Jim Neeley Biography
Jim Neeley grew up in the Midwest, where his mother was the fine furniture and home accessories buyer for a family-owned specialty store. He grew up “merchandising” and designing everything from his bedroom to elaborate costumes for family theatricals. His first “income tax–paying” job was as a window designer at his hometown department store. Later, in Chicago, Jim began what would be a 15-year career with I. Magnin; the last position he held was Vice President of Visual Merchandising for the 25-store chain. In this senior capacity, he designed in-store boutiques and executed chainwide in-store campaigns for the world’s most prestigious fashion houses, including Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel, Paloma Picasso, Ferré and Donna Karan.
Jim left the corporate world to pursue new adventures, including the opening of a unique wine country bistro in California. He cofounded the Tzabaco men’s retail concept and catalog with his partner, David Dow, and served as Creative Director for the brand. After selling Tzabaco, Jim and David went on to pursue another of their longtime passions by opening a retail and wholesale antique business specializing in an offbeat and decorative mix of merchandise. Their unique showroom presentation led to interior design projects for private clients.
Since 2000 Jim has cultivated an interior design business focusing on residential, retail and hospitality projects. His previous career experiences, extensive travel and lifelong eye for good design have equipped him to bring great style to all of his projects. Each includes at least one whimsical Wisecracker custom piece. To disguise an unattractive service door in a restaurant, Jim fabricated a massive room divider from vintage wooden cutting boards. And for a client in Scottsdale, he decorated a focal wall with black-and-white photos of bikinied women lounging poolside at the iconic Arizona Biltmore Hotel. His interior design is classic and timeless, both luxurious and casual, and always reflective of an quirky view of life.
In 2017 Jim dusted off volumes of sketchbooks that archived concepts for art pieces that he’d been wanting to create “someday.” His current work traces its roots to an assemblage project he completed in his senior year of college. The new work is very graphic, precise and crisp both stylistically and in its execution, with references to the works of Louise Nevelson and Joseph Cornell. Found and antique objects, recycled materials and other odd bits and pieces are first primed, heavily coated with gesso and then coated with multiple layers of matte finish paint. These built-up coats and chalky colorations “erase” much of the superfluous detail and reduce the elements to their purest form. Brutish, mundane implements made of metal or glass are transformed into sensuous, soft objects that appear to have been carved from blocks of plaster. These objects are then meticulously arranged and assembled into compartmented wooden boxes. Each assemblage is informed by Jim’s fantasies, experiences or personal obsessions with the quirky, odd and obscure. Subjects explored range from a fascination with almost anything 1960s and ’70s to the look of cultivated fields from 30,000 feet above to various architectural vernaculars whose signature elements are distilled and distorted to abstraction.
Jim is drawn to assemblage for a variety of reasons. The mechanics of handling and assembling the pieces involve not only design decision making but also careful sequencing and problem-solving. Because of the layering of gesso and paints, each piece requires time and patience before it is ready for final assembly. For his type-A personality, this studio work has been life altering. Thematic abstractions allow Jim to explore, exploit and embrace a vast and diverse catalogue of visual ideas that reflect his personality as a designer—and also as a bit of a Wisecracker.