Beginning November 9, 2022, Vito Schnabel Gallery will present Jessica Westhafer: Somewhere That’s Green, an exhibition of paintings by the Brooklyn-based artist. Featuring six large-scale canvases from a new body of work, this will be Westhafer’s debut exhibition with the gallery.
Taking its title from the song “Somewhere That's Green” from the 1982 Off-Broadway musical Little Shop of Horrors, Westhafer’s presentation alludes to an idealized realm that seems realistic and attainable, but that in fact lies just beyond reach. The paintings on view depict memories of childhood events and sites that may or may not have existed.
Jessica Westhafer: Somewhere That’s Green will be on view at Vito Schnabel Gallery’s 43 Clarkson Street exhibition space through January 7, 2023.
Using a deceptively playful form of figuration, Jessica Westhafer explores the psychosocial experiences that punctuate and shape childhood– and our perceptions of it. Westhafer’s imagery taps into memory and sentiment in order “to invent, reimagine, immortalize and even create” idealized or fictitious narratives. These “surrogate scenes of time and place” arouse feelings of vulnerability through which she invites viewers to revisit their own histories. While very specific in its choice of subject matter and detail, her art captures ineffable aspects of early formative experiences that are universal.
The unsettling scenes in Westhafer’s new paintings embody the conflicting emotions of adolescence. In Broken and Bleeding Hearts (2022), a caterpillar inches along arching stems from which delicate, bleeding-heart blossoms droop in colors of raspberry, bubblegum, and rose. Raindrops fall like tears across the canvas as washing away sadness at the moment of a final farewell. Executed in tousled, scraggly brushstrokes, the central flower in the painting appears to be broken in half, as if torn by children who delight in peeling back petals and ripping apart blooms. Similarly, the artist’s snowmen in Too Soon (2022) are dilapidated, mud-crusted and slowly melting into the ground, evoking better days and hope now gone. Branches, meant to be the figures' arms, stick out of their heads. As if mourning the ethereal magic of freshly fallen snow, Westhafer’s strokes here are violent and clunky, fading into cold, acidic, and muted ashen hues. In Always & Forever (2022), Westhafer paints a close-up, profile-view of Pinocchio, the character from the classic tale about a rebellious puppet-turned-boy that is often told to children to warn them of the perils of lying. In Westhafer’s portrait, Pinocchio stares with wide eyes at his own nose that extends almost the entire length of the painting.
Westhafer’s childhood memories are transferred to canvases with unapologetic subjectivity. In their specificity, they achieve universality: wistfulness and nostalgia for a fleeting period of time when change and growth, friendship and heartbreak, safety and whiplash were all new events of lasting impact. Building her ground in watercolor and then slowly layering her surface in oil, Westhafer pushes the qualities of paint, sometimes sanding through the surface or adding textured fragments, while at other times sculpting her paint with thick impasto strokes. In the new works on view in this exhibition, she has eliminated the human figure entirely– a radical shift in the artist’s recent practice– in order to emphasize the power of objects and places to achieve the status of archetype.
Westhafer’s figuration balances the whimsical and absurd with poignancy and even despondence as signposts of childhood and domesticity. Drawing inspiration from personal memories of her youth in Arkansas and her own strict religious upbringing within the Jehovah’s Witness community, Westhafer’s bravura counterpoise– her ability to see-saw lightheartedness and dark narratives– untethers childhood emotions that may otherwise hide deep within our consciousness.
About the Artist
Jessica Westhafer (b. 1990, Denver, CO) lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. She received her BFA from the University of Arkansas in 2014 and her MFA in Painting from Indiana University in 2020.
Westhafer’s work has been featured internationally in Europe and the United States. Her recent exhibitions include Arsenal Contemporary, New York, NY and Toronto, Canada (2022 and 2021); DUVE Gallery, Berlin, Germany (2021); Konig Gallery, Berlin, Germany (2021); and Thierry Goldberg Gallery, New York, NY (2020).
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