grueling momentum: an interview with jessie taylor

"It’s interesting the power hard, grueling work has. I was the girl who stayed at college over Christmas, Spring break, and all my weekends painting and painting. My friends used to get frustrated that all I did was paint, but when you fall in love with something you can’t stop."

Jessie Taylor is the feature this week. As a single mother and artist living in Florence, Italy, I was curious as to how she came to be where she is now and how she balances her time between motherhood and artistry. She was gracious enough to answer a couple questions from across the ocean:

CR: What brought you to the program in Italy?

JT: It was a choice between studying in Florence, Italy or Baltimore, so no offense to people living in Baltimore, but my choice wasn’t a hard one. But besides that I was attracted to this program because it was brand new. I am in the second graduating class for their MFA program. It is a big risk to join something so new, but there is always a certain kind of momentum in new things and I wanted that. Momentum is exciting.

CR: How did you decide you wanted to pursue an MFA? What was a driving force?

JT: My painting professor and mentor back in college, Joel Sheesley, really encouraged me to pursue an MFA. It was never on my radar before (in college I told him that after I graduate I don’t care if I ever make art again), but he really believed in me. With him I couldn’t get away with anything less than 110 % effort and it was all the extreme hard work that made me fall in love with painting and pursue it as a career. It’s interesting the power hard, grueling work has. I was the girl who stayed at college over Christmas, Spring break, and all my weekends painting and painting. My friends used to get frustrated that all I did was paint, but when you fall in love with something you can’t stop. Now I find that I am the most happy when I am painting. It is where I make sense of the world and I feel anxious when I go more than a couple days without being in my studio. Sure I could have skipped the MFA degree, but I am a big proponent of education and learning. It is extremely difficult to practice art when you are not in an art community. The mental and artistic challenge just isn’t there. And honestly, with the risk of being offensive, most current successful artists have an MFA degree or at least some manner of intellectual engagement. People tend to put art in this whole other category, where it doesn’t take as long to be an artist as it does to be a businessman or lawyer or doctor, or whatever other career. Being an artist is damn hard work and it requires just as much education and time as so many other professions. I hear the phrase “Everyone is an artist” all the time. I couldn’t disagree more. I think it is more accurate to say everyone can be creative. I am not saying you have to have an MFA to be an artist (certainly not), but you have to be willing to put yourself through critique and evaluation all the time. I have been painting now for 6 years (which is nothing) and I imagine it will take another 30 years before I really master what I am doing. But that’s the beauty of being an artist - you never really retire. Maybe the best painting I will ever make will be my last.

CR: What has been the biggest surprise living in a foreign country? What about living in a foreign country as a new single mother?

JT: I have traveled and lived in new places all my life. Living in Italy feels more normal and more “home” to me than living in the States. My biggest surprises and adjustments are always when I return to America. As a single mother living in Italy, that is something else. I stand out here. Italians love babies, so there is no end of attention and help from strangers. But I am also unusually young in this culture to have a baby, so in that sense it can feel isolating as there are not many people my own age to relate to.

CR: What are some thoughts/inspirations you've been dwelling on lately?

JT: My current work is centered around painting adults from when they were babies. It is interesting to put someone in the past and see where they began and how far they have come. It levels the playing field. As a baby everyone is equal. Now when I look at someone I think, “What did they look like as a baby?”, “Did they cry a lot?” “When did they first begin to walk?” . It might sound strange, but it is interesting to think of our parents as babies, Obama, Donald Trump, your local Starbucks barista, Martin Luther King, your ex, yourself, etc.

CR: What's one of the more surprising things you've discovered about motherhood?

JT: For me motherhood has been a process of falling in love. I hear so many mothers say that when they saw their child for the first time they thought their hearts would explode. It wasn’t like that for me. My first thought was, “Oh my God, finally! That took for ever!” and then I just wanted to rest and I gave my daughter to my own mom while the doctor stitched me up. I had this protective instinct for my daughter, Aria, but I didn’t feel an overwhelming sense of love. Now? Yeah, every day my heart swells bigger and bigger, and I love her more than I have loved anyone else. But it’s taken time and I didn’t realize that it would be like that.

CR: Finally, what does a "good day" look like to you?

JT: First I wake up to my daughter squealing with delight as she finds herself excited by a color on a wall, or the light on the ceiling, or her mamma lying next to hear. Next I fix myself a cup of Ditta Artigianale coffee - the best coffee in Italy and roasted two blocks from my apartment. In between feeding and playing with Aria, I work on my internship with a Forex trading company. I am learning to trade foreign currency in order to fund my art practice and stay at home with my daughter. Working with numbers gives me the mental space to spend hours painting later in the day and I love it. Next I spend an hour every day learning a little Italian, French, and Swedish (one day I want to live in Stockholm). The rest of the day is usually filled up by painting and more painting (til 1am) and a long hour walk along the river Arno. I try to go out for coffee at least every other day with Aria to spend more intentional time with her. It may not mean a lot to her now, but in the future it will. That’s pretty much the perfect day for me!