This is a profile of one of our FY15 Artist Fellowship Program (AFP) grantees, Jessica Beels, a visual artist in Washington, DC.
Q: Are you from the Washington, DC area originally?
A: I am originally from New York City, but I lived in DC with my family for a few years when I was a toddler, so I still have ties to the city (and great memories!) from back then. When I was in DC as a child, we lived in Glover Park. I moved back to DC in the mid-80s for a job at the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. I lived off of upper 16th street with friends for a few months, and then moved to near Van Ness, then on to Capitol Hill for a couple of years. Finally, I ended up in Adams Morgan, where I still live today.
Q: Where have you studied/gone to school for your art?
A: I have never gotten a degree in studio art. I consider myself an accumulator of techniques and try not to miss an opportunity to learn a new skill or try a new material. I was an Art History major in college (Harvard – focusing on Renaissance painting). My senior thesis was on depictions of doctors in 17th-century Dutch art. In college, small classes and strict requirements made it virtually impossible for me to minor in studio art, so I worked on at least two theater productions each year (no major was offered at the time, so it was all extracurricular), doing everything from acting to stage managing to set, costume, and prop design. I also managed to take a class called Projects in Three Dimensions (taught by William Reimann), which totally changed the way I thought about using materials creatively. I took classes in sculpture and drawing at the Corcoran when I first moved to DC in the 80s. I have also also been to Penland School of Crafts (North Carolina) for a Metals (jewelry) class and Haystack Mountain School of Crafts (Maine) for Papermaking and Metals (cold connections).
Q: Favorite advice you’ve received from a teacher/mentor/colleague?
A: “Choose your Waterloo.” This actually was something a dear friend said to me the morning of my wedding. It could mean don’t pick a fight unless you are ready for it to be your last. But mostly it is a gentle reminder to take a deep breath and think before you jump in to something really heavy. It is not advice to avoid conflict, just to think before you jump.
Q: Favorite neighborhood in DC?
A: Adams Morgan, with lots of Brookland thrown in.
Q: Favorite food (and best place to get that in DC, if you want to share that, too)?
A: My most recent favorite is the pork buns at Sakuramen (Adams Morgan).
Q: Favorite game (board game, card game, video game, etc.)?
A: Scrabble or Boggle – I am a word nut.
Q: Favorite time of the year?
A: Fall, because you can see things changing before your eyes and it’s not about to get really hot.
Q: What book are you currently reading?
A: The Blazing World – Siri Hustvedt.
Q: What is your motto?
A: I don’t have one, that’s too binding.
Q: What would your superpower be?
Q: Three artists (living or dead) whom you would want to have dinner with?
A: Alexander Calder, Judith Leyster, Ai Wei Wei (but maybe not all at the same time).