Sophia McMahan: First of all, since this is Wolf Pack Radio, what are your top five favorite bands?
Jessica White: Owen Palette, VHS, Sun Kil Moon, The Garden, and The National.
SM: Awesome! So what got you into visual arts?
JW: I’ve been into drawing and doing art since I was a kid. As I got older, we had this family friend who was a professional artist who encouraged me to continue with art. He’d give me supplies – he was an illustrator so sometimes he’d give me extra supplies. I didn’t I don’t think that I was aware of a lot of fine art when I was a kid, so the thing I was interested in first was comics, like Calvin and Hobbes. I liked that you could share that with everybody and enjoy it with everybody. And then graphic novels, book illustrations, regular stuff you could find around the house. My parents had an Andrew Wyeth book that made a big impression on me.
SM: how did you start painting?
JW: I never did painting until I went to UNR. I did watercolors in elementary, but in UNR I took a painting class and went straight into oil. I had to do some acrylic, but I was terrible at it.
SM: Why didn’t acrylic work in your favor?
SM: Would you think about working with acrylic again?
JW: Sure! I don’t know if I would go back unless I had something specific in mind, though.
SM: Is oil more expensive?
JW: Yes, generally. You can get student grade that’s not as fancy, but there’s just a lot more supplies to buy with oil. Plus I build my own canvasses.
SM: Did you learn how to do that at UNR?
JW: My first painting teacher was Raphael Blanco who taught us how to use oil and make canvasses.
SM: Were your parents encouraging about art?
JW: My mom was always super supportive. My dad would encourage me to become technically better, like as far as anatomy. But my mom was really sweet about it.
SM: Your background – you just started getting into painting at UNR – did you have any other art background before UNR?
JW: I had done art on my own pretty much. I had taken one semester of art at UNLV, but I really didn’t have any training otherwise. I had never had a show or anything. But the BFA program at UNR helped me out a lot.SM: Can you describe your artistic process?
JW: I don’t have a good process. I know it’s important to have one. My process is maybe overthink it, get really angsty about it, struggle for months, and then eventually finding something. It’s a pretty terrible process honestly.
SM: How do you decide on what to paint?
JW: I’ve had a few themes in mind since I was at UNR. For the BFA, you have to have two shows for your degree, and they push you to develop themes based on what you’re interested in. So you think a lot about what’s important to you. This really helps you focus. For the show at the Isles, I departed a little from my regular themes. The one theme that took up all my time at UNR was control, and how you are always fighting for a sense of control – control over your environment, etc. – And I feel like that struggle is something that you’re working for your whole life.
SM: That seems like something really difficult to capture on canvas.
JW: It is! I have a couple of other things – religion, feminism – but it all comes back to issues of control.
SM: So, your process – do you make your canvass first? Or get your paints out?
JW: I do have a particular look that I like that’s been inspired by a few different artists, so I have an idea of how I want it to look. But first I try to come up with a theme – generally around that idea of control. A lot of women’s issues go into that. But you can kind of think about that theme and what goes into it, and then I do a sketch. Then I take reference photos of friends and family. After the photos I build my canvasses to the size that I need, and then I’ll start sketching. A lot of my techniques are things I picked up from UNR by watching different people. I layer a lot of colors on top of each other – complementary colors.
SM: Do you have any artists that inspire you?
JW: A lot of the surrealists are inspiring to me. I like Magritte a lot – his work is amazing. Of course Andrew Wyeth who I mentioned before. Romaine brooks, who was an artist around the turn of the 20th century. And then a lot of filmmakers inspired me thematically and visually. Stanley Kubrick was very important to me for that – I really appreciate the way he would set up a frame – it’s very specific and planned. Brunel Debone was a cinematographer who influenced me a lot. And then there’s writers like Octavia Butler who has some amazing stories about how you can be working and what you can expect as an artist – how you have to keep producing things in order to grow.
SM: Do you feel like your peers or society have accepted your themes?
JW: I think so. Most people seem to pick up on my work. Most of my subjects are women, and while it’s subtle, which may or may not be a good thing, people seem to get it. I don’t mind keeping it ambiguous, though.
SM: Do you feel that artists have a role to play as social commentators?
JW: I do. I would never tell people or other artists what they have to do with their art – it can be very personal. But I think art is very important as social commentary. A book we read in school that made an impression on me made the point that Art needs to be something that improves the community. Most art will have some sort of political aspect as well, and I think that most artists should embrace the political and become active commentators. I think that artists can be facilitators for social commentary. Sometimes I think there’s a feeling that artists are sort of separate or maybe don’t have a sort of – let me see if I can put this better – there’s this idea that artists are above making political statements. I think there’s a lot of space for art to make platforms for other groups.
JW: That’s tough! At this point I don’t really have a five year plan. At the very least I know I have to continue creating work. You have to always be making work. My professional artistic goal – well, I need to come up with a better artistic process. Sometimes it’s hard figuring out how to get my ideas across. Artists need to be better social commentators as well, and I’d like to be more confident at being a part of that.
SM: When is your next exhibition?
JW: I have one at Hub Coffee in May.
SM: Do you find that Reno is supportive of artists?
JW: Yeah, I think Reno is amazing! I wasn’t able to find a lot of support in Vegas, but Reno is very supportive of artists. There’s tons of galleries, and the Holland Project is a super supportive space! The thing that always gets me into the studio is seeing all the art around this town.
SM: If there were no restrictions on funding, time, etc., what would your dream subject be?
JW: I think it’d be great to have some sort of feminist mentoring project, where artists could mentor other younger artists. With a radical bent, and themes on gender, race, class. Maybe a retreat, etc.
SM: What’s the largest scale art you’ve ever done?
JW: I’ve never done any murals or anything like that. So really just an oil painting that was maybe 4 feet by 3 feet.
SM: Do you take requests for art?
JW: I’ve thought about doing commissions, but I’ve never actively sold out. It’s a possibility though!
SM: Do you have a website?
JW: I do. It’s jessicawhiteart.com.
Written and interviewed by Sophia McMahan.