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Portrait of Jessica Westhafer

Photo by Shark Senesac

Jessica Westhafer is an expert in nostalgia. The shelves of the artist’s Bushwick studio are filled with stuffed animals and toys that would strike wistfulness into the heart of any millennial: a plush Barney, a bug-eyed Furby, an oversized rubber duck. More than a dozen characters sit shoulder to shoulder, watching over her as she paints.

“I’m just a big kid,” Westhafer said on a recent afternoon. Clad in paint-splattered overalls, she offered a behind-the-scenes tour of the new works that comprise her first solo art-fair presentation, organized by Vito Schnabel Gallery at Independent New York this May.

These paintings finalize a break from the style that first garnered Westhafer attention from the art world: portraits of big-eyed, dark-haired characters that looked a lot like her. Her surreal compositions now center on objects such as vintage cookie cutters, candlesticks, and old clocks. Perhaps counterintuitively, the further away Westhafer gets from the figure, the more specific her work becomes—and the more she is able to find the universal in the personal.