Alumni Spotlight: JESSE STERN

Charis Carmichael Braun (2008) interviewed Jesse Stern (2012) to see what kind of details he's recently been focusing on.

What was your most recent big thing?

I guess I'd say a drawing I did a few months ago (a self-portrait with a hooded winter parka, which contained some complicated value structures and details) in which, more than usual, I needed to incorporate some new tools and develop new ways of mark-making to my existing repertoire. I do think most artists are pretty much always doing both of these things - we're our own R&D departments, after all - but I really had to expand some facets of how I work and think about drawing in order to make the image I wanted. It was an exceptionally valuable process for me, and a great reminder that we never, ever stop learning.

Jesse Stern, "Man About Town", 2021, graphite and charcoal on paper, 18 x 24 in.

What are you currently working on?

Right at this moment I'm looking at the work I've done over the last few years - which has been almost exclusively graphite on paper, with much of the focus on drawings of hands and self-portrait - and taking some of those ideas and themes into oil paintings.

So I'm going to be exclusively an oil painter for a while. And that'll be really good for me. What I'm finding simultaneously most interesting and most challenging, is working out analogs in oil painting to some of the things I like most about my process in graphite and charcoal. I've painted lots in the past, just not all that much in the last few years.

What do you find challenging about your work?

I think I get most bogged down with what level of specificity to apply to a drawing or painting. Sometimes less is more, sometimes more is more, sometimes more looks dreadful, and sometimes you don't realize that until you've invested a lot of time on a piece of drawing or painting. I'm trying to get smarter about those decisions; to be able to anticipate what's actually going to serve me and my work best. If I'm working on a passage of a wavy, billowy shirt, (which actually is part of my current painting), how deeply into its texture do I want to delve, and what style of mark-making and what drawing or painting implement are going to be most effective in getting me there?

What do you find rewarding about what you do?

I find challenges and rewards at every stage of the artistic process, whether finding the best tools and materials, navigating Instagram, or communicating with collectors, but here's one little thing I like a lot: there are moments when an image, or a discrete passage within an image, hits a tipping point and you can sort of see all the missing pieces. Like, okay, I've solved this little localized puzzle, and then you have the sense that, for at least a little while, the scales have tipped from an uncertain and often vexing struggle to unfettered enjoyment and fun. That's a nice little reward right there.

I mean, throughout the process of every single work, I experience countless highs and lows, in which one minute I think it's the best thing I've ever done, and moments later I'm convinced I should just tear it up and chuck it out the window. Typical artist stuff.

What’s on the horizon for you?

This gets back to the first question, in that I'm really focused on immersing myself in oil paint (figuratively speaking, of course) for the foreseeable future. I have a million and one ideas for paintings I want to make, so I just need to squeeze an extra eighteen hours out of every day from now on. Easy enough, right?

Jesse D. Stern (MFA 2012)