Briefly describe the work that you do.
My work embodies transition, in subject and form. I work interchangeably between drawing, printmaking, fiber sculpture, and installation, using repetition to build form and a sense of time. My materials are selected based on tactile qualities, to which I make a combinantion of cognitive and emotive decisions in response. I embrace moments of ambiguity and uncertainty, as they relate to the precipice between memory and hope. I tell a story of attachment and loss by creating landscapes that transcend physicality to describe an inner, imagined spaces. I evoke the physical and emotional nature of reverent places that can be solitary, communal, natural, constructed, remembered and imagined. Tangled nets become topographic contours; seams define the meeting of two edges or two moments. Rock cairns and lighthouses are markers of paths, remnants of history; abandoned barns and small, mountain cemeteries are shadows of lives, relationships and families. Holes, cavities, and absence implies presence. I consider that as destruction can lead to reconstruction, mourning leads to celebration of life lived. Within the subtle, liminal, and bittersweet, I contemplate the sentiment of the past, and the potency of a hopeful future.
At what point in your life did you decide to become an artist?
I don’t remember making a conscious decision to become an artist. Making art has always been a part of my life, and I’m not sure I really ever considered being anything else.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I grew up in Colorado and I continue to refer to the landscape and memories of spaces visited in my childhood. My parents have been a huge influence on my work. My mom resists referring to herself as an artist, but is an incredible artisan, expert seamstress, weaver, knitter, and an ultimate respository of knowledge. My father studied art history, and greatly influenced my early art making. The loss of my father, to a heart attack, my first year in college reinforced my drive to make art, and impacted the focus of my work. My work is not always directly about my father, but relationships, loss, and memory are at the center of my work.
What types of conceptual concerns are present in your work? How do those relate to the specific process(es) or media you use?
I’m working on some new pieces that are in their fledgling stage. The current pieces are a mixture of crocheted sculptures and their translations into screenprint. I’m thinking about these pieces as a mixture of shadows and fossils. At this point it’s too early to tell where these pieces will lead. I started making the crocheted pieces intuitively. I don’t use a pattern, but just make stitches and build the form. I then expose the crocheted piece to a screen, and create monotype screen prints from those shapes. I envision them evolving into a larger installation.
We once heard Chuck Close say he did not believe in being inspired, rather in working hard everyday. What motivates you in your studio practice?
I have learned over the years that I can only make work when I get to the studio on a consistent basis. Much of my work happens as I work with materials, print, draw, cut things apart, sew them back together and move them around the wall. I rarely have a firm plan of how a piece will end up when I start it, and my best work evolves over time. Not every day in the studio is quantifiably productive, but I realize when I miss studio time how valuable and necessary it is for me to get there, even if it’s just to putter around. My current studio is in a space shared by seven other artists, who are all incredible artists. Having a studio with people I respect also motivates me to get into my space.
What artists living or non-living influence your work?
Louise Bourgeois, Ernesto Neto, Julie Mehretu, David Altmejd, Kiki Smith, many other artists that intertwine mediums and build space in unusual ways. There are also moments of art throughout history that influence me, or spark ideas. For instance, I love the portraits of women from the Northern Renaissance, by Robert Campin and Rogier van der Weyden. The veils and head scarves, matched with the tiny pins that hold them in place have shapes and ideas that linger in my mind.
When you are not making art what types of activities and interests do you engage in?
When I’m not making or teaching art, I spend time with my husband, our dog, and cat. We try to get into the mountains as much as possible, which is sadly not as much as we would like. I love cooking, and feeding my friends and family. My art is often introspective, so cooking something feels creative and giving. I’m also expecting my first baby, so currently I am engaging in lots of research and daydreaming about babies, baby accessories, and life as a parent.
Jessie Van der Laan is an interdisciplinary artist living and working in Knoxville, TN. She received her B.F.A in Printmaking and Drawing from Washington University in St. Louis, and her M.F.A in Studio Art from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Her work is informed by her training as a printmaker, and a childhood spent knitting, sewing, drawing, and daydreaming. Van der Laan was raised in Denver, CO, whose landscape continues to lend form and color to her work. She is currently an adjunct faculty member at Pellissippi State Community College, and the Printshop Technician at the University of Tennessee. She has shown her work in numerous regional and national exhibitions, including a recent solo show, exhibited at both Lindenwood University and Moberly Community College. In the fall of 2013, she presented a paper at the SECAC conference on the broad definition of contemporary drawing. She is a co-founder of the collaborative studio space, the Vacuum Shop Studios, where she makes her work.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.