Today’s Feature, July 18th and 19th Jessica Wohl

January 18, 2008 at 6:28 pm (Today's Feature)

I often get asked, “Where did you find this person?” I love when people ask me that because it means that we are showcasing people outside of the norm in today’s pop culture and creative world. I think after today’s feature I will be getting a lot more of that question thrown my way. I learned about Jessica Wohl after a colleague told me about this fabulous artist out of Kansas City. I trusted the source, so I took a look. To say I was extremely impressed is an understatement. The minute I looked at Wohl’s work, some of my favorite artists came to mind, most notably Norman Rockwell, whose Saturday Evening Post paintings depicted every day people in America. As Rockwell once said, “Without thinking too much about it in specific terms, I was showing the America I knew and observed to others who might not have notice” ( ). Wohl’s work is having that similar affect on the art community. Her latest work depicting real life (to every minuet detail) images of every day people is indicative of her own personality. Wohl is “people person” to put it lightly, inspired by the enjoyments others find in their day to day lives. She is a teacher of many schools, volunteers, works with others; gathering inspiration in every activity. She is adamant about art education for children and disgusted in the (sad but true) fact that art programs are being eliminated in American society. A point I’d stand on the highest soapbox for. The intricacies of texture and design is phenomenal and well used enhance the figure’s personality in her work. As shown in the images below, the detailed wallpaper is enough to sell the piece itself but added with figures, whose lives have seen several decades of wallpaper, allow the viewer to imagine themselves sitting with them, laughing, crying, and listening to their stories. The eye wants you to look so many places first; the patters, the colors, the figure(s), the detail…all right there, waiting. The art capitals of the world may lie in London, Paris, Italy, New York and LA (to name a few) but maybe the elitist-gallery patrons should take a stroll over to middle America to see what’s going on…you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Read her XXQs to find out why…

XXQs: Jessica Wohl (PEV): How and when did you first get involved in art?

Jessica Wohl (JW): I was always inclined to drawing and creative activities more than competitive or athletic ones, but I began to draw seriously in 7th grade. Other people starting noticing and paying attention to my drawings, and when the popular kids came up to me and told me what I was doing was ‘cool,’ I just kept at it.

PEV: As an art educator, how has working with students affected or inspired your art?

JW: Other than practice, working with students is the biggest influence in making me a better painter. It’s a never-ending journey, and it’s such a fun ride, because I never know what I will take away from a class. I tell my students to not be afraid of failure, to experiment, that there is no wrong way of executing an idea, and when I get really hard on myself in the studio, I hear my ‘teaching voice’ echo in my head, and it’s as if I’ve got a teacher breathing down my neck challenging me.

I am inspired most by preschoolers. As ‘artists,’ preschools operate 100% on instinct. They are not concerned with whether or not something looks ‘right’, or if something is the wrong color, is too big or too small, and you’ll never hear a preschooler say “I messed up.” They just attack their work. They go at it with such confidence, and most of their ideas have not been molded or corrected by adults yet, so they initiate such incredible responses to their materials and processes.

PEV: Nationwide you hear all the time that public schools are cutting funding for art classes. How does that make you feel?

JW: Ill. In fact, I was just speaking with a friend of mine who teaches art in a small town in Minnesota, and she told me they have cut 100% of the art programs in their Elementary schools. Can you imagine? Art is the one subject where there is no one right answer and it is one of very few outlets at that age for imaginations to thrive. Let me tell you, I’ve lived for a long time using simple 5th grade math skills; I couldn’t tell you what units I studied in my elementary science or English classes, but I can recall every painting the picture lady brought to school, all of my elementary art projects, and what I learned from them. The creative processes I learned in school are what have shaped me into the person I am today, and it sickens me to think that schools are depriving our youngsters of these experiences. It basically tells children that like to draw, paint, etc. that those types of activities are not only useless, but not valued or validated.

PEV: What is your advice for kids who want to get involved in art?

JW: Grab a pencil and some paper and start drawing. Draw from your imagination and draw what you see. Train your eye to see: Be aware of what you ACTUALLY see, not what you think you see. If you can draw, and you can learn to see, you can create anything.

PEV: Explain your creative process. Sketch things out first? Go right to canvas?

JW: Lately, my ideas have popped right into my head without any need for me to work them out with preliminary steps. I haven’t needed to think “what should I paint today,” because I’ll just get an idea, remember it or write it down, and then make it happen. For my current work, I start with a drawing on a primed, masonite (hard wood) panel. I draw an outline that places the objects/figures in the right space and proportion. After the line drawing is done, I use burnt umber paint (a semi-transparent dark brown) and draw and paint in all the details, laying down where all the darks and lights will be. While that dries, I draw the ornamentation in the background with line, and then paint over it or fill it in. While the ornamental pattern dries, I rework the figures, adding the full color palette. Then I add thin, dripping layers to the background in the final step.

PEV: What has been the hardest part for breaking into the art community?

