Interview with Artist, Jessica Hess
22 Jul, 2012
To view more of Jessica Hess’ work visit her website at: www.JessicaHess.com
Dig In Magazine interviews artist, Jessica Hess before her exhibition at White Walls Gallery in San Francisco, California. An artist since childhood and a graduate of Rhode Island School of Design, Hess has been featured in New American Paintings and was spotlighted in Harper’s Magazine and Broken Meter. She also illustrates for SF Weekly. Hess paints urban decay and often gravitates to objects covered in rust and layers of colorful graffiti. Always armed with a camera, she takes upwards of 10,000 photos a year, which then become the basis for many her paintings. However, although she draws inspiration from her photographs of the decayed and graffiti covered environment, she often alters it in her paintings: "I have been known to shoot something during the day but make a painting of it at night. Doors and windows get moved around and sometimes I knock off whole stories from buildings. Trash is always removed from my paintings…Every painting begins with a photo and ends with being photographed." Hess is currently the only female artist represented by White Walls Gallery. Her show "It Finds You" will take place at White Walls Gallery from September 3- September 24, 2011. [Interview posted on August 1, 2011]
Dig In Magazine: Where are you originally from and where are you currently based?
Jessica Hess: I was born in Massachusetts, raised in North Carolina, schooled in Rhode Island, and finally enjoying San Francisco, California.
DIM: Where did you study art? Were you formally trained?
JH: Officially I attended the Rhode Island School of Design but that is not where I learned to paint. I have very supportive parents who had signed me up for watercolor class when I was five years old and oil paintings lessons by age eleven. I had a private painting instructor for ten years before RISD. I also studied etching and darkroom photography before college.
DIM: How long have you been creating art?
JH: My whole life. I remember the first time I got in trouble in school. I snuck back indoors during recess to draw instead of playing with the other children. That was preschool… story of my life. The second time I was in first grade when my parents received a letter insisting that I not write in cursive because the students had not been taught that yet. Oops. My mother had taught me early because I thought it was so pretty. By third grade the letters complained of my anatomically correct drawings of mermaids and so on…
DIM: What is the subject matter or focus of you artwork?
JH: I paint urban decay. Usually this means architectural landscapes but more recently the work has grown to include broken down vehicles, scrap yards, demolition sites and more. Most things I gravitate to are at least covered in a layer of rust and often layers of colorful graffiti.
DIM: How would you describe your artistic style?
JH: My style is realistic but not photorealistic. When viewed in person the paintings are obviously just that, paintings. But to the average internet surfer my work comes across as photographs. I am tight but I assure you there are about a hundred extra hours between my surfaces and those of the texture-obsessed, highly polished, photo realists. What can I say? I just don’t get that excited about chrome. It is not that I can’t. I just don’t see the point of re-creating a photo.
DIM: Where have you shown your work?
JH: New York, Boston, Los Angeles, St. Louis, San Francisco, Cincinnati, Providence, Miami, Montreal Canada, and West Melbourne Australia.
DIM: What are some of the publications you have been featured in?
JH: I have been featured in New American Paintings. My work was spotlighted in Harper’s Magazine and Broken Meter. I also illustrate for SF Weekly and can be seen there sometimes.
DIM: What about street art and urbanity inspires you and your artwork?
JH: I am a big fan and supporter of street art. Let’s face it. Most of my paintings would be really boring without it. I enjoy the contrast of these quiet vacant locations with the loud busyness of the marks left by other artists. Graffiti adds so much life to the city even when there is no one on the street. It is very comforting to see.
DIM: How did you learn to write/paint in a graffiti style?
JH: Observation. I am skilled in the art of being a human copy machine but watching an artist work with spray paint, seeing how it drips and fans out, is most informative. The key is painting the layers the same order in which the layers of graffiti coated the surfaces.
DIM: What do you like to paint with?
JH: Oil on canvas is most vibrant, smooth, and forgiving. I also enjoy using gouache on paper. Gouache colors are bright and even like a good silkscreen print. Gouaches quick drying time is a nice change from the slower drying oil paint. I can make an oil painting in a month but sometimes it is nice to feel more productive and finish a gouache painting in a day. I use acrylic sometimes but we don’t get along so well.
DIM: What is your favorite artistic medium?
DIM: I understand that your process begins with a photograph, can you expand on the process of creating an art piece from idea to final painting?
JH: I always have my camera with me. If I see a subject that excites me I photograph it. I shoot upwards of 10,000 photos a year. Seriously, I have the back-up drives to prove it. My paintings are informed by anywhere from one to a hundred photographs. I often change things around as my use of photo references is quite aggressive. I have been known to shoot something during the day but make a painting of it at night. Doors and windows get moved around and sometimes I knock off whole stories from buildings. Trash is always removed from my paintings because I hate litterbugs. I also hate cars in landscapes. Unless a vehicle is the subject of a painting it will not be included in a painting. Every painting begins with a photo and ends with being photographed.
DIM: Who are the artists, living or dead, who have had the greatest influence on you?
JH: I love David Schnell. Lucky for us all he is still alive and part of the contemporary German Leipzig School.
DIM: What art did you contribute to “Paint It Now III” in Brooklyn, New York at Fowler Arts Collective?
JH: I sometimes take a break from the landscape painting and make drawings of naked women with rooster heads. I call them my “Cocky Girls”. They comment on gender bending and arrogance. As a female in the arts I can safely say that there aren’t enough females in the arts. Rather, it is difficult because the art world is such a boys club. Graffiti is also a boys club. This would be a good time to mention that I am currently the only female artist represented by White Walls Gallery. So… in my spare time I present ladies…naked ones.
DIM: I understand that you created and painted some porcelain spray paint cans, which were featured in various shows across the nation, can you tell me a bit about these art pieces in terms of what they are, what they symbolize, the inspiration behind them, and what exhibitions they were featured in?
JH: The cans came to be as a result of Leslie Ferrin, owner of Ferrin Gallery, having introduced sculptor Christa Assad to me. The cans are collaborative works and are the brainchild of Ferrin. She represents both Assad and me in her Western Massachusetts Gallery and she thought “Hey, I have a sculptor who doesn’t enjoy painting surfaces and I have a painter who is looking to branch out into 3-D.” The subject matter we already had in common. Christa was making porcelain spray cans and my paintings focused on spray can art. Naturally, we got along. The spray can is iconic of the entire street art genre and is a symbol of free speech and rebellion. Our collaborations have been a breath of fresh air for both of us and our sculptures have travelled to several major art fairs including SOFA New York and ArtMRKT San Francisco.
DIM: How were the porcelain pieces created?
JH: Christa throws the cans on a wheel. Each is handmade and unique.
DIM: What are you presenting at “It Finds You,” your solo exhibition at White Walls in San Francisco in September?
JH: The show will feature the ongoing evolution of street art in my landscapes. My work is increasingly better informed as I get more involved with the street art community and get to know these artists. My newest works are growing, literally, and the show will feature my largest oil paintings to date. The show will include oil paintings (large and small), gouache paintings, the can collaborations, and even a couple of photographs.
DIM: What are your plans for the future in terms of your artwork and art career?
JH: My plan, and the best advice I can give any artist, is just to keep on making art.