Jessica Hess often tells people she paints landscapes, but “landscape” doesn’t quite sum up the documentary function of her work. Her oil paintings are not about the buildings and the trees, but rather an ephemeral, fragile moment: when graffiti gets put up on city walls. The future of a piece of graffiti is unstable — it could be buffed or tagged the next day. Its longevity is unpredictable. Hess memorializes these ephemeral artistic expressions, choosing broken-down, tagged-up locales that inspire her in her daily surroundings in Oakland and San Francisco. Curator Ken Harman shared a story about how a group of people were moved by Hess’s work when they saw the tag of their deceased friend in one of her paintings — an insignia that had heretofore been eradicated from the walls on which it was painted. His presence lives on in her work.
For her current show at Hashimoto Contemporary, she worked with one of the graffiti artists whose work frequently pops up in her paintings: GATS. An acronym for Graffiti Against the System, GATS is one of the Bay Area’s most well-known and prolific taggers. His portion of the show includes installations elements that were seemingly lifted off the street: Scaffolding with his signature character spray painted on it occupies the center of the gallery, while etchings and paintings on the walls use traffic signs as canvases. In addition to a collaborative piece the two artists did together, his work pops of in one of Hess’s paintings, bringing the show full circle.
Jessica Hess and GATS’s show at Hashimoto Contemporary is on view through May 24.