Art In Uncertain Times: Jessica Westhafer's "About A Girl"
While we look at the ways the current lockdown affects studio artists around the globe, there is a whole generation of art students whose life journey was significantly changed due to the current crisis. Semesters have been abridged, and for expectant graduates, thesis exhibitions are being canceled, presentations that are more than symbolic, but that represent a culmination of years of preparation and anticipation.
"Since having to move out of my campus studio I’ve relocated to working from home," Jessica Westhafer tells us about the unexpected change of plans at the end of her final year at the university. "Reminiscent of a murder scene, my studio is covered in plastic sheets but I’m grateful to have a space to keep creating." Experiencing the global pandemic in the final semester of her MFA at Indiana University has drastically changed the traditional educational process.
Growing up in Flippin, Arkansas, the emerging punk scene and accompanying teen mischief were a "means of establishing autonomy in the shadow of a highly regulated upbringing in a Christian cult." The sounds of Kurt Cobain, David Bowie, Glenn Danzig, and Robert Smith, along with a steady dose of dark humor provided confidence and strength to buoy her spirits amid a suffocating reality. Years later, those experiences fuel the narratives within her work, as she takes charge of her life story and recreates childhood events and memories, "inserting my current position of independence and maturity into moments of extreme instability." Drawing on the aesthetics of the color palettes and exaggerated forms of 90s cartoons, her characters function as avatars that personify feelings in playful imagery that masks a painful and darker narrative.
We had been in contact with Jessica months ahead, planning an introduction ahead of her thesis show, but then 2020 has obliterated agendas . Her thesis exhibition, About A Girl, was presented online on April 27th at the Grunwald Gallery of Art located at Indiana University, but she thoughtfully sees the silver lining. "Similar to many graduating MFAs, I’m disappointed the work cannot be viewed in person but, at the same time, I’m incredibly proud. Many of the graduating MFAs here were forced to adapt quickly, adjusting our studio practices in order to complete the work. I believe it’s challenged us all to keep creating despite obstacles thrown our way and to focus more on the internal motivation behind creating. Overall, I’m thankful Indiana University’s Grunwald Gallery has made a beautiful online presentation of the work which is extremely accessible to the public."
Although an important event was cancelled, she seems to be successfully adapting. "I’m painting a lot smaller but also drawing as much as possible. I usually flesh out ideas in charcoal before I begin a painting, but since working from home I’ve begun working more with watercolor and chalk pastel. I also teach an introductory oil painting class every week and have embraced my inner Bob Ross by conducting the class via Zoom. Outside of working in the studio and teaching online, I’ve been baking shortbread cookies and so much bread. I’m learning to take everything one day at a time, continue working, and seek out any opportunities that may still be available. I am excited for another opportunity to showcase the work in an upcoming virtual solo show with the Thierry Goldberg Gallery in NYC that will be up through May 31st," Jessica tells us about the post-thesis life in lockdown and her future plans. "The future is a little mysterious right now and like the world, I’m adjusting."
Text compiled by Sasha Bogojev