Personal Narrative: Jesse Narens
If you've been to Marrow you've likely seen Jesse's large mural in our main space. They've been one of Marrow's biggest supporters over the past year+, and we're excited to share a bit of insight into their unique process and perspective.
For interested young artists - Jesse will also be revisiting and changing their mural on Sundays in February, and invites young artists to come hang out, chat, and work on your own artistic endeavors. Check our calendar for details.
"Personal Narrative" is a series exploring the various members of Marrow's community and their stories. If you're a Marrow participant, volunteer, facilitator, donor, or supporter and would like to be interviewed or share your story in another format, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org
The repeated symbols in your work (ants, trees, the raindrop) feel like a visual language - can you speak to the universe you're creating in your paintings and how it relates to your investment in environmental issues?
There are many different reasons behind my repeated symbols in my work, but one is that they are a way for me to remind myself of certain things that seem important, but that for some reason, maybe evolution, my brain doesn’t want me to hold on to.
A couple examples..
Water has shaped our planet, and makes up most of our bodies, yet I can’t seem to remember to drink enough of it, and on a bigger scale, we continue to destroy the oceans and other bodies of water on the planet daily. I really enjoy contemplating these things on a deeper level which makes answering this question in interviews frustrating because I don't like leaving things out, but also recognize that I need to end my answer eventually. I come up with new thoughts and connections almost every time I sit down and start drawing these symbols over and over again, but put simply, the repeated droplets remind me of the importance and power water has to change things.
As for the ant, I heard my favorite scientist E.O. Wilson say something about humans not being able to pay attention to/care about things that are smaller than a hummingbird. If there is something we know about ants, E.O. Wilson probably discovered it, and so ever since I heard him say that, I’ve been hiding ants in paintings. Again, I could go off on a lot of thoughts here, but the main idea behind the ant is to recognize the important role behind the things that are small, and therefore we find insignificant.
Your artistic process involves layers - you create what may look like a finished painting to an observer, then continue to work and rework it, so your paintings have many lives beneath them. I've heard you talk about this process functioning as something of a metaphor for change, and natural cycles - I'd love to hear more about that and what it means to you.
I paint because there are feelings in me that I don’t know how to express any other way. Im often unaware that a feeling existed until a painting is done and I look back at it to think about why I did certain things. That is why I paint intuitively, or without any preconceived idea for an end point. A piece might look pleasing to me visually, but it’s not done yet if it doesn’t feel right. When I get to these “finished” points, this is where I think some of what you mention comes in to play. My paintings are often a lesson in letting go. It isn’t always easy for me to destroy my favorite parts in a piece, but until I do, no real progress is actually made, and I feel like this relates to life choices as well.
Most of my pieces end up feeling like self portraits. My figures are often caught between forms. I never really think of them as one specific thing, and this relates to me identifying as psychologically androgynous. It’s not something I care to discuss publicly much, but its part of me and my work.
I am also painting to express my love for nature and the inner peace I am able to reach when I am I out in it. I ultimately think that protecting the environment is the most important issue of our time, because when the planet is uninhabitable, none of our other problems will matter. I dont like telling people what to do, but I hope my art will inspire people to make their own connects with nature in whatever they can, which I believe will in turn create a society that puts more care into how we relate to the planet, and also each other.
You're a self-taught artist. Do you have any opinions about the education and artistic (or other) systems in place that seem to affect or restrict creativity?
I have a lot of opinions about the art world and everything that goes into it, but I will just say that the fact that we kill creative freedom and thinking in us at such a young age, tells me that it is something the people in power are afraid of us having, so to me that makes it important to hold on to and nurture it.
You're also a musician, and you've mentioned that growing up outside Chicago you were involved in community organizing with both visual art and music shows - do you think there's a different vibe to events where music is presented, vs where visual art is presented, vs both? What does an ideal arts exhibition space feel like to you?
There is definitely a different vibe between all of those things. The combination of art and music together has always felt more correct that the two things separately. Art and music are great on their own, but when put together I think that can further push the feelings trying to be conveyed by an artist. When I was 15/16 hosting one day art and music events at random locations around the midwest I always said I wanted to have a place like Andy Warhol’s Factory, minus all the drugs. Now I think I just want to hang my art in the forest and be able to play some music out there.