A San Francisco Artist Immortalizes Graffiti—And the Act of Painting

Portrait of Jessica Hess by Shaun Roberts, courtesy of Hashimoto Contemporary.

Portrait of Jessica Hess by Shaun Roberts, courtesy of Hashimoto Contemporary.

In her summer solo show at San Francisco’s Hashimoto Contemporary, realist painter presents a new crop of the large-scale urban landscape paintings for which she is known—with a twist. The works in “More is More” expose the hand of the artist, offering an enticing glimpse into her process of making her otherwise highly finished works.
Hess is known for her naturalistically painted urban scenes, and for being particularly drawn to the rundown and overlooked places that mark every city—especially when they are covered with graffiti. In these recent paintings, she presents such sites as a disused swimming pool bursting not with swimmers but with an exuberant array of street art; an overgrown, rubble-strewn lot abutting a building that appears to be slated for demolition; and a pair of rusting water towers perched atop a roof.
Where others might shun such sites, she seeks them out, finding and photographing them on her explorations of cities throughout the U.S. As she once described the pull of these places upon her: “I enjoy elevating the derelict and overlooked...I am very interested in rust, weathering and decay...For me, the aftermath of these things adds beauty and complexity to a location.”
Taking a new turn in this body of work, Hess brings to the fore her interest in the act of painting itself, which she has just begun to express. In each one of these compositions, she clues us in to where her paintings begin by leaving sections unfinished at various stages of her working process.
“I began making an effort to explore the more expressive under-paintings of my work and preserving some of the happy accidents I would create in the sketching process,” she says of this new direction. “It’s a shame to cover up these exciting parts of my process and I hadn’t felt right doing so for some time.” So she lets these parts show, and does right by herself—and by viewers of her work.

Karen Kedmey

Jessica Hess – More is More” is on view at Hashimoto Contemporary, San Francisco, Aug. 1–22, 2015.

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