1xRUN Thru Interview
Providence Playground by Jessica Hess
1xRun: Tell us a little bit about this piece, is the original still for sale?
Jessica Hess: “Providence Playground” came to be after visiting a friend in Providence whom I had attended Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) with. He and I were exploring the city on our bikes, looking for murals and graffiti. I had lived in Providence for five years but had since moved away and because graffiti is always changing, most of my familiar stomping grounds were new again to me.
At some point we found ourselves in Fox Point, out by the water. We stumbled across a large abandoned teal-painted building which I recognized from some Flickr images I had come across before. Photos of graffiti covered buildings on Flickr are better than porn, seriously.
We hopped the fence and found a way inside. My jaw dropped. It was definitely the spot I had seen online and though abandoned and run down, was nothing short of a palace to me. Before the buildings street art “makeover” it had been a nightclub. A nightclub painted in teal and purple…no wonder they went under. Now in its derelict state there were spray-soaked bars, painted stairwells, murals on the dancefloors, a tagged up dock outside extending out over the water, smashed windows, and empty spray cans as far as the eye could see. It was perfect.
I have a strict rule in my work: I use photo-reference but ONLY from photographs I have taken. So I was especially excited to be able to photograph and subsequently make paintings of this awesome place since I had finally explored it myself. After shooting about 500+ photos, the sun setting, and my friends repeated requests to “wrap it up” on account of his hungry stomach and shivering, we left.
This painting and print is the result of that wonderful adventure. The original painting is still available here.
1xRun: What materials was the original created with?
Jessica Hess: It is oil on canvas, the original measures 36” x 48” was painted in 2009 when I lived in Boston.
1xRun: How long did the piece take?
Jessica Hess: “Providence Playground” was painted in about a month. 15 of the prints were also uniquely hand-embellished over the last 3-4 weeks. For each I have done a party scene, crime scene, or some combo of the two. The embellished prints are definitely a bit more elaborate than usual.
1xRun: What is unique about this piece?
Jessica Hess: It is one of the few interior scenes I have done.
1xRun: Why should people buy this piece?
Jessica Hess: I think this particular painting is unique amongst my work because it is beginning to explore ideas I have about the physical abstraction of architecture and is indicative of a slow evolution of my artwork towards abstraction.
Let me back that up…My first painting tutor instilled in me the belief that abstract art is the natural conclusion a painter arrives at after studying and exploring realism. He believes the most successful abstract art comes from studied realist painters who fully and understand a subject and its reality; only then could an artist dissect their subjects in an informed way and create meaningful abstraction. It is a goal to work towards and the summation of years of work.
I agree with some of this and do see myself on a path to explore my subjects in a more complex way. I find precious little abstract art interesting currently. In my own art I am increasingly interested in manipulating the geometry of architecture and the abstraction of said architecture first by real physical means like natural disaster, demolition, vandalism, and decay for example. Later I will introduce alterations to my subjects through abstract processes. Sorry, that got a bit heavy…stay tuned and it will all make sense.
1xRun: Why should people buy this print?
Jessica Hess: Um…because I am still your favorite starving artist?
1xRun: Describe this piece in one gut reaction word.
Jessica Hess: Venturous.
1xRun: Your work takes this unique look at still life in a very impermanent world capturing graffiti and street art. How did the idea for working on this type of painting come about?
Jessica Hess: My work began with painting architecture, it was my subject of choice back when I was a student at RISD in 1999- 2003. I have always preferred the buildings on the outskirts of town, the ones with wear and tear and character.
Mostly I admire industrial structures that are out of the way of most traffic and and make great targets for graffiti artists for the same reason. I focus on subjects that most people ignore in everyday life. It is exciting to explore places people walk right by and never look twice at, my paintings reveal the beauty in the ordinary and the overlooked.
I like that you have called the work “still life” because my paintings are very still. I never include people as subjects, just the marks left behind by them, marks that haunt the buildings and the streets long after they have gone. San Francisco has been a great city for me as I am constantly walking in the wake of other artists on the streets and in the alleys around town.
I enjoy street art and graffiti immensely and am excited by its constant changing but also saddened when something great disappears. I aim to capture this fleeting art in a way that is more meaningful than shooting a simple photograph. By painting these scenes I absorb the images they become part of my mental map of the city. I feel a sense of ownership of these buildings and a camaraderie with the other artists. With my paintings I contribute to a growing and complex art collaboration that begins with the architect, continues with street artists, keeps on with buffing and tagging, all while being weathered before I come along and take it all in declaring that “this piece is finished”. It makes me feel like a curator and a collector at the same time.
1xRun: Have you talked to any of the graffiti writers or muralists that you have captured in any of your paintings? If so what was their response?
Jessica Hess: I have talked to many writers over the years and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. At first I was timid to include the work of other artists in my paintings but through understanding street art it became obvious that a writer’s primary goal is to be seen. With that in mind inclusion in my work gets them more visibility, preservation and documentation of otherwise fleeting works. I always hope street artists will take it as a compliment when their work shows up in one of my landscape paintings, it shows that I enjoy their art and support what they do. I have made many friends in the street art community in the Bay Area and beyond because of my subject matter.
1xRun: You seem to be staying busy. Can you bring us up to speed on what you have been up to since your last release?
Jessica Hess: Oh yes. I am a workaholic. I had a solo exhibition at Spoke Art in San Francisco titled “Fade & Finish” that featured all new gouache on paper scenes of the Bay Area.
In December, Spoke Art took my artwork (and me) down to Miami for the Scope Art Fair. While I was there I spent three entire days photographing the graffiti covered streets of Wynwood and meeting artists. I look forward to doing a series of paintings from Wynwood in time for this year’s Scope Miami.
In March, I was part of a two person show with Tara Smith at Shepard Fairey’s gallery in Los Angeles, Subliminal Projects. The show was titled “Planes, Trains, & Automobiles” and featured a new body of work focusing on vehicles and their juxtaposition with nature and graffiti.
I was also part of a graffiti related exhibit titled “I Am Crime: Art on the Edge of the Law” at SOMArts in San Francisco with friend and artist Jeremy Novy. This was followed by inclusion in several group shows at Thinkspace Gallery and Geoffrey Young Gallery.
My collaborative “Street Wise” works with sculptor, Christa Assad, were shown at Abmeyer Wood Gallery in Seattle as well as at the artMRKT art fair here in San Francisco recently. She sculpts oversized spray cans, pigeons, and various other street objects in porcelain and I paint on them. Our projects together continue to grow and be seen.
1xRun: Any other big plans for the rest of spring and summer?
Jessica Hess: I am currently stretching so many canvasses they threaten to overfill my studio and push me out completely. It is difficult to walk a straight line across the room and now my phone, stereo, refrigerator, and pretty much everything else has gesso on them.
I am fine with this, and excited to hit these canvasses with fresh images from my trip to Wynwood as well as the amazing Endless Canvas “Special Delivery” warehouse event I caught last year in Berkeley. I have been sitting on these subjects for too long…there just isn’t enough time and I only have two hands. *sigh*
1xRun: Any big shows or events coming up?
Jessica Hess: In December, my latest series, which focuses on the Miami graffiti landscape, will debut with Spoke Art during Art Basel week in Miami.
In 2014 I am scheduled for a two person show in Portland at Breeze Block Gallery with fellow painter Brin Levinson in April and expect to exhibit again with Spoke Art later next year.