There are certain paintings in At Summer’s End, the new exhibit by Jessica Gordon at Robert Lange Studios, that are so realistic, so perfectly composed, that you’ll have to stop a moment and make sure they aren’t actual photographs.
In “For The Weary,” for example, Gordon has rendered, in astonishingly realistic detail, the image of a woman laying back into a filled-to-overflowing bathtub, her dark hair winding around her head and her eyes closed in what could be relaxation or resignation. In the similarly themed “All The Wiser,” a fully clothed, completely soaked woman seems to sleep peacefully or, if the viewer has a darker perspective, perhaps she has drowned.
It is only once we take in the collection as a whole and move away from the incredibly precise level of detail that we realize that virtually all of the paintings in this exhibit involve water, whether Gordon surrounds her subjects with it and turns them into eerie, floating apparitions or simply creates a shallow stream for playful children to splash their feet in.
In conversation with Gordon, it becomes clear how much she loves working water into her paintings, whether it’s for practical or metaphorical reasons.
“I just love water,” Gordon says. “I have a lot of fantastic magical moments growing up having these moments in rain, for example. I was an equestrian when I was younger, so my whole youth was spent riding horses, and I have all of these wonderful memories of moments when I would ride out into the woods in the rain, and everything was glistening. I lived in Hawaii for a while and I was an avid swimmer and a scuba diver. There’s just something about water.”
But it’s not just the physical lure of the water that motivates Gordon. She sees it as a metaphor for the ebb and flow of existence and for her own creativity.
“Water started out in paintings for me as representing life,” she says. “One of my first paintings was a young man in a pose that made it look like he was composing a symphony. And water was coming from his hands. To me it was a representation about how art brought life to me. Then it evolved into water representing different things. I think that it’s beautiful and I love all it can represent.”
And in a sense, art really did bring a new life to Gordon. As difficult as it is to believe when one looks at the paintings in the At Summer’s End exhibit, she’s only been painting professionally for five or six years. Her discovery of her gift only came after years of doing other things, including working as a graphic designer and being a stay-at-home Mom.
“I had an Associate’s Degree in Commercial Art, and for about three or four years I did some graphic design for brochures or business cards,” she says. “Or occasionally I would design a logo. It was really fun, and it felt creative. Then I moved to Hawaii and I couldn’t get a job in graphic design there. I was there for four years, and I ended up just getting a retail job. Then I had my first child and stayed home with him. So there was actually this huge gap between doing graphic design and becoming a painter.”
When Gordon moved back to the mainland, she began to go a little stir-crazy taking care of her growing family, and she began looking for a new creative outlet. She started by painting her children’s rooms, and that eventually led to her creating her first still-life.
“I surprised myself,” she says. “I thought I did a great job and I was kind of taken aback by it and excited about it. I decided I was going to paint as my creative outlet. I would spend all day with the kids, taking care of the house, and then at night when I put them to bed, I would teach myself to paint. I look back sometimes and think it would’ve been nice if I’d discovered I had that talent sooner, but I don’t know that I would’ve been as motivated to draw, because after being a homemaker and raising my kids for six or seven years I needed something.”
Gordon is entirely self-taught as a painter, and she sees advantages and disadvantages to that method.
“I think that there are things that I spent a lot of time learning the hard way,” she says. “It would’ve been nice to have been taught those things by a teacher or even another artist. There are a lot of things that were so challenging and time-consuming, but then on the other hand I’m glad that I didn’t go to school for this. I don’t know if I would’ve been highly influenced by a teacher, and I don’t know if that would’ve moved me or steered me in this direction.”
At Summer’s End is Gordon’s first-ever show at Robert Lange Studios, a gallery she initially visited as a spectator.
“I loved the gallery because I collected art, and so when I took a trip to Charleston I was so excited to see the gallery,” she says. “Then I applied for one of their group shows but I didn’t get in. They ended up following my Instagram page and saw a painting I did, and they sent me an email about it saying, ‘hey really loved it,’ and then I did another one similar to it, and another, and they wrote and said they thought they wanted to sell them.”
Ultimately, Gordon says she simply hopes to make a connection with those who come to see her exhibit. “I don’t feel like I’m making paintings for the masses,” she says. “I just hope there are a few people who look at the paintings and they’re moved, or they feel something that is powerful.”