Interview with Jessica Lee Perry


Jessica Lee Perry, Campaigns for the Sun. Oil on Canvas.

Jessica Lee Perry was interviewed by Abigail Tatarian, AS220 Galleries Intern, to mark Perry’s July exhibition at the AS220 Project Space.

In your artist statement, you start by saying “Sometimes you have to go about painting like a child, like you know nothing of it and that’s when the magic happens.” How has your background in art education and your work with children influenced your approach to painting?

I approach my own painting the same way the children I teach would approach a painting. Some children may feel a fear of failure when beginning a painting if they see an example of a finished one first, the same way some artists may feel a great sense of disappointment if they are stuck on what they originally planned for the piece and never let themselves get pleasantly lost in the process. I often end up painting over the initial marks when I begin a piece. Often times the original visualization for the piece transforms once I start, for me thats the magic.

I have been told by a few that you can see my inspiration comes from children in my work. For me it’d be unsettling if it wasn’t. I honestly enjoy children more than I do adults. Children are free, non judgmental, open and hyper creative individuals. Children hold some of my favorite qualities in human beings. A lot of these qualities are lost with age. Perryworld, was a nameless piece that I started when I was farming one summer. I became attracted to the forms and colors I was seeing and started an underpainting with no intention on what would truly give the piece life. I took a break from the piece once school started, all personal projects come to a halt at this busy time for teachers. That Fall when a kindergartner shared a place that he dreamed up called “Perryworld” with my art class, it brought me back to my easel. This for me is a great example of a direct connection of the way a child has influenced my work.

You have included a series of “process pieces” in this show, which suggest a stream-of-consciousness or material-based approach to artmaking. Your other works, however, appear to have a more traditionally planned composition. How do you see these two different approaches as relating to each other in your own practice?

The process pieces are a stream-of- consciousness. I started doing these after my baby was born as a way to cope with single parenthood. I would often breast feed and visualize what I wanted to paint on a grander scale but those first few months you can’t do anything else but mother. When he started to begin to sleep a little longer and feed less I started doing these pieces. I needed to make sure I was still working on something and developing a practice in being present. Painting these pieces brought joy. These pieces were like quick meditations for me and I felt some clarity. They only took a minutes and the results made me smile even if they just sat in a pile. It was something new that I have never done before.

These works are completely different from any other work i’ve done. If there is any relationship between these and my other works I guess it would be that these are like single heart beats or breaths while my other pieces are everything else that keeps me alive. These pieces kept me working through a period where I couldn’t create on a large scale and became a series on their own. I will continue working on these as my meditations at times when I’m too busy to paint. My son will be walking in no time, school will start and I will have to lock up the oils and plan on returning to these process pieces.

A theme of female empowerment stands out for me in your work. How do you think your use of fantastical characters and mythical imagery plays into that theme?

I love that. I would hope that they do, I’m a woman and my characters are a way of illustrating my story without telling it, bringing it into the light and out of the darkness. I’ve survived because of the color in my life and these creatures radiate the glow. These are my worlds, my messengers and my healers. They embody resilience, strength and determination. They are sacred. I believe She Beast, Kiss Off and Rebirth definitely embodies a message of female empowerment flapping wildly with her curves, smirk, and claws. I’m sure if anyone walking into the project space didn’t know my name or see the artist statement would have absolutely without a doubt know a woman created these works and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 Your paintings suggest a narrative behind them, and you also mention they are “adorned in layers of personal symbolism.” Are these symbols intended to be decoded by your audience, or do you mostly include them for yourself? How do you imagine different audiences might be affected by your work?

The intent for the work is not for others to decode but I always enjoy hearing what people see in my work and what plays out from their perspective.  Its really my own language, a time line of personal growth. It may trip some people up if they tried to figure it out.  It is my hope for people that view my work to see it as poetry in paint. My work is meant for all ages, for adults the titles may suggest a sense of mystery that they may want to solve and although they are laced with deeper meaning children just simply love to look at my work because of the characters and colors.

Titles can have a big impact on the reading of an image because they can change the way we perceive it or make us look closer. Many artists change the title of a work several times before putting it on display. The art in this show is full of curious titles, such as Campaigns for the SunShe Beast, Kiss Off and Rebirth; and Perryworld. Could you elaborate on how you chose some of these titles and how they relate to each work?  

The titles are very significant to the work, they are almost lyrical for me. I have never changed a title or have written it down first, they always come towards the end of a piece while I’m working. Campaigns for The Sun came to me this frigid and long winter of hardship, She Beast, Kiss Off and Rebirth is like a tribute to self for overcoming challenges and making great changes in my life and Perryworld is a fantastical place one of my kindergartners dreamt up.

Campaigns for the Sun: New Work by Jessica Lee Perry is on display at the AS220 Project Space through July 26, 2014. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Friday, 1-6pm and Saturday 12-5pm.

Jessica Lee Perry, She Beast, Kiss Off and Rebirth. Oil on Canvas.


Jessica Lee Perry, Perryworld. Oil on canvas.