Artist Interviews 2022
By Laura Siebold
Jessie Keylon set up shop in Pioneertown, California. I stumbled upon her art in this very special Western town when returning from a trip to nearby Joshua Tree National Park. Intrigued by the recurring appearance of rabbits in her artwork, I asked Jessie for an interview. In her interview, the artist tells us about her fascination for the desert and its species, the connection between humans and wildlife, and the joy she finds in mutually respective collaboration.
I discovered your art in Pioneertown, CA, close to Joshua Tree National Park. Your artwork incorporates many elements of the desert and its wildlife. What fascinates you about the desert, specifically Joshua Tree National Park? What made you open your gallery in Pioneertown?
When the wind dies down and the off-roaders have gone home, there is a stillness that blankets the desert. It’s like a deep breath to me, helping me live less and less in my head, and be more in the present to face what life brings.
Visually, the desert is a constant reveal of shapes and shadows and textures and fragments of unexpected colors. My hikes are filled with science fiction landscapes and dramatic compositions. All of it absorbs through my eyes and steeps in my brain until it pours out through my brush.
I stayed with some friends of mine at the pottery studio in Pioneertown five years ago when I packed up and left my crumbled marriage. A few weeks later I was saying yes to renting the tiny gallery next door. It was the most gentle, loving safe community environment I had experienced in my adult life, and I began to build my life around the friendships and love and support in my new little Western movie set town.
We are curious about your background. Did art play a role in your upbringing? What made you choose the profession of the artist?
Art was a major part of my upbringing. My parents are creative and skilled at their crafts and I don’t remember ever being bored when there were so many things my brother and I could draw or sculpt or carve or sew. It was an exploration of materials and possibilities and problem solving.
Art was always an inevitable career, no matter how hard I fought against it. If I had known how satisfying and fulfilling it is to make a living from my own artwork, I would have gone for it much earlier. I spent my 20s working regular jobs in the city and it put me in the hospital. It was there when I figured it was time to try. Started with craft fairs and art festivals on the side, found an unexpectedly positive response and started to sell my work regularly.
You often combine human elements with wildlife in your drawings. In your opinion, what is special about the connection you see between humans and wildlife? What is the role of the rabbits in your paintings?
The rabbits have become an extension of my emotions in a sense…Through difficult times, it has always felt safer for my painted rabbits to emote the feelings I was trying to ignore, interpret the emotions I was feeling into a visual aide for myself. The rabbits I currently paint are dealing with what life brings them. They are exploring, celebrating, grieving, loving, learning, letting shit go. They seem to be handling it pretty well. Life is a rabbit, I am the rabbit.
Many of your paintings have a mystical and magical touch to them, but also address social and environmental issues. How did you develop your unique style of painting? What defines your choice of subjects?
Writers write what they know, painters paint what they know.
Do you create all your artwork entirely in your studio or do you ever paint directly in nature?
Most of my work is done in studio. Outside of the studio is time for replenishing my reservoir of inspiration; gathering compositions and emotions and flushes of color to be used in future projects. During summer camping trips I bring a simple watercolor kit and my iPad, but often opt to catch up on reading and swimming and napping.
Have you ever thought about exhibiting your art right in the Mojave desert?
I put together my first cohesive collection for a show at the Glass Outhouse (a lovely little gallery further east in 29 Palms) a few years back. It was a success and I feel I made some of my most impactful work when I was focused on a theme. Another show seems inevitable, but only the art knows the time and the place. I’ll let you know when I know.
What are the challenges of being a professional artist in a more remote location like Pioneertown?
I sat on a cactus the other day. Was so enamored with a spring bloom of Desert Mallow that I backed right into a prickly pear. It’s part of the challenge of remote desert life; removing cactus thorns from hard-to-reach regions, escorting lizards from under my studio desk, and only having cell service near that one spot in the middle of Mane Street, 12 steps towards Pappy and Harriet’s from the leaning pine tree.
Have you ever collaborated with other artists throughout your career? Why/why not? If you could choose freely, who would you like to collaborate with and why?
I just recently learned that spending time with my best friend partner boyfriend extraordinaire, working together on an animation of my artwork set to a beautifully written song while maintaining an environment of nonjudgmental listening and clear communication and sense of respect and mutual admiration- is also known as - collaboration. If I had known how joyful it is to share the gift of creation with someone I respect and trust and enjoy being around, I would have gone for it much earlier.
I look forward to the future of collaborations.
What have you learned from the interactions with visitors in Pioneertown? Have they inspired you to visit other places to paint?
Occasionally a visitor will stop in front of a painting and really make a connection. It triggers something inside of them and fills them with emotion. The world of problems and struggles falls away for that moment of shared vulnerability between my creation and the viewer. I live for those moments and brief connections with strangers.
What are you currently working on? Can you give us an insight into some future projects?
My partner and I are collaborating on an animated short with my rabbits set to a touching song about reaching out to the ones you love. It was our response to the last few chaotic years of the pandemic and political division and blatant lack of respect. By putting our energy into a message of love to our loved ones, we are at least putting out something positive in this world; trying to balance some of the negative stuff out; remind others that love is still here, still important, and still real.
I paint in my gallery when I open to the public on the weekends and at my home studio during the week. New paintings are always in circulation.
As far as future projects go, I have some ideas…
Maybe if I get good enough on the guitar, I will compose music to accompany my art… Maybe I’ll start doing more sculptures… Maybe I will experiment with some block printing, or screen printing, or etching… Maybe I will design some textiles…
There are plenty of ideas but who knows what I’ll create. Right now, I’m currently “in the zone” and too busy to think of future projects.