3 Studies : an Interview with Jesse Ross

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As he watched the mist dissipate on a duck-filled pond on an unexpectedly gorgeous Vancouver day, I gave friend and artist Jesse Ross a call to ask a few questions about his new collection titled "3 Studies." The collection sees Jesse approach peculiar reclaimed plywood canvases in his "psychodramatic" style, bringing about new explorations, learnings, and beauty.


What did you learn from this project?


Well I'm usually pretty traditional in my technical approach. I usually stick to the same canvas from the same place, use the same paint; same paint brushes...  So you asking me to upcycle older materials was really awesome for seeing how I can develop new texture and how traditional mediums work on untraditional surfaces. It took a lot of trial and error to figure out how to make like kind of rough surfaces take to the paint well. I think the painting before I kinda figured out how to make them similar to canvas is more interesting. The one with the hands on the face is probably my favourite because there's so much texture and sometimes the paint slopped off the layers underneath it and created some cool textures and stuff. So material experimentation was the biggest brute of that I think.


How would you describe your style?


My fundamental interest is in portraiture but also I'm fascinated with movement plus the abstract expressionist... I don't like typical, correct portraiture ... I'm more interested in the heavyweight stuff like Lucien Freud, Jenny Saville, Alice Neal, Warhol, people who approached portraiture with the idea that they wanted to make something kind of realer than reality. I think that's a part of my process because I want to figure out---like I've been doing a lot of reading on the Japanese haiku, and the idea behind that is you know you're hyper aware and you're ready to witness an event. It'll spark like a moment of poetic truth, and basically like a tree falls and it’s not witnessed then it can’t express its beauty. So I want to basically bring someone's mental landscape to the forefront; I once described the style as psychodrama. So I want it to be a portrait but I want it to distinctly be a piece of art that's pleasurable for somebody. I'm not looking to represent something accurately, I'm looking to represent it emotionally.



What inspires you most?


There's a couple things. The first is just technical exploration, and I'm just like a sucker for beautiful beautiful pigment. There's this awesome article by this amazing painter and theorist Amy Tillman, about how oil painting is kind of like a fetish in it's own right. And how you go to the art store and if you wanna get  raw authentic cadmium red, you have to pay approximately the same amount as you do for a gram of cocaine... Like pound for pound the same amount... And you go back to it every time cuz you got that need.

The second is... I often really love depicting people that inspire me or have touched my life very dearly.. Sometimes that means famous writers from the '50s, sometimes it's my girlfriend, but it's always people that are important to me. And I like spending the time with them as a point of connection or a processing of that relationship.



How did your process change with this project?


One really huge development was that I had to scrub out colour a lot because it wasn't sticking or the flow was just very very different from a traditional canvas and in putting on lots of colour and scrubbing out lots of colour I got a little deeper into solvent burning or acid burning that produces these kind of like halos around subjects, and it cuts into the colour underneath and speckles show through and it gives it a more vibrating feel. So I've taken that forward into most of my subsequent paintings, which has been really exciting. Like I said earlier, it just opened me up to ... kinda like I think it was Nietzche who said if he were to type up his work on a typewriter it’s gonna be vastly different than if he hand wrote it because the energy you put in is so different and the mind state that it gets you in is vastly different. So it’s interesting to think about paintings that came out of a certain era where you had to be extremely diligent and make your own like rabbit skin glue as gesso. You're just gonna be so much more precious in that time than you are now where you can go to Michaels and get 50% off a $30 canvas whenever you want... It takes 10 minutes. So I've developed an appreciation for that idea.


How long have you been painting for?


Well I started tracing Dragon Ball Z images on my computer screen when I was like 7. But my first painting class was about 5 years ago. And I'd done a really small amount of painting until Summer 2019--that's when I got my first oil painting kit.


Any goals with your art?


I want my art to be accessible and I want my art to strike something in the minds and hearts of those who see it--it's an ambitious goal but I think a lot of artists share that goal. In that sense I would say I definitely have an aesthetic approach to painting.. So far as I don't want to over intellectualize and I want the viewer to bring their experience to the painting, and for the painting to offer something.

My hope is that I get to paint in perpetuity and that my painting opens me up to my deep dream of just fostering like a powerful creative community and sharing my expression with people who wanna speak that language. And obviously it would be really great if that could support me financially as well.


Anything else you would like to share?


I'm sitting in front of the pond and the sun is like beaming down on it really hard  and there's this really small outcropping of rocks and between the rocks, dozens of these super skinny shrub branches are sticking up and out of it. The sun is moving down them, but it’s not totally covering it. It’s like shimmering and moving down them in these little strips really fast up and down. Very, very psychedelic.


I guess you're like Bob Ross now too... Is that your uncle?


Nah but my brother went as Bob Ross for Halloween.


Shop Jesse's Collection : " 3 Studies " here.