JW: You know, I don’t think it’s been that hard. Kansas City’s art community is closely tied to the Kansas City Art Institute, where I graduated from, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have a strong enough network of people that have helped put me in touch with contacts that result in shows. One difficult thing for me is that I’m pursuing a career as a painter, but I was not a part of the painting department at the art institute; I was an Illustration major, and typically painters and illustrators don’t sit on the same side of the fence. It’s been an unusual experience to be a painter in a community where I don’t know many other painters.

PEV: Which city, outside of the US, has the best environment for artists? Also, do you find one in particular place that works best for you?

JW: I’m not sure about that. I’ll assume the top two non-US cities are Paris and London, though I’ve never been to either. I’m fine working anywhere, as long as there is a conducive studio environment.

PEV: What is your preferred medium to work with and what is it about that, you find a connection with?

JW: I work with predominately with oils. I love the versatility, the texture, the creaminess, and the way the medium can be worked very thick or thin. When you mix oils, the dried color is true to the wet color, as opposed to acrylic paints that dry darker than the color you see when you mix them.

PEV: What do you say to the people that don’t quite “get” or don’t appreciate art?

JW: Well, you win some you lose some. I think it’s fine that people don’t get or appreciate art. I typically find that the art people don’t get or appreciate is the art where an inherent talent cannot be seen, i.e. a solid red painting, or a pile of trash in the corner. Typically ‘non-artists’ are impressed by works that display a skill that they don’t have. When someone says, “I could have done that” or “I don’t get why this is art” I try to explain to them that more often that not, it is not the final product that manifests the ‘genius’ of the artist, rather it’s the idea the artist had that led to a final piece. The piece is often just a physical manifestation of the thought, or rather, proof that that person thought of their idea. It’s not necessarily a work where someone is out to prove how talented they are. Most of this work also has its place in art history, so I try to put it in a historical context. But don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen plenty of crappy art that I look at and say “I don’t get it,” because there are tons of artist/art students out there making poorly thought out piles of shit.

PEV: If you could sit down for dinner with one artist, alive or deceased, who would it be? Why?

JW: Oh gosh, I don’t know. Jenny Saville, Francesco Clemente, Alberto Giacommetti, John Singer Sargent, Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, Lucien Freud, Burton Silverman, Alex Katz, Moshe Gat, Chuck Close, Warhol. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t turn away a dinner with any artist who’s got some kind of presence in the art world.

PEV: What is one thing people would be surprised to hear about you?

JW: I’m in love with pop music and I drive a minivan. I guess that’s two things.

PEV: What do you do when you hit that “brick wall” and feel like a project isn’t working right?

JW: Let out a large yell/shrug and wipe the painting completely away.

PEV: Describe the feeling the first time you walked into a gallery and saw your paintings displayed.

JW: Well, my work’s been displayed in many shows all through school that weren’t such a big deal, but last year I had my first solo show in a large venue with my name in vinyl on that wall…that was really the highlight for me, getting my name in vinyl. Ha. But it was a feeling of pride, and in this particular show, I’d painted some elderly friends of mine, all of whom attended the show. It was an amazing feeling to see these people, some of whom could considered abject, standing next to a painting of themselves feeling like the stars of the show. People were paying so much attention to them, and that was the best feeling.

PEV: What was it like when you realized that you wanted make a living in the arts?

JW: Liberating. While many of my friends struggled to find a major in college, I always knew exactly what I wanted to do. I’ve never worried that I’ll have to have a job I hate, and know that I never will. I will only do what I love, and will live within my means so that I can do it. I’m not a starving artist, and I revel in the fact that I’ll never have to work a day of my life in a cubicle.

PEV: What is a normal day like for you?

JW: Normal? Ha. There’s no such thing as normal. I teach at 3 schools, am a program director for a synagogue, and paint in the studio when I’m not doing either of those jobs. I bounce around between all those things at all different times.

PEV: A lot of artists listen to music when they work. Do you? If so, what are you currently listening to?

JW: I listen to music, sing and dance when I paint. Oh gosh, I have what most people would arguably call terrible taste in music, and am well aware of this, but right now I’m listening to Lily Allen, Damian Rice, Justin Timberlake, Kelly Clarkson, and many other teeny-bopper songs. But I do love classics like Johnny Cash, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, etc.

PEV: Which do you prefer to do, an original painting “for yourself” or a commissioned piece?

JW: Original painting for myself. I’ll do a commission, but I’m starting to get pickier and pickier.

PEV: What do you do when you are not painting or teaching?

JW: I’m an email junkie. I love my email. I check it many times a day if I can. I like to eat too.

PEV: Is there one theme or aspect behind your work you find yourself always looking to?

JW: My family history is really rearing its head in my work lately; you’ll probably see a lot of my family in my work for awhile.

PEV: So, what is next for Jessica Wohl?

JW: In August I’m moving to Athens, GA to get my Masters Degree in Fine Arts from the University of Georgia.

To find out more on Jessica, check out:


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