Jessica Hess studio visit and interview on her latest body of work “It Finds You” at White Walls gallery – by Aimee Dewing with photos from Michael Cuffe for Warholian
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If you’ve ever been standing on an empty city street, say, roaming downtown city street long after all the bars have closed and the noisy people have gone home, you know one thing. A city never really feels empty. The streets speak.
For those of us living in urbanity the adverts, the billboards, the wheat-pastes, stickers, tags, splotches and splatters speak loudly. You can almost piece together the whole story. The people that live there. The issues on their minds.
Jessica Hess moves through San Francisco like a graffiti artist. “If I am in a car I only notice the big locations like billboards, mural walls, buildings along highways and train tracks,” she explains. “If I am on a bike I start to see all the smaller wheat-pastes, meter boxes, posters, etc. But I prefer to take in the city on foot. This way I can see every little sticker and tag.”
But her medium isn’t graffiti. Her gift isn’t the little tag. Jessica knows her shit. Her subject matter may be the gritty city, but her technique is that of a formally trained artist. Jessica took her first art class when she was five years old—a year too young to be admitted to the watercolor class but her sketches and encouraging mother convinced the teacher otherwise. Jessica explains, “It was watercolors at age five, oils by age eleven, darkroom photography at age fifteen, etching at age sixteen…and so on. I have very supportive parents.”
She opens her first solo show next month at White Walls gallery so in anticipation of the big event, Warholian eagerly paid Jessica a visit. Now a few questions for this oil painting street artist:
1.) Where did you grow up and what landscapes stick out in memories that helped to define you as an artist?
I grew up in Wilmington North Carolina. It is a pretty, southern, beach-town. Lots of blonde cheerleaders and surfers. I stuck out like a sore thumb… I do remember however Wilmington’s historic downtown. I took a photography class in high school, in one of the last of the dying darkrooms in public schools. I shot most of my photography assignments downtown. There were lots of old buildings there. There was one vacant brick warehouse in particular that I loved. Actually I became quite obsessed with it. I remember crawling all around it. Trying to get in, sticking my arms through the broken windows to photograph the inside. I did many drawings of that building. Years later after the standard portrait and still life classes in college my subjects drifted back to architecture, specifically run-down warehouses. So, looking back, my interest in architectural landscapes can be traced back to age fifteen or so.
2.) Tell us a little bit about the technique, the process:
My technique was instilled in me by my painting instructor back in Wilmington, North Carolina. I had a private tutor every Saturday for two hours in the morning. I would get dropped off at his studio where I would paint with him and listen to public radio. He taught me the Old Masters oil painting techniques of underpainting and glazing. I still use these techniques, for the most part, to this day.
3.) How do you feel about your upcoming show next month? What are you hoping to convey?
I am very excited about my show next month. The sheer volume of work it takes to fill a gallery like White Walls is staggering, especially when one takes a look at my work and realizes the amount of time and effort that it takes to create one of my pieces. Hopefully my insane dedication to my craft will be apparent. The show will have my largest painting to date measuring 66″ square. This is significant only because regardless of size, the final layers are still painted with a 00 brush. On one hand making work like this is a welcome challenge, on the other it is just a healthy way to battle my OCD. Hopefully my love and appreciation for street art will be apparent as well.
4.) You have an edge as a talented woman in an ever-changing art world. What’s it really like to navigate the scene and watch it all unfold from the inside?
Navigating the scene is difficult because every artist has a different path. It is not like being a doctor or a lawyer where you graduate, get an internship, and follow in the footsteps of those before you. Every artist embarks on his/her career in a completely different way. There is no guaranteed program or map. Everything is subjective. Throw in luck and being in the right place at the right time and you have a recipe for confusion. There is little security in the art world. If an artist is going to make it, they must have thick skin, dedication bordering on insanity, and sky-high confidence. I can never really tell where I am at in my career. As a painter I spend most all of my time in the studio making the work. My knowledge is set in canvasses, colors, and composition, but increasingly I am learning about the importance of good P.R. and arts place on the internet. All I can say is I must be doing something right to connect with White Walls and I feel very lucky to have done so.
5.) You’re speaking to an international contemporary audience through urban art. What is the world like through your eyes and how does this set the backdrop for what you paint?
My focus on street art and graffiti is based on a love for this ever-popular art movement and is a way for me to collaborate with these artists even though it is an anonymous interaction for the most part. I do feel a sense of community as a result of the inclusion of street art in my work.
6.) When and how do you work?
I have always worked better at night. My studio days usually begin around sundown and I paint until 3 or 5am. Vampire hours. Sometimes people think I am lazy when they learn I sleep till noon. To this I respond I have a 9 to 5 job just like everyone else, it is just that mine is a 9pm to 5am gig.
Jessica’s show opens September 3rd at White Walls gallery in San Francisco.
For more on “It Finds You at White Walls Gallery visit: http://www.WhiteWallsSF.com
Visit Jessica’s Official Site at: http://www.jessicahess.com/
“Like” Jessica on Facebook here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Jessica-Hess/166859156693757