Interview – Jessie Mott

Jessie Mott graduated from Northwestern University this Spring with a fresh new MFA, and I know that for sure because she was recently included in the Hyde Park Art Center’s exhibition of fresh new MFA holders called Ground Floor. I visited Mott at her new studio in Edgewater to meet her dog and talk to her about her new work. Pictures and interview follow:

Jessie Mott

Jessie Mott

Could you tell me about yourself and your history in Chicago?

I’m from New York (Queens, Long Island, Brooklyn, Manhattan – in that order). I spent my childhood obsessing over Madonna, writing short stories and painting plaster dog sculptures. I had lots of intense, visually stunning nightmares that have informed my work ever since.  I went to NYU and majored in Studio Art for undergrad where I focused primarily on painting and drawing. It was an exciting time; the interdisciplinary nature of the program led me to explore both conventional and unconventional ways to expand my practice.  I took five years off before deciding to go back for an MFA. NYC makes it particularly challenging/daunting to afford studio space, student loans, art materials and rent. It seemed like such an unattainable luxury to get an MFA.  There I worked (and continue to work) in non-profit fundraising/Development as well as make commissioned pet portraits (this used to be a secret but I am ok with it now).

When I had a spontaneous opportunity to move to Chicago in 2006 I took it. In January 2006, that is – right in the middle of winter.  Although I was freezing, it was really thrilling to have a work space bigger than a broom closet for the first time in my life. I didn’t know anything about this city when I got here so I really tried to immerse myself in the art community.  I was terribly excited when I found out I was accepted into Northwestern’s grad program. I used to think I would go back to New York as soon as I was done but Chicago feels like home now.

Jessie Mott, Coyote

Jessie Mott, Coyote

Recently you were selected for the Hyde Park Art Center’s Group Floor, an exhibition featuring artists who have recently graduated from Chicago MFA programs. How was that? Did you get any feeling of shared interests, or overlap with other artists’ ideas or practices?

I thought the concept of the show was compelling, showing a wide range of work of recent grads coming out of ALL the various academic institutions in Chicago. I certainly got a sense of shared interests and explorations but was relieved to not necessarily walk away identifying a “Chicago style.” Certain juxtapositions worked better than others but there were some interesting dialogs happening. HPAC takes risks that are important for artists working in this city.

Jessie Mott, Flowers

Jessie Mott, Untitled

Your work has gone through a lot of changes since you started at Northwestern. What can you tell me about the paintings you’re doing now, and how did you arrive at them?

I tend to work on a lot of different things at the same time. I might have an oil painting going on in one corner of the studio, various ink drawings on paper covering the floor and walls, collage elements in various states of articulation, and weird bits of writing scattered within a hundred different little notebooks. Right now I am trying to focus on these drawings of fantasy animal hybrids. I am spending more time with each piece and slowing down. For some reason I tend to work frantically on the oil paintings. They are small but frantic, nonetheless.

When I entered the MFA program I was making small oil paintings on panel. They hovered somewhere between figuration and abstraction (I know that’s not saying much) but always began with a human/animal subject. The paintings were dark and broody with a pretty specific palette. I tried to abandon what I was comfortable with and explore other surfaces, materials and color palettes.  One day I tossed the red/green aside and forced myself to make a yellow painting. It was such a strangely simple idea but it changed everything.  I also got tired of the rigid wood panels and started working on paper. I loved the texture and vulnerability of it.

Jessie Mott, Black Horse

Jessie Mott, Black Horse

Jessie Mott, Sad Animal

Jessie Mott, Untitled

The themes in the work have remained consistent but the imagery has shifted quite a bit. I was really inspired by the writing workshop I took with Steve Reinke during my first year. I came up with a ‘dialog between animals’ one week – I wrote this sort of absurdist script and asked my classmates to read the parts out loud. I illustrated the characters and it became a regular thing. It was a really fun process but it also tapped into this important new shift that was occurring in my work. Later Steve and I collaborated on an animation called “EVERYBODY” based on those scripts. I recorded the voices and made the drawings and he made an incredible soundtrack and animated the drawings. We recently made a second piece called “Blood and Cinnamon” that will be debuting soon. I am interested in pursuing other collaborations and also creating installations that involve multi-sensory components. But painting is really at the heart of my practice.

Jessie Mott

Jessie Mott

If you’d like to see more of Jessie Mott, check out her new show Menagerie opening this Friday, October 1st from 6:30-9:30 PM @ Center on Halsted3656 N. Halsted.

Comments 2

  1. Tom Hunter wrote:

    I love Ms. Mott’s work. Very talented!

    Posted 21 Oct 2010 at 1:34 PM
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