Jessica Libor, Visual Artist

Jessica Libor, Visual Artist, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine ArtsAttainment, 4′ x 6′, painting in progress, oil and genuine silver leaf on canvas, 2014

Jessica LiborVisual Artist, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

On a sunny but frigid January day I finally overcame a long standing inhibition of mine – to visit the world renowned Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts on North Broad Street in Philadelphia. I can’t explain why I never visited Philly’s famous art school except with silly excuses. Fear is my top excuse, feeling unworthy or that I just didn’t belong are the primary elements. I know it’s stupid self-flagellation but as fate would have it, Jessica LiborMaster of Fine Arts II student at PAFA discovered DoNArTNeWs and invited me to visit her studio and tour the campus.

We met in the coffee shop and the two of us immediately clicked. For several hours we talked about art while walking through the museum and school. Jessica made sure I saw the student art show after we visited the ‘Beyond the Paint: Philadelphia’s Mural Arts‘ exhibition. We chatted about the murals and I told her stories and anecdotes about the mural artists I know. But the student art show really opened my eyes to what’s going on at the nation’s first museum and school of fine arts. I discovered it’s not all formal portraits, still life paintings and landscapes; the students are experimenting in abstraction, conceptual art, sculpture, art installations and even, wait for it, video and photography. My fears were erased and now I can’t wait to visit again. After our museum tour, Jessica escorted me to the art school and we visited her art studio on the eighth floor.

Jessica Libor‘s studio is on the south east corner of the building with views of the Convention Center and Philadelphia City Hall. The sun streamed in the windows and illuminated her studio with warm light, the walls filled with works in progress and finished paintings, a vase of flowers echoed the romanticism of her artwork. Libor is a fan of Jean-Honoré Fragonarda French painter and print-maker from the late 1700’s whose work is known for it’s remarkable brushwork and depiction of hedonistic pleasure. One of his most famous paintings is L’Escarpolette (The Swing), an engaging and delightful painting of a beautiful girl swaying high in a swing dangling from a tree, suiters and voyeurs vying for her affections or an up-skirt peek is one of her inspirations.

Jessica Libor‘s paintings are romantic, too, but with a contemporary sensibility reflecting the difficulty of youthful modern love. The characters in her paintings are beautiful yet seem to be separated by an elusive distance, often gazing contemplatively away from each other. The silver leaf applied to the canvas then tinted with oils creates a glow through the sky holes in the trees accentuating the mottled light on the summery lawn. Her oil medium is primarily turps with linseed but she also will layer with Liquin when the oils start to glaze. The resulting artwork is lush with painterly layers of color, romantic stories and lyrical compositions looking to the past for inspiration yet forward thinking with intellectual concepts.

Jessica Libor, Visual Artist

Jessica LiborVisual Artist, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine ArtsAttainment, 4′ x 6′, painting in progress, oil and genuine silver leaf on canvas, 2014, detail.

Anticipating my questions, the artist took the time to write to me and explain her point of view. In her final months as a Master of Fine Arts student, her language and grasp of communicating artistic ideals is eloquent and concise. If you’ve ever talked with a PAFA artist they have a way of explaining their work in words and concepts that are pointed and lucid. Jessica explained to me that periodically the students display their work in a large conference room and then must defend their art to their peers and critics with as many as 125 people in the room. The experience of overcoming this daunting challenge prepares the artist to communicate their concepts and techniques.

Jessica Libor, Visual Artist

Jessica LiborVisual Artist, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine ArtsAttainment, 4′ x 6′, painting in progress, oil and genuine silver leaf on canvas, 2014, detail

What medium(s) do you work in?

“I work primarily as an oil painter, but also gild precious metals like 23karat gold and genuine silver into the details or background of my paintings.I also create videos and installations. These have been more recent ventures, but have been really enjoyable extensions of my work, with different possibilities than painting.”

What is the subject of your artwork?

“Experiences of beauty. Everyone has them. Say you’re at a ballet, and it’s that moment when the music, the movements of the dancers, and the aesthetics all combine to take your breath away, and you forget everything else. It can happen when you’re listening to your favorite song, reach the top of a mountain, have a spiritual encounter, or fall in love. It’s different for everyone, but it’s that psychological experience that I’m trying to make visual.”

Jessica Libor, Visual Artist

Jessica LiborVisual Artist, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine ArtsAttainment, 4′ x 6′, painting in progress, oil and genuine silver leaf on canvas, 2014

What issues does your latest body of work deal with?

