Artist interview : Jeszika Le Vye
Hi Jeszika! Thank you so much for agreeing to do an interview with us! First off, can you tell us a little about yourself?
Thank you for having me! Where to begin? Recently, I was asked what I love to paint. I replied that I love to paint the inner workings of the human mind – the psychology, the subconscious, the motivations and choices of the characters in my paintings. It felt wrong, because it wasn’t a tangible answer such as I like painting portraits or oceanscapes. But it felt right because that truly is the heart of my art.
From a very young age, I’ve been interested in how the mind works. I’ve studied psychology, cognitive science and philosophy – exploring subjects of how we know things, where does our identity come from, and psychological issues related to trauma and isolation. This is why I earned a degree in chemistry to work my way towards neurochemistry and then cognitive science as my specialty. (Before I ended up choosing to focus my time on my art and writing rather than stretch my focus over so many demanding fields)
I am extremely curious, love learning and I read and collect books at a rate that is almost obsessive without any intention of slowing down!
Can you tell us more about the themes in your work? I get a feeling of witchcraft in some pieces! Is this an influence of yours?
A lot of my work uses natural imagery, because I am often exploring the inner landscape of the character through these visuals. From existential philosophers, to romantic painters, I have a strong affinity for themes of the individual’s infinite potential for greatness or self-destruction, and the choices they make that manifest those realities. I often try to show the beauty in the face of fear, elegance in the danger and most importantly, the figures who create their realities for better or worse.
The world I paint has often been called dark by viewers, which has some truth to it. I often see the world as a dangerous grandeur, a beautiful ocean that both awes and drowns. But always, I feel the sense of hope, that the figures in my paintings can overcome and rise stronger, further resolved. Or allow themselves to be destroyed.
At what age did you decide you wanted to be an artist? Can you share some words of wisdom for our readers?
I took the long way round to being an artist. Though I grew up with my mother being an artist, I was often told not to become an artist – that because I excelled at math and science, I should choose a safe career in a STEM field rather than art. I resisted this idea, as I have always been extremely driven to create – whether painting, sculpting or writing. But I struggled with the idea that my work was ‘illustrative’ rather than fine art and so I continually worked to remove the qualities I perceived as illustrative from my work. The more I did this, the more at odds I felt with my art, until eventually, it lost what I loved about it.
That was when I began to seriously pursue a career in neurochemistry. As time went on though, I started sneaking in art classes until somehow I had enough credits for a degree in illustration as well as chemistry. That last semester was pivotal for me. I had an epiphany.
Somehow, I had never realized it before. All of the ‘fine-art’ I loved were also illustrative and yet also every bit as masterful, or more so, as any academic fine art. From J.W.Waterhouse, to Caspar Friedrich, to Donato Giancola, I suddenly realized that I didn’t have to purge my work of its illustrative qualities to have validity as art. It was those very qualities, that to me, gave it validity. That last semester I spent renewed – every spare minute painting. Though I graduated with honors, I didn’t even bother to go to my graduation. I was home painting.
So yes, I do have advice for other artists. Don’t hedge your bets! Don’t second guess the validity of your work and creativity. Don’t waste time trying to be something you are not. The sooner you dive in, head first in your art, the sooner it will blossom and become your world.
Can you tell us more about how you work? I’ve noticed you work using both traditional and digital media! Do you have a favourite material you like to work with?
I have been an oil painter for as long as I can remember – starting when I was in my early teens – so over 15 years. When getting my chemistry degree, I almost ceased painting though. That last semester, when I finally resolved myself to be true to my art, I discovered digital painting. At the time, I felt if I was going to be an artist full time, I needed to learn how to paint digitally to try to fit within the industry of illustrators. So I spent the last 2 years learning to paint digitally and have grown to love it.
But oils still remain my favorite. There is something so much more visceral about the feel of paint, the smell of turpentine and varnish, that digital can never replicate. Now I am moving back towards more traditional mediums but learning to utilize what I love best about the different mediums. I think I will always be a bit of jack-of-all-trades when it comes to medium. I also have been looking forward to working 3-dimensionally in the near future as well!
Your pieces appear to have a backstory. Can you tell us more about the characters in your pieces?
The characters in my paintings are often figures that represent different ideas I am exploring.
In my painting Cocoon, the character is a representation of someone shedding their identity of self-destruction and victimhood from previous trauma and becoming a new person, allowing themselves to regenerate into something more than the psychological damage they so long identified with.
In my paintings of the wild children, the changelings living outside the safety of society with the wild beasts, I explore the consequences of psychological damage on children, and the purgatory of becoming a creature that repeats their history, never quite becoming a full self-aware human unless they are willing to confront themselves and consciously heal from their experiences. Some become wild creatures – and some grow into something more.
