Jessica Daryl Winer
Jessica was educated at Swarthmore College where she earned a Bachelor's Degree in art history and studio art and at the National Academy in New York where she studied with Will Barnet and was awarded the Nechamkin prize in drawing. She is also a graduate of the Rudolf Steiner School. Winer's work has been shown in both solo and group gallery exhibitions and large-scale public installations, including the Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts, Pace University, New York, NY. Her work is also in the permanent collection of the Museum of the City of New York as well as the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts among other public collections, and in private collections nationally and internationally. Winer is represented by the Harmon-Meek Gallery, Naples, Florida.
You’re a native New Yorker. How has this played into your work?
Growing up in New York, I spent a lot of time in the Met museum and would wander around, seeing all the different civilizations and cultures. And this gave me a sense of how great the world was and how each one of these civilizations felt like they were the only one. Today in New York I always have this feeling that New York thinks of itself as this great civilization because we’re this great city in the world and all cultures come here. When you think about the great cultures throughout history, it’s always about the fact that they drew various cultures to them. It’s this mix of cultures that collectively makes a great civilization.
Your work often deals with live arts such as dance and theater. Where did this interest originate and why?
My mother is a musician, so I’ve always been in the midst of music, dance, and theater. I always had the idea that these art forms were very ephemeral. You go to live theater, you go to dance, and when you’re there with everybody watching, that’s the moment where it exists, and then it’s gone. So it becomes a collective memory. I love painting because of its “thingness”, because of the idea that it was the first visual expression of mankind, and because of the fact that through all the ages it continues to exist. The continuum of painting is what I love about it, but I also think painting is all about immersive environments. My thesis in college as an art history major at Swarthmore was about the spectator in art and architecture from ancient to modern times. I was interested in how a space is made so that you have to come to it in a particular way. For this reason I love to do murals.
Your work has been featured in many iconic New York locations, such as Times Square and Sardi’s restaurant. How did these opportunities come about?
What I’ve learned from being a painter is that you have to go out and make your own opportunities. One of my big early projects was a mural I did for Times Square in the late 90s. I went to the president of Times Square at the time, Gretchen Dykstra, with an idea I had for a project about how the historic theaters were getting restored. At the time, a lot of them were porn houses or not in use, and it was a very depressing area. So I wanted to do a walk-through installation about the ghosts of the theaters. So she told me that she didn’t have the space for that, but she had a movie screen in the new Times Square Visitors Center that she didn’t know what to do with. So she ended up asking me to paint a mural for that space, and I just went for it. I ended up having only two months to paint it. It was twenty-five feet long and fourteen feet high, and it ended up being the history of Broadway, a giant curtain call that was the historical figures of the theater in their signature costumes. When Gretchen stepped down, they began to change the space into a high-tech place for film, turning the space where the mural had been back into a movie screen, which is very New York. So I took the mural (which I had done on canvas panels) and reshaped it into a series of screens that is now in the banquet room of Sardi’s restaurant. This story is very emblematic of how I do stuff. I did another project of constructions of dancers that were suspended. It was my answer to Calder’s Circus. All my dancers spun with air currents, and they were made of paper, wire, and canvas because I wanted them to look like they would never last. The installation was supposed to be up for a month, but then 9/11 happened. Everything seemed so bleak, and the installation became this place where people would drift into from the street to watch these things spin. It delivered a sense of peace, and so it stayed up for about two and a half years. I was sure the whole thing would fall apart, but it didn’t. I have another mural, about dance, in the entrance hall of the Manhattan Movement and Arts Center, behind Lincoln Center. But then I did some projects that didn’t work out, and I also find that very important. I did a mural project with the architect Hugh Hardy who did a lot of the historic theater restorations in New York--a mural for the lobby of one of his theaters and then they ran out of money, so it didn’t work, but he taught me things as I was working on it, so I ended up learning a lot. Another one that ran out of money was a mural commission for the last performing arts center designed by Philip Johnson. But each of these unrealized projects moved me forward in my work.
As a painter, what inspires you about the medium?
I paint in acrylic and watercolor because I love the properties they have (coincidentally, I’m actually allergic to oil). My quest has always been for luminosity, how do you make paintings on canvas look as radiant as watercolors or frescoes. Acrylic, unlike oil, is a “new” medium in the sense that it was only available in the 1950s. I went to the Golden Paint factory last summer in upstate New York. Golden Paint is the big innovator in the field and is a fantastic company run by the Golden family, and a lot of artists who have a share in the company. They also have the most beautiful colors. The labels of the paint are all hand-painted. And I’ve had my own technical advisor, Mike Townsend, who’s advised me on all kinds of projects for around 20 years—and who’s also a wonderful artist. I finally met him in person for the first time last summer after being friends on the phone and email all that time. This is all to say that I have a real appreciation for understanding the material I work with and learning as much as I can about it.
You’ve shown at a lot of galleries and have been quite successful in getting commissions. How have you approached the business side of the art world and what advice would you give to other artists who are trying to earn a living off their work?
It comes down to your willingness to reach out to new places. The thing that I continue to do is that I know what I’m interested in and I try to find the places and the people who are interested in the same things. People don’t know that they need art; you have to tell them that they need art. I’m most interested in my art being out in the world with regular people beyond just engaging the art world. There are regular people out there who want to appreciate art, understand it, and surround themselves with it, but they don’t always know how to go about that because the art world can be intimidating. I like doing murals because I can see a blank wall and think “That could really use something there,” and then I’ll go and try to figure out how to get it done. This is how I’ve always operated.
Why is it important for you to be part of an artist community?
The artists have to stay together because nobody else is looking out for us. When thinking about my art, I always ask myself, “Why is this relevant?” I have to make sure this is meaningful in our world today, but not necessarily translating it into a “message.” We have to help each other. If I see an opportunity that’s not right for me, I’ll pass it on to someone else because it’s so hard to find a path in this world.
Interviewed by Madeleine Le Cesne