Washington Printmakers Gallery Presents Jessie Gifford Carving Color: West to East

By Editorial Team on June 28, 2021

Thu, 01 July 2021 - Sun, 25 July 2021

Jessie Nebraska Gifford, Blue Northern, 21” x 17.75”, 1988.
On View: July 1 – July 25, 2021

I always knew I wanted to be an artist. I never have wavered from that desire. Printmaking was my first form of art. As a child, I cut shapes onto erasers and bars of soap, instinctively using them as printing tools. Then I made silk screens in high school. After I moved onto wood and linoleum prints, I never could do large editions because as a mother I didn’t have time! Later, when my daughter was more independent, I was able to make prints on a professional press on beautiful paper, and it was a revelation.

I became interested in the block print as an antidote to the overkill of hi-tech. It is a very accessible medium. The strong gestural markings are good at registering emotional energy. The woodblock and linoleum sheet are picture planes with no rules, a space that can be charged with emotion, a physical release.

In all my work, whether paintings, drawings, sculpture, or prints, I synthesize my experiences, thoughts, and observations. I am interested in the richness and beauty of coloring and a lively depiction of the subjects combining poignancy with an expressionistic narrative style. There is often the nuance of humor.

I like to take inspiration from my dreams. I see vivid shapes and colors arranged in ways that excite me to translate them to paper. The inspiration for the prints in this show are varied but are rooted in my imagination and experiences:

“Polka Dot Sky” is about the afternoon sun. My father was always pointing out the window at the weather, what was going on in the big Nebraska sky.

“Charles River at Cambridge” is a memory from college. Bennington girls went down to Boston because there were boys there, smart boys. The New England landscape is arranged differently than I am used to—a cozy, intimate grandness contrasted with the expansive western plain.

“USA East-West” is a storytelling picture. The intersection of NYC and the rest of America—the subway, rats, buildings, cows, Mt. St. Helens, joy and despair (and my good friend and fellow printmaker Richard Mock).

“Little Red Trees” is from a series I did called The Anatomy of Romance. I wanted to combine romance- the best there is about love, where the hope is, all the possibility— with landscape. The flights of fancy in romance juxtaposed with the wildness of nature.

Jessie Gifford was born in 1939 in Omaha, Nebraska. She received a B.A. from Bennington College in 1961. During her senior year, she studied in Paris with Stanley William Hayter, a widely known printmaker.

Upon arrival in college in the East, she never looked back to the West, except in her art. Over more than six decades, Jessie’s myriad artistic styles reflected her Nebraska past, in landscapes, color choices, the ubiquity of cows represented in her work. But her creative expression has also been informed by her many, many years as a New Yorker, which gives her work a certain gritty exuberance, a uniqueness born from her surroundings, her quirky imagination, and the many challenging circumstances she wrangled with throughout her life.

Her career has encompassed a great diversity of styles and techniques. She has worked in printmaking, drawing, painting and sculpture, and her style has moved from the lyrical abstract to the figurative and iconographic. As an artist, she has always been brave: juggling mother-hood and the intensive labor of creating art, managing the financial challenges of making a living as an artist, and showing unabashed fearlessness in the unearthing of childhood trauma and expressing her newfound memories in her work.

Art is in Jessie’s genes. Her mother was a painter, sculptor and costume designer. Her great, great uncle was Sanford Robinson Gifford, a prominent Hudson River School artist with paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She loves reading, writing, classic films, looking at art, talking about art, and making art. She has written poetry and short stories and worked collaboratively with her late husband Melvin to produce a screenplay, mystery novel, two published books and two original magazines.

She has endured the deaths of two husbands and the unforgiving trajectory of a chronic illness with a stoic bravery and compassionate self-acceptance. She currently resides in New York City and has a daughter and two grandchildren. Despite her physical limitations, Jessie still spends most of her time making art—watercolors, drawings, improvised monoprints—adapting her talents and style to a scale smaller in size but not in vision.

Gallery Hours:

  • Saturdays 11am-5pm
  • Sundays 12pm- 4pm
  • Or by appointment at other times. (Call Marie-B Cilia De Amicis at (571) 338-7717 for an in person or Facetime appointment.)

Full safety precautions are detailed at www.washingtonprintmakers.com.

Washington Printmakers Gallery is located at 1641 Wisconsin Ave. NW.