Today, the view from the window is artist Danielle De Jesus’ rare mural by Alexander Calder and the clean lines of the architecture by Marcel Breuer. It’s an idyllic, if temporary, facility for the artist who normally works in cramped spaces in Ridgewood, Queens. This summer, Yale University’s recent MFA graduate is the first resident of the Beecher Residency, housed in Breuer’s historic Stillman House in Litchfield, Connecticut.
De Jesus is used to being inspired by her surroundings. The main source material for her rich portraiture comes from her hometown of Bushwick, Brooklyn. Her photographs and paintings — which she sometimes does on dollar bills and tablecloths — trace the individual stories of Bushwick’s displaced people and members of the Puerto Rican diaspora to crystallize broader truths about gentrification, migration, and how place affects us.
De Jesus’ work is currently on view as part of the MoMA PS1 exhibit Life Between Buildings (until January 16, 2023). This fall she will be included in the major exhibition of Puerto Rican art opening at the Whitney Museum and will be the subject of a solo exhibition at François Ghebaly in Los Angeles.
The Stillman House, where De Jesus currently spends her days, was commissioned in 1950 by art collectors Rufus and Leslie Stillman. It has since been taken over by John Auerbach, the CEO of art storage company UOVO, and Ed Tang, one of the founders of art consultant Art-Bureau, which began the residency this year.
We spoke to De Jesus about residency life, how she stays inspired, and why dogs are essential studio assistants.
Send us a snap of the most essential item in your studio and tell us why you can’t live without it.
The most indispensable object in my studio is my dog. He’s my favorite in the whole wide world and he keeps me company. When I’m in my full-time studio, it’s still my dog, but so is a handcrafted Puerto Rican flag.
What studio task on your agenda are you most looking forward to this week?
The completion of a self-portrait I began here during my time at the Beecher residence. I haven’t taken many self-portraits; In fact, this is only the second I’ve ever made, but I’m particularly proud of it.
What atmosphere do you prefer at work? Do you listen to music or podcasts or do you prefer silence? Why?
I really love painting with people around me. I love the sounds of the city through my window and having friends while I paint is never a distraction. I know it’s not very common with a lot of artists, but I focus a lot on what I’m doing when someone is talking to me because my mind isn’t free to go elsewhere. I think that’s why I enjoy podcasts so much when I’m alone in the studio. It makes me feel less alone while giving me someone to listen to. I especially like a podcast called “things you should know” as well as tthe “Week of Art.”
Which artists, curators or other thinkers are you currently following most on social media?
There are so many, but I have to say that some of my favorite artists, curators, and thinkers of the moment are Wayde Mcintosh, Jordan Casteel, Elmer Guevara, Aaron Gilbert, Francesca von Rabenau, Ebony Haynes, Marcela Guerrero, Jody Graf, Jasmine Wahi, Blaize Lehane, and Nicole Calderon. These people have all inspired me in their own way through their work – whether in galleries, on screen, or in institutions that foster the change we need to see.
Is there a picture you can send of your current work in the studio?
When you’re feeling stuck preparing for a show, what do you do to break free?
If I ever get stuck, I walk around in my neighborhood. New York City and in particular Bushwick, where I was born and raised, are my muses. They are the driving force behind what I do. Seeing them, hearing them, feeling them around me motivates me to continue my work. Our story deserves to be told and has a place in future historical conversations.
What quality do you admire most in a work of art? What quality do you despise the most?
One quality I admire most in a work is how a story is told. I enjoy a painting that says something without saying a word. A picture that teaches me something. I don’t know if I despise any traits in an artwork, or maybe I’ll just keep this answer to myself so as not to offend anyone!
What images or objects do you look at while working? Share your view from behind the screen or your desktop – wherever you spend most of your time.
I look at pictures from home. My paintings are based on images, or as Barkley Hendricks once described it, “photographic sketches” that I made in New York City over decades. I’m still an image maker, just like I photograph, but there are photographs I take with the intention of being a photograph and there are images I take with the intention of turning them into a painting. It all depends on how I feel about the image and the subject.
Which exhibition impressed you most recently and why?
“Faith Ringgold: American People” in the New Museum. Her ability to tell a story and express her experiences as a black woman in America was incredibly inspirational. The work was beautiful, but it was also nice to get insights into her thoughts and process while working.
Why did you choose this particular studio over others?
Well, I currently work in a studio made available to me by the Beecher Residency in Litchfield, Connecticut. I’ve been here for 6 weeks and the studio is conveniently located next to a beautiful pool in the historic Stillman House which makes for great swimming and painting sessions!
Describe the room in three adjectives.
Beautiful, calm, still.
How does the studio environment affect the way you work?
I don’t know if the studio environment influences the way I work or rather reflects where I am in my work. When I was fully focused on a painting, or focused on a group of paintings, my studio usually looked like a storm had passed through it. But when I’m in a more relaxed mode, I take the time to reset and clean it. This allows me to start over before throwing tubes of paint and oily rags and paper all over the floor. This happens about once a month. Once it was so bad that I had a studio visit and the visitor thought it was part of my work. That was funny.
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