Updated: May 7
Jess Preble, the artist who painted this quiet, poetic piece, says a lot about what love is in the portrait of this single flower. Love, a much talked about item, understood and misunderstood, is seen here as a simple morning glory, a few of its leaves still attached, its stem an odd mixture of twists and jagged points. The light of morning begins to shine its rosy rays on this blossom, as its face opens to the world with the freshness of a new dawn. Is that not the way love is? It is ever hopeful, open to possibilities, and ready for a fresh start. Yet, we all know that this morning glory, not unlike love, adjusts itself to time and events. It is present and possible for a certain time, but when that moment passes, when the sun becomes too harsh, it folds its glorious petals, hiding itself within its leaves and spiky stems, and waits for a more auspicious environment before returning, ever hopeful and open. The painting of this simple, common, morning glory, explains so much about one of life's great mysteries.
"As I grew older, painting became less of a release and more of a meditative exercise and a way of challenging myself. Painting became the thrill of seeing if I could capture a moment out of the air and onto a blank canvas with my hand." Jess Preble
Capturing the moment, ah yes. Is it any wonder that Preble is an alla prima painter? Alla Prima is that method in which a painter finishes a piece in one attempt. Start to finish in one swoop, or au premier coup, "at the first stroke," which is the French term for this approach. And true, it is also a meditative exercise, something that Preble is especially aware of since her days as a sushi chef in San Francisco when she was introduced to the aesthetic refinements that come from Japanese culture. It is little wonder then that her positioning of that single morning glory strategically allows the vine to stick out up top, while it contorts itself down below as if reaching for something unknown. That combination of the beautiful blossom and its twisted stem is the essence of Japanese flower arranging, Ikebana, where beauty is found not only in a single bloom but also in the rougher elements that produced the beautiful bloom. Preble puts that knowledge of arrangement to good use to allow an object to have more of a presence. No matter whether it is a flower or a plate of sushi, the art of placement speaks volumes.
"Painting...is now the joy of seeing if I can show you what I see, and what you will see of yourself in that final creation." Jess Preble
Preble was born and raised in Greeley, Colorado, and as with many who are born on the western plains that look toward the Rockies, there is always the allure of the Old West. What more appealing character than Billy the Kid, the ultimate juvenile delinquent from yesteryear. Orphaned at 14, he first got into trouble for stealing food. Running from New Mexico to Arizona and back again, leaving a trail of deadly altercations in his wake, it all ended badly for him at the age of 21. Preble's painting of Billy, taken from a famous photo of the Kid, shows the haplessness of someone who lives by reacting - a true arrow in darkness. The eyes are of someone who does what he thinks he "has to do," bouncing from one event to the next with no forethought in a life out of control. The rough textured surface of the canvas and the quick gestures that show his worn and rumpled clothing, set the stage for the face, which is very much in focus. The tilt of the head, the broken front teeth, the gawky ears that stick out, capture the physical imprint of the uncertainties of his life. And the eyes, they seem to ask, "What do I do now?" Or perhaps more dangerously, "What will I do now?" Like with Preble's presentation of the morning glory, we have here two opposing things: a rough character and a certain sensibility. It is a portrait of a kid gone way wrong.
Preble says of her growing up, "When I was young I used to paint because I needed to. It was the only healthy way to purge what was in my mind and heart, because I did not have the interpersonal communication skills necessary to do this otherwise." When looking at the painting above, called Patience, one wonders how often as a youngster she might have wandered outside and looked east to the prairie, west to the mountains, and finally to the enormous sky to calm what was inside her, knowing that with patience, someday she would be able to express it all. This painting of sky, with its tufts of white riding over swarms of gray in a darkened background, shows turbulence. Yet at the same time, those lines of wires move through as a symbol of order, of making things function, making things work.
The painting also fits within the philosophy of wabi-sabi, which is the Japanese idea of finding unexpected beauty. The contrast is startling at first. Who thinks of painting power lines? Yet, if you look at the lines as just an element in the painting, they become the counterpoint to the vapor of the clouds. They cut through it. They run straight. They have a solid reality. Wabi-sabi also refers to beauty that comes from imperfection. Preble hints at this by having the power lines have gaps in them, as though they move through the clouds, losing themselves temporarily. Though the subject matter of the painting may seem to be an odd, imperfect combination of things, they play off one another to create an unusual, uncommon beauty.
"It is interesting how art has aged with me, as I am sure it does for every artist who does not wish to stagnate. The how and why of creating grows and changes with us." Jess Preble
And now for some technicolor! I Am Not Your Doll! makes a point in several dramatic ways. Not often is a painting viewed under gunpoint, but this painting says, "Hey, you'd better pay attention. I mean business!" While the gunmetal gray of the weapon echoes the same gray in the background, and the bowler, worn at a cocky angle, is a reprise of that same color, the rest of the figure blasts forth in living color. The lighting comes from two quite different sources. The right side of the figure is lit with a bright light that brings out the yellows in the table, the hair, and the cream of the skin. The left side has a far different light. It is silvery, shadowy, and leaves a metallic glow on the fingers, the arm, and the side of the hat. This unexpected combination heightens the drama, especially because we see that she holds that gun steady with just one hand. Is the addition of the feather tucked jauntily into the hatband a reference to Robin Hood? This painting is a graphic novel by itself and an interesting change from Preble's previous depictions of outlaws. Yet the contrast between the grays and the bright colors is another play on the use of opposition or point/counterpoint in the representation of an image. Preble just takes it up a notch.
"From the years that I have been a painter, I have learned that I am a small piece of a mosaic family of people who show the world itself. Together, artists show the world how it appears in our self-made mirror. We are important."
Here is the artist, in her own view of herself with a slight upward turn of the lip and bright eyes looking into some future she is dreaming. Beside her is Take This Waltz, a painting that combines opposites again, bright light and shadow, yellow and gray, the hard reality of the lamp light and the poetic sway of those branches. Yin-Yang, Wabi-Sabi, Outlaws and Ikebana, Jess Preble indeed takes the waltz.
Jess Preble is on the Board of Directors of the Pikes Peak Arts Council.
She was the Colorado Springs Independent's Best Of: Artist -Bronze Category, 2019.