystique or pretension, Jimmy seems to wear his heart on his sleeve, “I got lucky,” he said over and over during our conversation. He isn’t shy to talk about the time and effort it took to get where he is now: “It took me 20 years to find a little bit of success in the art world. It’s a tough world.” Nor is he shy to strip that art world’s terminology of its prestige, dismissing art’s “Fancy words,” like curation, commission, and concierge to talk plainly about what he does day to day. And for the last year, that has been launching and running, what some might call curating, the Jimmy Wilson Gallery.
The Jimmy Wilson Gallery is a fully online art gallery of Jimmy’s own fine art photography, as well as the art of 24 other rotating guest artists. The gallery opened in December of 2020 after the 5 year lease for Jimmy’s previous gallery in Linden Hills couldn’t be renewed. “I was ready to stay there forever.” Said Jimmy. But despite that upset, the Jimmy Wilson gallery happily embraces its new home, advertising itself as, “A gallery everyone can go to.”
The move online wasn’t seamless however. Jimmy laughed when I asked him about it, saying, “This is gonna be really daft, but I’m not used to being on computers so much. I had to buy a new chair!” From there, Jimmy also spent a great deal of time working on the ‘space’ of his new gallery. For the physical gallery in Linden Hills, Jimmy decided early on to, “Use the same creativity I do in producing my work, in producing the gallery because the gallery in and of itself is an art piece.” That same ideology carried across online. And to his pleasure, after launching, it grew, “Like rhubarb in a greenhouse.” Said Jimmy.
But Jimmy’s success in photography was a winding road through several careers. And Jimmy is happy with that: “I didn’t get commercially successful until I was in my 50’s. So, I learned a lot. I learned what to try to be and not to be.” Jimmy worked in commercial real estate in Minneapolis for a decade before moving to the Canadian border to give flight tours over Superior National Forest. From there, he again pivoted careers to become a filmmaker. Over the next 15 years Jimmy made a series of 9 children’s adventure films, before turning to photography. “All these experiences were just refining my craft.” Said Jimmy, continuing, “If I didn’t go through 15 years of difficulty as a filmmaker, it wouldn’t have led to today.”
And when turning to photography, Jimmy has a simple ideology: “Less is more, do one image at a time.” His focus was never on setting up elaborate compositions, nor creating a large portfolio, but capturing, “The one.” Said Jimmy, “The one above and beyond all the others, the one that nobody has seen before, nobody can get over, the one.” From there, most of his portfolio comes from his morning walks around Lake Harriet, in the same neighborhood he grew up in. “At Harriet, that’s where my portfolio is. It isn't that I walk Cedar one day or Bde Maka Ska one day.
I walk Harriet every day. This is the one for me.” Said Jimmy. The secret to life, according to Jimmy Wilson, “Is swimming downstream instead of upstream. Do what comes naturally.” It’s a simple ideology that has carried Jimmy across careers, to bringing a camera around his morning walks and finally to the Jimmy Wilson Gallery. It isn’t something he takes for granted: “I got lucky. I found what I’m good at.”
And that appreciation for hard work, luck, and humility is at the heart of what makes the Jimmy Wilson Gallery so special. For Jimmy, though, it’s even more simple: “I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”