This particular body of work, from 2013-2014 (during my second year of graduate school), deals with ideas of romance and the tensions between men and women, from a female perspective. A lot of the work has been in a dreamy garden retreat that seems like a stage perfectly set, but something perhaps is a little bit off in paradise. It’s because we’re human, we’re flawed. Perhaps I’m dealing with the idea that even in the most ideal of circumstances, it’s within human nature to make things imperfect in some way.”

What are some things that inspire or influence you?

“Classical music, contemporary music, ballet, theatre, films, everyday life experiences, literature, poetry, and other artists. Historical artistic influences include John Millais, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Edgar Degas and John William Waterhouse, and current artists that I admire are Julie Heffernan, Pippolita Rist, Brad Kunkle, and Jocelyn Hobbie. Literature, stories, myths, legends and lore play a big part in my narrative work. Ballet and the stage have a big impact on the way that I think about my work, as well.”

Jessica Libor, Visual Artist

Jessica LiborVisual Artist, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine ArtsSuspended, 2014, oil and genuine silver leaf on canvas, 20″ x 16″

How do you begin a piece?

“An idea. They come in a flash—like in the cartoons when a light bulb goes off over your head! Then a sketch…my sketchbook is full of ideas I just haven’t gotten to yet. What are some of the reasons that you get excited about painting? Painting has no limitations in its ability to create illusion. You can create whole alternate worlds, hopefully believable enough that the viewer will be absorbed into it.”

Jessica Libor, Visual Artist

Jessica LiborVisual Artist, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

What do you hope the viewer will feel or think when they see your work?

“I hope that it takes them to a place of helpless belief in the experience of beauty represented—if only for a moment. I also would like it if they felt a longing to be part of the picture—step into it. And I hope they go away challenged and uplifted. Because life does give us these moments of beauty, though they’re fleeting and imperfect. The intensity of the detail in my work, and also the use of precious metals, are actually very conscious conceptual decisions that reflect the permanent, high-value nature of a memory once it has been made.”

Where would you categorize your art to fit into the “art world?”

“I’m not too worried about that now. But I hope to be able to align my self with galleries and organizations that can embrace and really get behind my vision and multi-disciplinary approach. If I could present my work in an environment that allows it to breathe, and is accessible to people to experience, that would make me happy. I’ve seen a few exhibitions like that in Chelsea, NY, and I really like the way that when presented right, different mediums can actually complement each other.”

Jessica Libor, Visual Artist

Jessica LiborVisual Artist, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Describe some interesting technical details abut the making of your work.

“In my paintings, getting models, finding a location and costuming are all important parts of creating the painting. I try to have the models recreate the idea in my mind. Sometimes they’ll surprise me with something even better than my original idea. When it comes to paint application and gilding, it’s all about layering glazes.”

Jessica Libor, Visual Artist

Jessica LiborVisual Artist, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Relate a transformative experience which tells us something about your work or why you became an artist.

“When I was a small child, I would play under the huge oak trees in the backyard with my sister and the neighbor kids. We would make little villages at the base of the trees made out of tiny twigs, mud, and moss. We called them fairy huts. It was like if we created them well enough and made the environment perfect for them, the fairies would come. This same sense of magic creation of an immersive environment is very important in my work today. And maybe, if I do it right, it’ll be real in my viewer’s minds…if only for a moment.” – Jessica Libor

Jessica Libor‘s art blog details her exploration into installation art as well as her paintings. “Tender Missive was an interactive installation that involved over 450 diverse love letters from men throughout the century such as Edgar Allen Poe, John Keats, Richard Steele, Lord Nelson, Byron, Pierre Curie, Alexander Pope, King Solomon, Mozart, Ludwig Beethoven, King Henry the VIII, Benito Mussilini and even Adolph Hitler.” I encourage you to take time to explore the blog and learn more about her artistic pursuits.

I told Jessica I was a little concerned that her career plans were hopeful but not concrete. She explained that in addition to her graduate school studies and duties she works twenty-five hours a week as a makeup artist for Dior cosmetics and that she loves making women beautiful almost as much as making art. Jessica Libor assured me she will invite me to her final exhibition at PAFA, I am truly looking forward to viewing her art collection.

Written and photographed by DoN Brewer except where noted. Thank you to Jessica Libor for writing the Q & A which allowed us to share our time together without having to record our conversation.

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