Interview Jessica Williams

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Jessica Williams paints extraordinarily soft and fragmented scenes of glimmering color with a dedicated inspiration. Jessica returned to her hometown to live and work for the past decade following a long stint of academia on the East coast, and between showing her work amongst close friends at Young Art since its inception (where she will have a solo show this coming spring, as well as participate in shows at Del Vaz Projects and Torrance Art Museum), starting her own hand-printed clothing company, and becoming involved with many other spaces and places, Jessica has carved out a luminous path amidst a diverse community of collaborators. Interview and photos by Jessica Dean Harrison.

Which artists in particular inspired you to begin painting?
The first few that come to mind are Cy Twombly, Matisse, Munch, Frida Kahlo, Bosch… and Henri Rousseau! I used to photograph my younger sister on a Nikon camera my grandpa had lent to me. We’d drive around the valley looking for places that felt right to me and I’d have her pose, direct her expressions to align with the emotion I was chasing… I realized soon that what I really wanted to do was paint the images that were so clear in my imagination! Painting gave me the most freedom.

What is your favorite place to discover other artists?
Mostly from conversations with my friends, many of whom are artists themselves, the internet, and magazines. The gallery I show with here in L.A., Young Art, moved to Hollywood recently and there are quite a few galleries in the same neighborhood where I’ve discovered new artists by going to their shows.

How does the landscape of Los Angeles find its way into your work?
Los Angeles is a landscape you can project so much onto. My sensory responses to my surroundings connect to my work through memory and imagination, like in dreams. There’s all this open space in between destinations when you’re driving around, and your own reality expands to fill it, and there’s magic in the air and in the light, specifically. I routinely take photos on my phone, usually from an interior space, either a car or my bedroom or studio, each with a view through a window to the outside landscape. I think my desire to photograph comes from a desire to not forget and to remember, but the photos end up showing something outside of my own memory, like a shadow in both its familiarity and its mystery. All of this finds its way psychically into my work and fuses itself with my inspiration.

What are some subjects you find yourself continually drawn back to?
Memory/imagination, absence and shadows, light, psychic access, biographies and works of women artists, femininity, the concept of Paradise, interiors, Jewish mythology, reflections and dreams, utopia, ruins of culture, other peoples’ obsessions, simultaneity, the impossibility of ever fully knowing another person.

What are the pros and cons of living in Los Angeles as a working artist?
Space and privacy. Or the ability to retreat for while but still have a social life. I’m from here, so I think about my personal history and my interest in place and memory, but I think too about the history of artists who have lived and worked here, like one of my favorite filmmakers David Lynch, for example, or Hockney who lived in the Hollywood Hills for like twenty years. Lana del Rey also lives here, and it makes me feel transcendent yet also hyper-connected to my surroundings. There is a feeling of creativity in the air all the time, like waves of it, and that’s exciting to experience on a daily basis.

What developments has your practice seen in the past year?
For one thing I’ve started drawing a lot more. I’ve been using oil pastels, chalk, pen, and also tracing paper, and finding new ways to think about color and space in my paintings. I’ve also been using a copy machine, which helps me to organize multiple drawings into one composition. I think of it as another tool for drawing. I’ve moved away from using photographs as direct source material for the paintings and more towards defining the space in terms of transparency, where interior and exterior, architecture and nature collapse into a new space, independent from their sources and free to express themselves in new and surprising ways.

What time of day do you like to start painting?
I have two large windows in my studio so I try to make use of the daylight as best I can. Ideally I get to my studio by 10 in the morning and work until the late afternoon/ early evening. I usually don’t start actually painting for a while because I end up re-hanging work, writing notes, drawing…

What do you need to start a painting?
I like to listen to music while I paint. Once I have a drawing or two that I want to work with, I’ll pin them up on the wall. I’ll mix a few colors on my palette to get started, but I don’t pre-mix all my colors before hand… I end up working with color directly on the canvas anyways. I want a sense of layered time to translate once the painting is complete, and I think the blurriness and transparency from layer to layer works well with that concept visually. I never know what the end result will be.

What’s ahead for you?
Two group shows in January of next year, one at Del Vaz Projects and another at the Torrance Museum. And then a solo show at Young Art in the spring.

Special from VOYEUR HOUSE TV for website and follow Jessica on Instagram @jessica___williams.