Jessica Snow

Painter, San Francisco // August 2012
So even with work that seems to have a clear system, there is always some kind of imperfection, or a screw-up. And that’s where good painting seems to be alive— when not everything is resolved... ‘human’ in their lack of perfection.

When visiting Jessica, she told us she wants her work “to look as if it just happened, as though it appeared out of the blue, suddenly, all at once.” This statement took Klea and I by surprise; not only did it contradict what many other artists have expressed regarding the importance of revealing process, but it also was at odds with what In The Make is all about. With In The Make Klea and I endeavor to offer an intimate, behind-the-scenes look at the process of art-making; to pull the curtain back, so to speak, to show the mess, diligence, passion and struggles of making work. Jessica doesn’t want the labor to come through in her paintings; she often begins with multiple sketches to work out the formal qualities she’s after before starting a painting. Aesthetically she wants the brushstrokes to disappear and the layers upon layers to become indiscernible. Interestingly, what drives this precise and controlled process is her desire to make something that looks effortless and spontaneous. I have to admit it was a funny thing to be in her studio with her— we were asking her to reveal and talk about exactly what she wants to keep invisible. I respect that by making the process imperceptible, the viewer is left completely alone with the finished work and that potentially a singular and unpredictable experience is sparked. But I couldn’t help feeling like my very presence posed a contradiction and my questions were pushing up against her approach. Jessica came across just as exacting and purposeful as her work, but she did say to us that though she tries to create systems for her paintings, she recognizes there are always inherent breakdowns. She went on to state that what is left imperfect and unresolved in art, is often what makes it good. Certainly, contradictions abounded during our visit with Jessica— but I enjoyed this— contradictions breed questions, and questions are a sure way to keep something from being boring.

What mediums do you work with? How would you describe your subject matter or the content of your work?
I paint with acrylics on paper, panels, or walls, and with oil when painting on canvas or linen. I’ve also recently begun working on Dibond, a lightweight aluminum panel, where I’m combining both acrylic and oil, and sometimes I’ll draw on the surface with a black fine-point pen. I make studies before I begin with paint, so I’ll draw with a pen or pencil, doing up to 20 sketches before I start a new painting. Other times I may only do a few sketches, but I start with some kind of preliminary study.

Though I do these sketches quite quickly, they give me the opportunity to address problems, particularly regarding spatial issues— I don’t want things to look forced. Also one sketch often leads to another; work just kind of ricochets, and though many of them end up being throwaways, some become the starting point for my paintings.

I haven’t always worked this way. I used to just dive into a painting, taking the challenge one step at a time, making many revisions. But now, aesthetically, my preference is for paintings that don’t have this kind of layering, or at least don’t show the layering. I have gravitated to a different approach that coincides with a change in aesthetic preference. I’ll still think my way through a painting on an intuitive level, but want the painting to look as if it “just happened”, as though it appeared out of the blue, suddenly, all at once. The figure-ground relationships in such paintings are more ambiguous, and this is intriguing to me in working out the spatial dynamics of the paintings.

I’m not always successful with this, but it is my aspiration. You asked me about risk-taking in making art, and I think this is where the risk lies. In modern painting, there is a tradition of ‘premier coup’ painting, and the trick is to make it look easy, but of course there’s lots of behind-the-scenes work, and that does include layers underneath that aren’t visible. Some days in the studio, this experience of painting seems to just happen, that moment of ‘flow’ that artists, like athletes, strive for… other times it’s just painstaking! I don’t want the painstaking aspect of painting to be visible, or made explicit through visible layering.

You’ve said, a painting could be conceived as a structural diagram of the human psyche— do you mean a viewer already brings a particular set of cognitive/emotional factors that then get played out onto a work of art? Or do you mean this in a more autobiographical way?
I once said that a painting is a structural diagram of the human psyche, and by that I meant that it is a visual representation of the mind at work. I see my art as being continually at play between order and chaos or between systems that work and those that breakdown. That seems to be how my mind works…between order and chaos, between logic and emotion. The randomness of the stream of consciousness comes into the work, so even with work that seems to have a clear system, there is always some kind of imperfection, or a screw-up. And that’s where good painting seems to be alive— when not everything is resolved, so I’m content to have my paintings be ‘human’ in their lack of perfection.

What are you presently inspired by— are there particular things you are reading, listening to or looking at to fuel your work?
My inspiration comes from working, I get my momentum there, and I’ll often feel uninspired until I begin painting or drawing. My reading and researching is primarily in the field of modern art history, and I’m still inspired by the de Kooning exhibit at MOMA, which my husband and I went to see in November. A really good show will sustain me in that way for months. Currently I’m reading Hilary Spurling’s biography of Matisse. He’s always been my favorite artist…when I was an undergrad I wrote a term paper on him, and that essay got me into the year-abroad program to France. Unfortunately I haven’t had as much time for reading lately as I’d like, but I fit it in here and there. Though I am constantly looking for and researching artists that are new to me, I do look at certain things over and over— Sol LeWitt’s and Ellsworth Kelly’s work are great sources of inspiration.

What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
I make art both at home and in my studio. I’ll always have a piece going at home, so if I have an hour to spare I can get something done. I’ll do some drawings or set up my acrylics on the kitchen table, and Brent and I have a flat file at home for the works on paper. Being married to an artist (he is also an abstract painter) is the most inspiring of all! His creativity can have a galvanizing effect on me, and that’s a wonderful thing.

Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
I’m working on a new series of paintings in my studio, which is where I come when I have a day or an afternoon to work. I work on paintings and larger-scale work here. I’ve just begun the paintings you see here today, and I’m working on a fluidity of touch with my brushstrokes, so the painting feels like it just came together easily, as I mentioned before.

What do you think is the function of art in society? Do art or artists have a responsibility to do anything in particular?
Art for me is about people touching one another through their imaginations. It’s a language, or a form of communication, that speaks directly to the heart. If I’m lucky enough to touch somebody’s heart with something that I’ve made, and lift him or her to a higher place of joy, if only for a moment, then that is what art is for.

Do you have a day job? What is it? What does it mean to you?
I’m fortunate to teach part-time at University of San Francisco and have been doing so since 2009. The student body there is exceptional, and being around young people, my students and especially my 10-year old daughter, is very sustaining to me. I thrive on their adventurousness and creativity, and it helps to keep me young at heart.

Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when?
Yes, I’ll be in a group show at Cain Schulte Gallery (San Francisco) in September. At oqbo galerie(Berlin) in October. And at Gallerie Urbane (Dallas) in November. I’m represented by Jen Bekman Gallery in NYC, and I was just in a group show there. I also work with Trina Turk and I have some work at her boutique in Palm Springs, and I now have work in the AOL collection in NYC.

To see more of Jessica’s work: