Artist Profile

Recently, I completed an email interview with Los Angeles-based artist Jess Black.  Don't let the automatic music that plays on his site fool you: Black is a serious artist with a seriously impressive body of work.  With no formal training as an artist (he decided to pursue his passion full-time in 2010), Jess Black's paintings are unusually fresh, raw and instinctual.  His new show "Timely Disorder" opens at Gateway Gallery with SAGE Projects on July 10th and runs through August 14. 
The artist.

Artist Interview

I On the Arts: How did you get started making art? What is your background and training?

Jess Black: I’ve created art for as long as I can remember. I did it because I enjoyed it. I think the first time I recognized that I had a little talent, or at the very least that my art might have been better than my class mates, was when I was in the 3rd or 4th grade and my art teacher contacted a friend of hers at a local museum and they displayed my art. It occurred to me that none of the other students had their art on the wall. When I was a young teenager people started asking me to do murals on the walls in their homes. I was so shocked that they wanted to pay me.  

Because of how I was raised, it never occurred to me to pursue art as anything but a hobby. As a result, I have no formal training. Everything that I do comes from inside me and hits the canvas raw. I actually like that I haven’t been heavily influenced by others.
Another Heart Condition.

IOtA: What subjects most inspire your practice? Teachers? Other artists?

JB: I paint when I am inspired, not because it is time to paint. Current events have inspired my paintings, especially when it’s about social injustices. I have been inspired by documentaries and global warming. The paintings may not reflect to others that I just watched a film about the atrocities in North Korea, but I know it was the emotion and frustration I felt from that film that motivated the painting. 

I’m not sure how much my approach to art is inspired by other artists, but one artist I like is Brett Whiteley. What I admired the most is how he named his paintings in such a way that would make them seem unsellable or distasteful. I just sort of like that. Another artist I admire is Cy Twombly. He relied on negative space to make what he did create really stand out. Both of these artists are dead now.

IOtA: What made you gravitate towards your more abstract aesthetic?

JB: I find there is a greater degree of creativity in abstracts. There are no real rules and the rules that sort of exist about color and composition can be broken. It’s just you creating something with only the boundaries that you place on yourself. It also seems to evoke a more emotional reaction in me and my collectors. I find this rewarding and it motivates me to push my limits and try new things.
From an Ant to a Whale.

IOtA: What media do you use in your practice? How did you decide?

JB: I use acrylics on canvas for the most part. I don’t think I really made a conscious decision on the medium or substrate I use. Years ago someone who was familiar with my mural work when I was a teenager asked me to create something on canvas. It never occurred to me that I could potentially earn a living as an artist. I’ve learned how paint works on canvas and have worked on it ever since.

IOtA: What has been your most challenging or frustrating moment as an artist?

JB: There have been many. On a regular basis I get frustrated with myself when I experience a creative block. I expect of myself the ability to always know what should be done on a canvas. I’m still learning that it is okay to set it aside, and move on to another canvas. It will all eventually come to me when it’s supposed to. Sometimes it is okay to walk away.

IOtA: What has been your proudest moment?

JB: As an artist, I would have to say completing a collection about my upbringing in and abandonment of the Jehovah’s Witness religion. It was called “Leather Bound in Black or Red.” It brought about a lot of emotions and issues with which I had never dealt. For me it was painful but cathartic. As the collection and its virtual artist reception was being promoted I was being contacted by Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons all over the world. The messages of support I received was overwhelming. This collection is easily my proudest moment as an artist.
Color Break.

IOtA: If you weren't an artist, what you would be doing?

JB: I’m not sure, but I know I would not be working in an office or any place where I had a set schedule. I’m thankful that I am an artist otherwise I would probably be fired from every job I got. If for some reason I had to stop being an artist I would probably try to run or work at a dog/ animal rescue organization. I love animals, sometimes even more than people... often more than people.

IOtA: What do you hope people who see your work take away from it?

JB: I almost don’t care what they take away as long as it is personal to them and even better, if there is some conflict or disagreement. I like that my art can mean different things to different people. My art is my emotion laid out on a canvas. None of us thinks exactly alike, so the interpretations will be different. So I guess I want someone to recognize on some level that they are looking at my emotions and to embrace whatever reactionary emotion it conjures in them.


  1. Great interview and LOVE this artwork! Definitely going to check out the show!!!


Post a Comment