Almost all of my paintings have figures that represent internal conflicts, psychological, moral, existential and while some are autobiographical, there is also a universal quality to these challenges that we, as sentient beings must all in some way deal with. It is my hope that by exploring these themes in my art, that it provides a medium for others to explore these questions in their own internal lives.
What is your favourite part of the creative process?
I love that moment when all the separate threads of ideas that go into creating a new painting suddenly coalesce together into a whole image that is breathing with its own vitality and life. In the beginning, much of the work is done in faith that it will become something, and you are just pulling at and weaving disparate threads. That moment when the pattern suddenly locks in place and comes glowing through the piece is magical. That moment, when you stop and stare at the half-formed painting and say – There you are. I was looking for you.
Do you have a special place that you like to work in and can you share a photo with us?
I have a studio that I absolutely love! When I began to paint full time, I realized I needed a dedicated space for that sole purpose and I didn’t have nearly enough room in my home. So I rented a small space in a little shopping mall and made it home to all my creativity. Having that separate space for my work was one of the best choices I have ever made! At night, after painting all day, I find it always takes me a few minutes extra to leave, just because I stop and look for one more excuse to spend a moment surrounded by all the things I am working on. I feel so lucky to have a job I love so much I am sad to leave at day’s end!
I read that you love books! Can you name some of your favourites and have any of them influenced your work?
Goodness – where to begin?! I will try to not get carried away here lol but it might be an exercise in futility. I am always influenced by the things I read about or study. Having studied cognitive science, philosophy and psychology I think shows strongly in my work and the themes I pursue. The very introspective quality of my art is symptomatic of that, as well as the more sombre tone of my art.
On a lighter note, I have always had a strong love for scifi and fantasy, for mythology. In these genres, the parameters of reality are altered just enough to explore questions of human nature, ethics, and metaphysics from an angle slightly askew and thus yield interesting insights and questions. I think this is also one of the reasons I love Imaginative Realism so much – it allows me the classical quality of realism that I have loved since I was a young child, but also, that something more – that what if?
With all that being said – here are a few books or writers that have influenced me from an early age and that I have returned to often to dip my mind back into their motivating and inspiring currents:
Godel, Escher, Bach – This book was a gateway drug for me into the field of cognitive science. I read it when I was 11 and I fell, like Alice, into the wonderland of it’s labyrinthian twists and turn of phrases, exploring recursive formal systems and how they map onto consciousness. Before this, I had never had such a mentally stimulating experience and I was hooked. I have been fascinated with questions of self-awareness, how we know things and puzzles and logic since. I return to this book time and again just to wander the halls, allowing my curiosity and sense of wonder to be rekindled.
Some scifi writers that I have been strongly inspired by: Theodore Sturgeon, Octavia Butler, Alfred Bester, Ursula Le Guin, Walter Tevis, of course Ray Bradbury, and Frank Herbert. (I would also include Salman Rushdie here – esp for one of my favorites of his – Grimus.) I am actually a little troubled by how little my adoration for scifi shows in my work lol because my paintings are generally so organic. But a lot of the themes of these writers transcend the artificial ‘man-made’ aspects of scifi and are often focused on moral questions within the characters and worlds which is what, I think, draws me into both the stories and my own art.
I also have a serious love for the wit and mental agility of essays written by Mark Twain and H.L.Mencken. I’d also like to include Dostoevsky here for similar reasons.
That leaves poetry that has watered my creativity – and there are a few writers above all that I can give credit too – Ezra Pound, T.S.Eliot, Charles Olson and Pablo Neruda. There are passages that have stayed with me for years, that capture some small vignette or mood that I try to capture visually in my own work.
These are just some foundational, long standing loves though. I am constantly reading and finding incredible new writers and ideas that influence me or spark some new idea for a painting.
Do you have any exciting projects coming up in the new year?
One of the things that keeps me ever-busy is I co-own a company Boneshaker Press, with two other artists. We have been creating collaborative art books through Kickstarter. Our main project is Encounters with the Imaginary, which is an anthology that features the art of over 20 artists and their writing. In January, we will begin work on our 3rd volume of Encounters and we are super excited to work with more artists and create something even more full of art and stories!
I am also working on my own illustrated book, full of short stories themed around Egyptian Mythology, which has always fascinated and inspired me. For this book, I have been working on picking through all the varied, often contradictory myths that spanned thousands of years, and weaving a narrative the explores the different archetypes and themes the different figures represent, while also trying to breathe new life into the characters and make them feel more three dimensional. My hope is to have a Patreon launched in early 2018 for the project and have the book completed and on Kickstarter in 2019. So if you love mythology, art and stories – sign up for my newsletter to stay up to date when these launch!
If you’d like to see more of Jeszika’s beautiful work you can follow her at the following link: