Jessica Camilli is a versatile artist who picks her dreams right off her pillow and puts them directly on the canvas. Aside from being an artist, she is guided through life by her travels and yoga journey. Her family and childhood growing up in DC has given her the support and outlet she needs to shine and grow her craft. They continued to show their support as she pursued her BFA from James Madison University with a concentration in drawing and painting. Currently residing in Richmond, VA, she retreats to her studio where her complex and beautiful mind creates images that are graceful while also being unexpected.
What is your biggest inspiration and how does it come to life in your work? How did you arrive at your current aesthetic?
My parents provided me with a very creative childhood. My mother was a modern dancer and my dad ran a Jazz club. I grew up seeing Jazz performances, dances and plays. DC provided me with so much cultural exposure. My dad took my siblings and me to the backyard at night and taught us about astronomy, challenging us to think more expansively about the universe and our role in it. To say the least I had a lot of fodder for inspiration.I have been drawing and scribbling down ideas for as long as I can remember. I consider myself incredibly privileged to have such understanding parents who supported my decision to go to art school and pursue art professionally. I draw most of my inspiration from dreams. I have had an overactive dreamscape ever since I was a little kid. I remember every dream. They tend to be so detailed that when I wake up I can recall the backstories of characters involved. I remember sensory details like the smells of imagined perfumes and foods. Using details from dreams to create art helps with my sanity. It brings order to the chaos. I arrived at my current aesthetic by combining the eerily intangible elements of my dream world with the more meditated logical processes of my design work.
Could you tell us about your creative process and what life looks like in the studio for you? What goes into making a piece, including the mediums you prefer to use?
I tend to work on 3-5 projects at once in varying mediums. Recently, this has consisted of me working on children’s book illustrations in Prisma colored pencils, pop-surreal illustrative paintings in house paint, graphic design work starting in tedious Micron pen drawings, and oil paintings which function as my therapy. Art is my only source of income, so I balance commissioned works, projects created with marketability in mind, and the art of my own personal desires. If I didn’t have to worry about paying the bills I would always be working on dark and beautiful surreal oil paintings. My favorite medium is oil paint. I am enamored with the rituals of the medium. I find mixing a palette soothing, the smell of linseed oil comforting and even the cleaning processes meditative.
How does your love for travel and yoga play into your art work?
Yoga will always be a big part of my life, but I did put it on the back burner to focus on art this year. There was a time where I was putting almost all of my energy into yoga, teaching anywhere from 7-15 classes a week while helping manage a studio. I loved it but found myself longing to put that same energy into my art career. Yoga helps bring me to a place of calm and deep intentionality which allows me to be productive in my art making.
Travel will always be incredibly inspiring to me. I love seeing how other people live and all of the sounds, sights, and sensations that make up their day to day surroundings. I especially find street art compelling and more telling of the actual heart of a city. I hope that the visual fodder I pick up during my travels surfaces through my art. It is the nature of an artist to be egocentric. For me, yoga and travel help balance the ego by providing perspective. It’s good for me to be reminded of how incredibly tiny and insignificant I am.
What has been your favorite live-painting event thus far and why? How does live painting affecting the outcome of your work versus creating your piece in the solitude of your studio?
My favorite live painting experience was working on the underwater space alien mural at Big What 2017. I could talk all day about how incredible this experience was. Leslie Caneda (who is incredibly dear and inspiring to me) had a giant wood easel and “canvas” constructed for the event. At the time I just wasn’t feeling so inspired by what I was working on so I decided to devote most of my live painting time to the group mural. I had the honor of starting the painting composition with an alien mermaid floating on an asteroid. It expanded from there, each artist bringing so much to the table building off one another. I especially had fun painting alongside Jenée Harrison. Saturday night we donned all black and horns, embracing all our dark feminine energy to attack this painting. I have never been to a festival where a live painting was given so much attention. There was one point when I turned around to see about a hundred people gathered behind us watching us paint. To top it all off no one told me that Dustin Klein was going to be digitally animating the painting. So I was working on adding beams flowing from the UFO when all of a sudden the images started moving. It took me a moment to realize I wasn’t just seeing things and that he had brought the painting to life. At the end of the festival we donated the painting to The Big What. It was truly a beautiful culmination of fun, live music, art collaboration and friendship.
Every piece is amazingly unique. They contain this sort of grace, juxtaposed with something offbeat and brutal. What emotions do you hope to convey and what do you want to leave the viewer feeling?
Simultaneously my best and worst quality is that I want to do everything. It keeps me motivated, but it also keeps me in a state of being a complete mess. This year I am focusing on getting my children’s book illustrations published, having my first solo show in an art gallery, and being an art director at The Camel. If all of that goes well I hope to then focus on doing an artist residency, painting a mural on a building, and creating a series of resin coated oil paintings giving voice to those in the community who often feel silenced or ignored. The art world is so expansive and I hope to dip my toes in as much of it as I can.
As an artist I aim to change people’s conventional thought patterns. I think we grow stale in our day to day lives and tend to get set in our ways and ideas. I hope to shake the dust from the routine. Even if it’s just for a moment. That is why I am drawn to strange and sometimes dark imagery. Why I am so inspired by the works of Tim Burton, Miles Johnston, and Lori Nelson. I find balancing the eerie with the beautiful allows for some sort of accessibility into the weird. I want someone to think “That makes me feel uncomfortable. But I kind of like it… what does that say about me?” It is all just perspective. A perspective that we often allow to be dictated by what is socially accepted or what we are trained to think by the existing establishment. But that perspective doesn’t mean anything. Ultimately I want to make people squirm a little, then question why it is that they squirmed.
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