Artist Interview for Skidmore Contemporary Art
Skidmore Contemporary Art: If you could choose a different medium to work in, what would it be and why?
Jessica Brilli: I would say either sculpture or printmaking—I’ve taken classes in both areas, and really enjoyed them.
SCA: How would you describe your creative process?
JB: I look through lots of vintage photos and slides and wait until something moves me. When I see something that I really love, I can feel it in my chest. Once I have an image that I want to paint, I decide which elements should be part of the painting, eliminating details that don’t resonate with me, or that cause distraction from the story I’m trying to tell. Then I paint.
SCA: Has social media impacted your work in any way? If yes, how? If not, why do you think that is?
JB: Yes it has! Over the past several years my Instagram audience has grown a lot, and I’ve become friends with amazing artists from all over the world. It’s one of the main ways I see art on a daily basis.
SCA: What is your most memorable museum experience? Can you briefly describe it?
JB: I remember seeing the show Sensations at the Brooklyn Museum with my senior seminar class back in 2000. It was one of the first times I realized I didn’t need to like artwork to be moved by it, and to admire it.
SCA: What is something unexpected that has impacted/influenced your artistic style? (It could be a person, film, music, etc.)
JB: My work as a graphic designer really fostered the process of communicating an idea or feeling with as few elements as possible.
SCA: If you weren't an artist, what would you be doing?
JB: Art direction is really fun, but maybe that doesn’t count because I think they are artists too.
SCA: What city/town/geographical location has provided the most inspiration for you?
JB: Long Island, NY.
SCA: Were you professionally trained as an artist? Tell us about that experience.
JB: Yes, I was. I went to the University of Rhode Island and studies painting, and then I studied graphic design at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.
SCA: If you could sit at a dinner table with 3 famous artists, who would they be? Why?
JB: Wayne Thiebaud, Richard Diebenkorn, because I love their work, and Georgia O’Keefe because she led a really fascinating life, and had exceptional style.
SCA: What challenges do you face as an artist that people might not expect?
JB: Being a woman is one challenge, but people probably expect that.
My most recent body of work was inspired by 35mm Kodachrome slides and generations-old photographs that were gathered from locations across the United States. Through my experience of painting and sharing these photos, I have found that there is something inherent in them that speaks to many Americans, whether it be a photo taken at a pool party in 1965 or of someone’s mother standing in front of the family car—we insert our own lives into these scenes from the past.
I view thousands of slides and photos to find the ones that move me emotionally. I’m constantly on the hunt for photos that mirror scenes from my childhood, or that I feel a connection to through personal or familial experience.
The suburban scenes I paint reflect my own childhood in New York on Long Island. The cars proudly displayed on driveways, the meticulously manicured lawns, inviting neighbor’s pools, and 1960’s architecture were the backdrop of my youth. Though I don’t live in this setting anymore, I still feel a significant connection to it.
This process of photographic research, and painting the essential scenic components, is very personal. I’ve realized, however, that my experiences are part of a common thread that many Americans share regardless of age, race and gender. The images that produce a flood of involuntary memories for me often evoke similar cascades of feelings and thoughts in others. Why is this?
Another angle I’m interested in exploring is the effect of color on memory. When looking at vintage photography, I see the color as a built-in time stamp. Different types of film age in various ways because of unstable color dyes—the faded color scheme adds a Gestalt effect that evokes these nostalgic feelings. Most of my paintings take place in the past before I was born. The photographs that inspire me act as my window to the past, and in my own case these photos color my impression of the past. Through these paintings I’m engaging with the past, and bringing along the viewer for the ride.
Jessica Brilli (Sayville, NY 1977)
Working in a style that encompasses American realism and 20th century graphic design aesthetics, Brilli’s paintings reveal the beauty in everyday scenes and objects.
The paintings in the exhibition Collective Recollect are from a series of works that Brilli has been producing for several years. These paintings were inspired by mid-to late-20th century 35mm slides and photographs gathered across the United States. Through Brilli’s experience of painting and sharing these images, she found that there is something inherent in them that speaks to many Americans, whether it be a photo taken at a pool party in 1965 or a photo of someone’s mother standing in front of the family car. We sympathize with and project our own lives onto these scenes from the past.
Brilli earned her BFA in painting at the University of Rhode Island, and received a certificate in graphic design from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston, MA. Brilli’s work has been recognized in numerous publications and respected internet-based venues domestically and abroad. Her paintings have been featured in solo and group shows throughout the United States, and in South Korea where her work was featured on the cover of Heren Magazine in celebration of the publication’s 10th anniversary exhibition. In 2020 Brilli's painting Night Swimming was featured on the cover of Rumaan Alam's blockbuster novel, Leave the World Behind. Most recently Brilli was named a 2021 Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grantee.