The Feminine Spirit: Interview with Jessica Libor
Jessica Libor is an artist from Philadelphia, PA who creates work that deal with beauty, desire, artifice, and feminine experience. She writes a blog at www.jessicaliborblog.com, and also curates exhibitions through the pop-up gallery Era Contemporary. She has studied at the Florence Academy of Art, Grand Central Atelier and received her MFA from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. She currently divides her time between Philadelphia, PA and New York, NY.
"I am inspired by the feminine spirit: my work is about the woman who is empowered to be the heroine of her own story. My aesthetic is influenced by the Rococo and Pre-Raphaelite periods of art history, as well as theater, set design, high fashion culture. The feminine figure is central in carrying the piece or telling a story, and her surroundings often mirror her state of mind. In all my work, I strive to create an enveloping world that is vivid, compelling and emotionally complex. I would like it if my viewers could step inside this world and fall in love, if only for a moment, with the moment portrayed. It is this portrayal of strength and potential, this perfect moment of inspiration within an imperfect world, that I aim to capture in my work.
The paintings and installations are also infused with a sense of light. In the paintings, this shows up in the way that light sources are enhanced and made more brilliant. In installations and video, the sensibility is similar in that there are glowing objects, filters, and effects that are use to enhance the effects of natural lighting. This results in a sense of distillation, a still perfection, like a memory or dream. In much of the work, but especially the paintings, true gold and silver leaf are used to add brilliance to the work. The changing nature of light makes this material look different when viewed from different angles, and also physically mimics the precious nature of the scene presented: the moment is worth being encased in gold.
Pattern and rhythm are also present as carriers of meaning in my work. The organic patterning of tree limbs, figures, flowers, and shadows all are used to create a sense of fullness and ornate design. In videos and installation, repeated motifs and objects are used to call attention to certain details.
It is my hope that my viewers may by inspired to recognize thier own strength, beauty and mystery as they look at my work."
Tell us about your journey as an artist.
My first memory of making art was when I was three years old. I was drawing while lying on the carpet, and I decided right then and there I would be an artist. There's something magical about the act of creating something--you take ordinary materials and with them can bring forth ideas that others can see and be moved by. I never wavered in that decision since that point! I know I'm very lucky to have always known what I would like to do.
I attended several schools and workshops during my college years, but the ones that really stood out to have taught me a lot were the Florence Academy of Art, the Grand Central Atelier, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, which I received my Master of Fine Arts from in 2014.
The Florence Academy of Art in Florence, Italy was an amazing experience. Being in Florence and seeing the timeless art and landscapes there really made an impact. I was also amazed that I could make artwork reminiscent of the old masters once being taught the correct methods, materials and techniques. It was my first real immersion in the representational art world and I was hooked. PAFA was great because it pushed me to go as far as I could with my work--to explore without fear or boundaries. Today, I am still involved with the Grand Central Atelier in order to keep my skills sharp and be challenged by other artists who are better than me. They are an amazing atelier who teach from a French academic method.
Last year, I also started curating shows and founded the pop-up gallery Era Contemporary. It's been a lot of fun creating exhibitions with other artists from all around the nation! I love what I do, it's a passion that hasn't diminished in all the years I've been involved, and I think it's because art is as limitless as the human imagination. It never gets old.
What is the inspiration behind your paintings?
It has changed over the years, but the imagery I am interested in keeps popping up. There is typically an element of nature in my work: trees, flowers, water, flora and fauna. I think it has something to do with the organic nature of plants and the wild, and also the constant renewal of life. We as humans are a part of it, and I'm drawn to representing people as they relate to nature-intertwining with it, interacting with it, reflecting its moods. I also love representing women in my paintings, in many different ways. I think because I am a woman it's a natural outpouring of my spirit. I enjoy painting men as well, but with women I find a more fluid and expressive medium to play with fashion, makeup, color and gesture to create a mood. The ladies I've painted over the years have changed too, from a more delicate, frail looking creature to strong women who are in command of their life and not afraid to be seen. I think this is because an artist's work is a reflection of thier state of mind. These days I like to think the girls in my paintings are the heroines of thier own story. I am very inspired by fables, medieval and eastern European fairy tales, and myths, as well as Biblical narratives. I also love the time period of the Belle Epoch, when technology was just starting to be discovered and pick up momentum, and the promise of that time period, as well as the fashions and culture, particularly in France, are influential to me. I want my viewers to be drawing into a magical world of enchantment and possibility.
Tell us about a typical day in the studio. What do you like to listen to or surround yourself with when you’re working?
I usually light a beeswax candle, open a window for ventilation and begin painting. I get overwhelmed easily with the amount of work I'd like to get done so I try to break it down into time increments--30 minutes of straight painting at a time, then a 5 minute break, and so on. I am always surprised with how much you can get done in a focused amount of time! I alternate between listening to atmospheric music and podcasts. I enjoy podcasts that tell stories of myths and legends, and also science, which gives me inspiration for my work and keeps my mind occupied as I paint for hours on end. When I think I am finished a painting, I actually try to push it a little further to see how much better I can make it for a few hours. In my studio I like to surround myself with living plants, crystals to reflect the light and make rainbows and lights on the walls, inspiring quotes and a cup of tea. I actually try to keep any images and paperwork off my studio walls because I find I am more creative in an emptier space. It lets the mind breathe and fill in the blanks.
What is your favorite thing about being a painter?
I love the challenge of seeing what I can do. I also love the joy it can bring to others to create something of beauty or inspiration.
Name a few artists that inspire you.
Artists of the past I am influenced by are Fragonard, Waterhouse, Hopper, DaVinci, Sargent, and so many more! They all have something great to offer, but I really love the aesthetic of the Pre-Raphaelites. I'm trying to take that and make it a little more modern, lighter, for this age. Artists today I am inspired by are Pippolita Rist, Jane Irish, Brad Kunkle, Daniel Biladeau, and many more. There are so many good artists out there!
What are your favorite activities outside of the studio?
I love running and walking in nature. There are many trails near where I live, so I try to either go for a run or walk every day on the trails. I also enjoy sewing--I make some of my dresses--and makeup artistry. I worked for Christian Dior cosmetics for several years and really enjoyed it. The colors, the textures, the sparkles--it was like working with paints! I also enjoy traveling and reading, and healthy eating. I try to keep everything organic for my food and body products. I have yet to find a way to do that for my paints, but I have hope it will be discovered soon! I also love films, and enjoy acting here and there. Fun fact: I was once in an episode of Vampire Diaries!
What are you currently working on and what should we expect from you in 2018?
Right now I'm working on a trio of paintings about unicorns. I recently visited the Cloisters in NYC and saw the "Hunt of the Unicorn" tapestries. They were so unexpectedly overwhelming in their seriousness, pageantry and attention to detail--they did not treat the subject of unicorns like it was silly, but rather something meaningful and magical, and worthy of a masterpiece. I was inspired by them and decided to indulge my secret love of unicorns by a few paintings. I'm working on the second one now and the support for the third, which will be quite large. I am also planning several exhibitions for the year with Era Contemporary, so be on the lookout for those! I am also lucky enough to be traveling to the South of France this summer and also the Southwest in the US. I'm really excited for a change of location and fresh inspiration, as I haven't traveled outside the east coast in a long while. Other than that, I will keep drawing and painting, enjoying this beautiful experience of life.