Jessica Wachter - Artist Study

Jessica Wachter - Artist Study

This is part of an ongoing series on the how, the where, and the why behind some amazing artists in the Midwest.
I had the distinct pleasure of meeting up with Jessica Wachter at her space in Bismarck, ND. I photographed her beginning work on a massive canvas and then we chatted about her work for awhile. Although she describes herself as, "not great with words, that's why I paint," she had some very interesting things to say. Enjoy!

Zach: Tell me about yourself and what you do.

Jessica: Well, what am I? I am a painter, printmaker, but I really dabble in all mediums. Just recently I’ve gotten into this mixed medium work using the pastels, acrylic, watercolor, and graphite and adding onto screen prints that I do. So I’ve been really enjoying that because it’s been simple and clear and to the point of the basics and going back to that. And of course my large scale oil paintings that I have been doing for a long time now.

Zach: How did you get started? Have you always considered yourself creative?

Jessica: Yes, in third grade I had a teacher that gave lessons and exposed us to art. Art wasn’t provided in our school so I was lucky to get this teacher. She really exposed me to that and I more so copied master’s works in watercolor and with that I just fell in love and found my new favorite subject. And I begged mom and dad to get me into classes and so every Saturday morning I got up and went to a local gallery in Bismarck and did my art classes. And when we traveled my parents were really good about exposing us to not just sporting events or shopping, we would always do art museums and science museums and so I was exposed to a lot of art in traveling from a young age on. In high school I got a really good teacher that helped me develop and hone in on the skills that I really enjoyed and knew that I could pursue that in college and hopefully as a career.

Zach: Have you tried many other mediums? How did you settle on what you do now?

Jessica: Yeah, so then in college is when I discovered oil mediums. I hadn’t experimented with oils until college so that’s when I really fell in love and then I discovered this artist, Joan Mitchell, and I started reading every book about her and studying her work. You can see a lot of parallels and paradoxes between my work and her work. And I then decided from her work and her scale, she worked on a very large scale, I started saying, “why not?” and I started making canvases bigger and bigger and getting bigger brushes and really be really not afraid to pile on the paint versus before when I was more into the detail and the realistic. And then I just fell into this abstract expressionist period of style and so within my work you’ll see a lot of…well you’ll see simple lines that can give you the subtle idea that it’s a horizon line so you have a landscape but it isn’t a realistic landscape. But most of them are as simple as line, color, and light. And if I feel that if I can achieve that as an artist, in just coming back to the core of those three things in my work, I feel that I have been successful.

“The more I’ve become mature in my work, I’m more comfortable with the uncomfortableness of it”

The more I’ve become mature in my work, I’m more comfortable with the uncomfortableness of it or the rawness of it or the awkwardness. And some pieces it’s a love/hate and I go through them and I’m hating them and I put them away for months and don’t touch them and then I come back and it just clicks and I know what it is and I love it.

Zach: How do you approach a new piece?

Jessica: Haha, yes. I think the most exhilarating part that I love is getting that first blank canvas. It’s an exciting part, having that fresh, raw canvas that I get to go to and just putting that first stroke down. It’s that ying-yang where I don’t want to mess it up but I can’t mess it up. The initial part is putting that first mark down and from there evolving it where I feel and sometimes I am exactly where I end up in my vision of what I want and sometimes I’ve flipped it sideways or upside down and evolves and comes to me as I’m creating it.

Zach: Describe where we are right now, your studio.

Jessica: Ah, my sanctuary, I would say! I don’t let a lot of people into it, I’m very protective of it. I’m very lucky to have my own space. There’s no one here to judge you and it’s my place where I’m creating so it’s a very raw place, a vulnerable place, so I do try to be very careful of the energy and the people that I let in. It’s a very humbling experience too, these canvases are really me, very raw and naked in every piece.

“these canvases are really me, very raw and naked in every piece”

It’s really my place where I create so I’ve made it homey and comfortable and I bring in fresh flowers to bring life into it. I have my vision board of my goals and admirations that I hope to achieve.

It’s my job and career as an artist so I come to this studio every day whether I want to be here or not. Some days it clicks and I’m working all night and sometimes it’s just staring at the pieces and really studying them and seeing where I’m gonna go and maybe I don’t even put a piece of paint on the canvas but that time here is just as important as the time actually putting it on. And that’s where the patience comes in.

It’s really my place where I create so I’ve made it homey and comfortable and I bring in fresh flowers to bring life into it. I have my vision board of my goals and admirations that I hope to achieve.

It’s my job and career as an artist so I come to this studio every day whether I want to be here or not. Some days it clicks and I’m working all night and sometimes it’s just staring at the pieces and really studying them and seeing where I’m gonna go and maybe I don’t even put a piece of paint on the canvas but that time here is just as important as the time actually putting it on. And that’s where the patience comes in.

Zach: You mentioned Joan Mitchell’s work, what else do you draw inspiration from?

