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Jessica Meuse, May Artist of the Month

Jessica Meuse, May Artist of the Month

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Artist of the Month interview with Jessica Meuse as told to Andrea Read

Portraits are an important part of your work. Can you tell us how you became interested in portraits as focus for your work as a visual artist? 

People have always interested me, getting to know someone better and to have a deep connection with them. The act of painting someone is very intimate and often the person who I am painting will feel very comfortable opening up to me during our session. People find it easy to open up to me, and I am honored that they feel comfortable in sharing themselves with me, allowing me to portray them
in a way that not everyone has seen them before. We are all so different looking, but also all so similar. Our innate knowledge of
facial structure and the way a person looks is so powerful that even if the viewer has never seen the subject, they can tell if something is askew, and that can reflect an insight of the model’s personality. The viewer can often identify the model even though the painting is far from any form of photo realism, but is portrayed by some little subtlety that would not be obvious. Even when the viewer does not
know the subject, they may respond to something familiar and have some kind of connection.  

How did the restrictions of the pandemic affect your work and process as an artist?
As a portrait painter, I had always painted from live models. During the pandemic I did not have access to live models, so I decided to use the one live model I had available to me, so I painted many self-portraits. Throughout the height of the pandemic, with only one subject to paint, and a subject I feel like I know too well, I was able to experiment with my process and with the materials I would normally
use. In much of my work, I was using newspapers from that period as a surface for my work, using the surface matter as something to react to and use as part of the story of my piece and the mood I was able to capture at that time. Painting the self-portrait is an intriguing practice, it is fascinating to see how my art, my self-image, and my mood at the time has changed, especially throughout such a period of time in our lives.

Who were your earliest mentors? Who are your most significant influences as an artist?
Fortunately, I grew up in an artistic household. My mother was a very talented artist and an art teacher. She also worked as an art therapist with homeless people in Boston and would put on art shows for them. My grandfather was also an artist and was close with some interesting Outsider Artists. I grew up with original art hanging everywhere in our house, I have been immersed in art my
entire life. Curiously, I never got an official art education, but neither did my mother or grandfather. I am not formally trained in art, but instead my art education has been seeking out what interests and challenges me. Along the way, I was told that my art looks like German Expressionism, my grandfather was German and his art is reminiscent of German Expressionism and the naivete of Outsider Art. Who I am influenced by the most is Joan Mitchell, Elaine de Kooning, Kathe Kollwitz, and Max Beckmann.

Where did you start as an artist?
My former interests were in photography, I focused on colors, patterns, movement, and candids. I worked with color slides and we would put the photographs together in an audio visual show to music, this was way before you could do this with a few clicks of the mouse.

What are your most current passions and obsessions as an artist? Who (or what) inspires you most these days?
As someone who loves Somerville, and considers it home, and has seen a lot of change, it is hard to not react to our surroundings. Whether you have lived here for a long time or just moved, everyone has to acknowledge we are a changing city. I am interested in creating art about what is going on around Somerville and my experiences as a resident.

What has been your trajectory as an artist?
Primarily focusing on my art practice, right before the pandemic I have had wonderful opportunities to explore other aspects of being a working artist, including curating, jurying, lecturing, teaching, painting a large multi-level mural at Federal Realty at FitRow at Assembly Row, and have been commissioned to do some corporate art. I am interested in exploring more in the future, and look forward to what comes next in my creative journey.

What are the most significant challenges and opportunities for artists in Somerville?
One of the great factors as to why Somerville is so amazing, vibrant and alive is due to the artists, creative people and mix of people who have lived here for years to create an interesting city. It is very important to keep the Somerville artists here, through affordable artist
live/work housing, affordable artist work only spaces, and through hiring artists for public art projects in the many new developments, paying them a fair amount in order to help them afford to live and work in this amazing city. I think that the developers should set aside a certain amount of their budget to go specifically to qualified Somerville artists to create beautiful murals and public sculptures. This would be a win-win, the buildings would be more beautiful with a cool artistic vibe, creating positive relations with the artist community, and the local Somerville artists, many of whom are getting squeezed out, can get paid for creating their incredible works helping them remain in this city. Many of the cities surrounding us are bypassing us for creating the artsy vibe with public art and murals, such as the Seaport District, Lower Allston, Lynn, and with all of the construction in Somerville, it is a wonderful opportunity to use the blank canvas for good and to beautify our city.

What music do you listen to while you paint?
A very physical painter, I move a lot while I paint. I tend to like anything that will get my body moving. I like to support local musicians and their mode of expression while I paint. I also like to listen to very unusual music, in order to channel something totally different and creative.

What do you like to do when you’re not painting?
Being a big walker, I enjoy walking around Somerville, admiring the beautiful old houses and their gardens. I love seeing the creative spirit that so many of the residents have here. Somerville attracts an fascinating mix of people, and I like seeing this reflected in their home environment. I love anything to do with art, whether it is going to a museum, an art gallery, or an artist talk. Being near the
water is also something that refreshes me and I really enjoy spending time near

How did you make your way to Somerville? What are some of your favorite places in Somerville to eat, hang out, etc?
Over a decade ago I discovered that Somerville was an amazing, vibrant, special place that attracted artists and creatives. I wanted to be around other artists. Somerville was so unique with all of the artist spaces, both live/work spaces and work only spaces, really something special that I hadn’t seen anywhere else in Massachusetts. I loved the way the city had old factory buildings that had been turned into spaces to inspire creativity in their inhabitants. Somerville was second only to NYC for artists per capita! Sounds like a place I wanted to be. I discovered Brickbottom which is an amazing live/work loft building with a professionally run art gallery, a really special place with a wonderful and unique community, then realized that I needed more space and started subletting at Vernon Street Studios, where I have my work only art studio. Somerville is so attractive for the artistic vibe, the cute shops and restaurants, the mix of architecture, convenience to Boston and Cambridge, and all that the Metro Boston area has to offer. There are so many wonderful places in Somerville to hang out, see and enjoy! As a vegetarian I find that Somerville has a lot of great places to eat, it all depends on my mood. Some of the places I love are Bronwyn, Ebi Sushi, the Neighborhood, Rosebud, Fasika, Leone’s, Bloc 11, Vinny’s, Nibble Kitchen, Burren, Juliet, Highland Kitchen, Dosa n Curry, Vinal Bakery, NU Cafe, Independent, Once, Avenue, River Bar, Maca, When Pigs Fly (does that count? I could make a meal out of bread!) I could go on, I believe that there is no such thing as bad food in Somerville! I love walking and enjoy walking around the neighborhoods and biking along the bike path. I find that walking gives you a different perspective of our amazing city.
It slows you down and gives you an appreciation of how lucky we are to live here in Somerville.

Artist info
Instagram @jessicameuse