Jessica Kallista, 46, Collage Artist
Italy 1945. Painter Carol Rama’s first exhibition is shut down by Turin authorities. Her paintings depict erotic and psychosexual tendencies and “the female form as vulnerable, powerful, and dangerous,” according to Artnet News.
New York 1985. The Guerrilla Girls form as an anonymous feminist art collective. Thirty-one years later, one of the members explains to Stephen Colbert that their motivation is “every aesthetic decision has a value behind it, and if all the decisions are being made by the same people (the billionaire art collectors), then the art will never look like the whole of our culture … Unless all the voices of our culture are in the history of art, it’s not really a history of art, it’s a history of power.”
Fairfax 2016. Co-founder of the Bunnyman Bridge Collective and founder of Olly Olly art gallery Jessica Kallista creates collage and video to take control of how sexuality is presented within the art community. Shift Freedom (shown above) is included in her solo show Dear Suburbia on March 18 at the Margaret W. And Joseph L. Fisher Gallery in Alexandria. Her creations for the show Manifesto on May 21 at Olly Olly will explore “sexuality and identity, gender fluidity and aging and sex as we age,” says Kallista. “Sex is such a key motivator in the creation of art. And normally it’s being created within the constructs [that] are patriarchal and heteronormative and along this gender binary that is not the experience of everyone … People in suburbia can be so isolated, so any time you can get out and see an experience that reflects your own experience, that helps you to feel less isolated and alone and that’s empowering—rather than going to museums that [have] 90 percent of [works] showing the male experience, which can make you feel isolated or crazy or like you’re the only one experiencing this other [reality].”
One minute video segment of a work in progress: The Promise of Wet. “I’m taking control back of how I see myself versus how someone else wants to see me. I’m taking control of the sexual display. Taking control of my gaze. I’m looking at the person who is looking at me. It’s not one direction of a naked women watched by a voyeur,” says Kallista.
How do you deal with harsh criticism? Have you ever had a surprising comment? Where?
Having lived through years and years of critiques while pursuing my MFA in poetry at GMU, and even before that in undergrad, I understand that criticism is simply a necessary part of the creative process. I don’t know that I could judge any true and useful criticism as harsh. I’m open to the reactions that anyone may have to my work. I would rather someone have a strong reaction to my work than have no reaction or to see them feel blasé when experiencing something I’ve created.
Do you have any rituals?
I must have music while I’m creating. Something loud and vital. Something visceral. I must be able to be alone and to have time to myself to meditate—often with candles and oils burning. I need a really immersive multisensory experience, almost an overloading of the senses to get into a meditative zone of creation that forces me to walk a line between embodiment and disembodiment.
What are you thinking about in the studio?
In the studio I’m only making, creating, working. I like to keep the process of thinking separate. I research, take notes, write poems, read and obsess very intensely before entering the studio. After my time in the studio, I’m planning for an exhibition, examining how pieces I’ve created will work together. But when I’m in the studio, I’m incredibly focused on the energy of creation. I’m almost out of body in the studio. It is a deep meditation and connection of myself with my medium, a very messy and physical experience of paper, wood, paint, scissors, cutting and tearing. Studio time is a time for doing, feeling, being.
How do you know when you’re done?
It’s very intuitive. So much of my work relies upon elements of chance and play combined with a hyperfocused meditative process of creation. I dream an idea or image or poem or series of images. I get lost in those visions. I obsess. I create. I make. And then it is finished.
Your three favorite artists?
Why restrict ourselves? We’re so blessed by an abundance of art and artists that most people never even know of because we’re trained somehow to believe there must be one who is the best. We must all bow to some Picasso or Monet or van Gogh or Pollock or Hirst. Let’s do everything we can to make space in our minds and the archive for more artists. I’m obsessed lately with Carol Rama. I’m very drawn to many of the female artists of Dada and Surrealism such as Hannah Hӧch, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Claude Cahun, Dorothea Tanning. Most of my favorite artists are living artists—many of whom are living, creating and exhibiting right here in the Northern Virginia and D.C. area. I’m in awe of the work of Wengechi Mutu, Kalup Linzy, Shoshanna Weinberger, Betty Tompkins, Renée Stout, Zoë Charlton, Jeff Herrity, Amy Hughes Braden, Alex Beck and Eames Armstrong. There’s so much invisibilization regarding many artists that I feel the need to say the names of as many of them as possible as often as I’m able.
Your greatest success and worst failure?
My work ethic regarding art-making truly embraces what others may regard as failure. Often what is considered failure could reveal itself to be our greatest teacher. I’ve been a huge proponent of Sister Mary Corita Kent’s list of rules for artists that she created in the late 1960s. Rule No. 6 of her artist rules states: “Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail. There is only make.” As an artist the only failure is to make nothing.
What part of NoVA do you visit for inspiration?
My inspiration comes more from inner worlds rather than any sort of outer environment. I’m intrigued by what people are thinking and feeling—and why. Anywhere that I can go to have an amazing conversation with artists, poets and other creatives will be the place I want to be for inspiration. Epicure Café has been the perfect hotbed for these types of conversations and connections. And I thrive on creating these types of environments and situations by gathering my most loved friends and co-creatives—either at Olly Olly or at my house for cocktails or brunch. My hope is for these situations to stimulate extended opportunities of inspiration for others as well.
Have you ever regretted selling a piece and why?
I could never regret selling a piece. In fact, you might know that I’m often giving my work away for Free Art Friday NoVA. Free Art Friday NoVA has been a brilliant teacher for me. I’ve learned about impermanence and the peace of letting go. Also, I’m constantly creating and constantly making, feeling, thinking. I’m exploring, often at a frenetic pace, new ideas as well as ideas that continue to be my obsessions—a constant questioning of and engagement with the lived experiences of embodiment and disembodiment intermixed with the intersectionality of gender, identity, sexuality, alienation and suburban isolation. Since I’m constantly creating, it is necessary to sell and/or to give my work away. How could anyone be happy hoarding it all? Eventually some part of making art is not only to get all of the ideas and urges I’m exploring out of my mind and into some possibly tangible form, but also to share all of these ideas and urges with the world.
Find all our Sex, Love and Ghosting articles on this month’s pop-up blog here.