“each of my canvases are windows into other cultures”

Jessica: I think it really comes back to that inspiration is drawn from every day life. I love to travel and experience different parts of the world. Food. Culture. Best friends. Relationships. Their energy and emotion come out in the canvas. Things like that. And everybody has something to teach you. I think that most interesting people are people that are interested in other people. And from that everybody has something to offer you and when you really take down your walls and barriers you can really learn a lot and see the world in a different way. So each of my canvases are windows or doors into other cultures or parts of the world. Or something as simple as North Dakota. Some people sometimes say it’s such a mundane, flat land that’s boring but I think it can be beautiful in some of the simplicity of that. In the subtle one tree in the middle of this field or the river bend. Nature is in a lot of it. The wind, the trees, the flowers. Anything like that.

Zach: What do you want people to take away from your work?

Jessica: Not everyone will ever like my work, nor do I want them to. As long as I feel I keep creating what I feel connected with and I like it to the point where I sign my name off on it and feel passionate and someone else likes it then I’m really happy.

So when I’m coming to it, I’m giving my self reflection to each piece and so the next question that always follows by everybody is, “well, what was it? what were you thinking and feeling?” and I try not to direct someone because as soon as I tell them what I see they want to see it and then they’re upset if they don’t see that.

“I want to transport you to a different experience”

So instead I’m instead saying, “where is this taking you to?” I want to transport you to a different experience. Maybe you had an emotion, good or bad. If it’s provoked an emotion within you, then I’ve succeeded. I think I’ve achieved that if I’ve gotten them to feel something or really relate to it or connect and be able to walk into that piece and spend time with it and study it and keep seeing it in a new way. And that’s between you and the painting.

As a whole, people are either gonna love your work or hate it or they don’t understand it and personally that’s not what it’s supposed to be. It’s just supposed to provoke some kind of feeling or thought or emotion and letting you see the world in a different way that a photograph can’t give you, that a realistic painting can’t give you. Letting you see how I see that world in different colors or lines or expression or shape.

Zach: Why do feel drawn to create?

Jessica: That’s a good question. I feel that it was my calling in life and I am fulfilling what I was set on this earth to do, as cliché as that may sound.

“that’s when I know I could never stop doing this”

And anytime I’ve stopped I’ve gone through artist blocks where I haven’t really created or nothing comes together. It’s a very difficult time but it’s allowed me to also develop in my work. I’ve been blessed with fellow artists that have helped me progress from that and have pushed me beyond or also critique me and say, “don’t ever make this color again,” or “you’re making a horrible piece,” or “this is really good.” I trust their criticism to an honest truth and that’s really helped me. When I’m in that state, when I’m making something that I know I feel good about, that high I can’t get anywhere else. I end up dancing by myself in front of a piece, that adrenaline of a piece when I really connect with it. In the months of creating it there are multiple times where I’m just by myself and so giddy and excited. That’s when I know I could never stop doing this. I haven’t found a high to that equivalent anywhere else.

Zach: What's the last good book you've read?

Jessica: Hmmmm, I’ve read a lot of good ones. The last great book that really pushed me was In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day. It’s about one Bible verse but the whole book describes it. He goes into this den and it’s impossible. It’s winter, he’s a small human being with one little spear but he comes out alive. How? That should never have happened. And it goes into why we’re in our places and I think I resonated with it so much because, “why am I back in Bismarck after 10 years?” But I feel like I’m really moving forwards in coming here and taking that time and just really creating. It was saying we have a reason for everything, we may not see it but it explained it in a way I could really resonate with. There’s a bigger reason for everything and why we’re here and I have to stop questioning so much. And waiting is where the real power happens.

Zach: What's on your playlist right now?

Jessica: Well, The XX. Bon Iver. Florence and the Machine. Robyn, when I really get a painting I like, I have to dance out to Robyn! Arcade Fire, I’m obsessed with. I just got to see them live in New Orleans for Jazzfest. They put on the best show. Incredible!

Zach: What advice would you give for someone wanting to pursue a career in art? What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you were starting out?

Jessica: That’s the hardest question to answer! What I know now, it’s a blessing and a curse, is that if I would’ve known how hard it is and how unpredictable, who knows if I would have done it.

“I can’t imagine doing anything else and I really love that”

Yes, in hindsight I would’ve. I knew it would be hard and that society doesn’t set you up to succeed in these kind of professions but however my advice to those young ones coming in is to not listen to them. To follow your true passion and your true calling, whatever that is. If it’s an accountant, a banker, a doctor, whatever that is. But truly in the fields of any creative person, a musician, a photographer, an artist of anytime is to really follow what you’re supposed to be doing. And when you do, success will follow because you will want to spend all your time and energy on it. I can’t imagine doing anything else and I really love that. So much success has happened in the patience. And to make sure not to compare yourself or think ‘what is success?’ and hold yourself to what you think that may look like, the money or the shows. But a lot of great things have happened in a short amount of time that I didn’t expect but I knew I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. So I think to be an artist, is really to not give up and a lot, a lot of hard work.