Jessica Potenza has always been an artist, but it’s her personal life experiences that have made her the talented contemporary artist that she is today. Authentic and full of passion, she speaks openly about moments in her life that have changed her in a free spirited way. You sense her enthusiasm and drive when she talks about her work which is inspiring.
In her younger years, she surrounded herself with horses which have, in turn, become a powerful and graceful subject. Even though she has become popular through these images today, (and working with Cavalia!) she did not start painting with this theme. It progressed organically but has now started exploring new ideas all over again.
Jessica is stimulated by her environment and chooses her work atmosphere, mentors and companions wisely. They all have a purpose for her artistic conceptions. From working with coffee, a natural pigment, to exploring with a variety of materials, she is not afraid to experiment with her art. She is a strong female visual creator, and we love her gorgeous, soothing paintings. We had the chance to touch base with this Montreal-based self-taught artist in the interview you can read below.
Since you have identified yourself with an equestrian lifestyle your whole life, do you plan on exploring different subjects? How do you plan on balancing these themes with horses? I noticed you started to paint birds.
Yes! I absolutely plan on exploring different subjects, but just as life evolves organically so does my art practice. Over the years I have been asked or encouraged to pursue different directions, and while many of these are good suggestions, I believe in letting things happen when everything feels right. For one year (2012) I committed to studying the human figure – I wanted to learn proportions and be able to draw the human figure as naturally as I knew I could horses. Actually, I held off on painting horses completely until 2014 … when the time felt right, and I felt I was ready to commit myself to the subject. I believe that the time was right because my career took off from there. Soon after, I had an opportunity to work with the retail store Mimi & Coco in Montreal and then, the show Cavalia discovered me. From there, I joined Brights Gallery in Ontario. All this pushed me to pursue my visual artist career.
In the last nine months, the majority of my time has been spent providing my gallery situated in Bromont, Artêria, with art inventory for their 9 international exhibitions. This means I have been painting a lot! To give you an idea, I once had containers of my art traveling to three different parts of the world, which meant supplying three shows at the same time! Now that I finally have some time, I feel that I have time to truly create or recreate. Launching myself into avifauna (birds) is an idea that I have been thinking about for a while.
Why birds? Not sure. I have always been intrigued by them. Their freedom, their way of working together. Their synchronicity is fascinating. Last year while having my lunch on a paddleboard out in the middle of a lake in Algonquin park, I felt blessed observing a loon swimming only a few meters away from me. I had painted a few loons back in 2013, and this reminder planted the seed in my mind that I should re-explore the subject.
I am also drawn to the style, subjects, and media used in Asian art. I grew up surrounded by oriental pieces (furniture and art) that my parents had collected over the years. I was always bewildered by them.. loving their peacefulness and their intricate yet minimalistic details. One particular subject within this that I have always been drawn to is cranes, “the bird of happiness,” also representing good fortune and longevity. (contrary to horses which represent power and strength). I am currently working on a series of crane pieces, my vision is to eventually create a long wall of birds and arranging panels of different widths together.
I noticed you were now part of an artist center – can you tell us more about why you made the decision to involve yourself with them and what exactly do you think they bring you as an artist?
Although I do enjoy creating from home, I also need my daily dose of movement and good vibes. I value exchanges with people and an active lifestyle. I want to feel good while I spend my time building my art career which includes all kinds of entrepreneurial activities as well. Over the years I have learned what I require in a studio space. Conveniently located, good light, other professionals artists and of course, good vibes! I also enjoy walkthrough traffic – the interest and energy of passers-through are always a perk. Finally, I like having good coffee shops close by.
I recently took a studio space at the Montreal Art Center, located a 12 min bike ride away from my home, right along the Lachine canal. It also just steps away from Moksha Yoga! I have found a great balance in this creative space and part of town. It has walk-through traffic, tons of light, offers in-house live drawing every Monday night, and is full of lovely creative individuals. I am enjoying my new routine of running or biking to work, it helps me stay creative!
My favorite art center is the Miami Art Center, a beautiful space that leaves doors open to the public from 10 am to 11 pm. They receive hundreds of people throughout the day, and space is divided in such a way that artists have both visible and more private areas of their studios for work.
I noticed you had a lot of artistic mentors – can you tell us a story of a specific one and how they changed your creative path?
I am self-taught, so it is nice to have found mentors along the way. For the most part, they offer me more friendship and support than artistic advice. However, on the occasion that I need them for more precise help, they have always been there. We help each other in different ways, and they are all great and inspiring people in their own ways.
All my mentors have been special, but I will tell you about Niko.
Niko: This lady is unique and loved by all who know her. She has become more of a sister to me over the years than a mentor although she has taught me so much. She is confident, hardworking and passionate. She is one of the dearest people in my life and played a significant role at the beginning of my professional career. We met while I was at an Italian coffee bar with a broken leg, on crutches. As fate would have it, she was also on crutches with a sprained ankle. We had a good laugh about our same situations, and soon realized we were both artists. She was already well accomplished, saw my work and connected with it. She then invited me to paint with her in her studio and took me under her wing, and while we spent time creating in the same space and exposing together, she also taught me the business of art.
How important are artistic mentors to you and how do you find them?
Mentors are so important to me, but to me, they are more like friendships. I surround myself with people who inspire me. I guess you can say everyone is a mentor somehow, but they don’t need to be artists. For example, I am moved by my mentors in my previous career, in the equestrian industry. They taught me hard work, discipline, and business. As for how to find them? I don’t think you can go out and find them – if you are passionate about what you do, they naturally find you. It is a two-way road, and there’s a real exchange both ways.
You seem to have had international exposure already (congrats!), and you also said that you spent a lot of time traveling while learning to become a fine artist. Do you have any particular trip/city/place that inspired you? If so, please tell us a story!
My most special memory is a road trip I did on the west coast with one of the most special people in my life. I had been working in British Columbia having been offered a studio space in Whistler. At the end of my stay in BC, Cavalia (who carries my work on their Odysseo tour) needed a supply of new paintings from me and so, rather than ship them down I decided to head towards San Francisco to meet them. We made the most beautiful memories by free-camping our way down the coast. One of the pieces I created was reminiscing about this trip. The making of that piece was so special: the feelings, the influence, and my outdoor studio space… car-camping along a breathtaking 100ft cliff somewhere between Carmel and San Francisco. Those days on the road were some of the happiest of my life and are ones I will never forget.
I read that you used coffee to paint which is unique – can you tell us more about that and other materials that you use generally?
Pierre Lincourt (my first artistic mentor, a retired art teacher at the École des Beaux-Arts, also my friend’s father) saw my work and offered to give me an art workshop in his garage. He set up a studio space for me, taught me different techniques with ink and charcoal and showed me some of his earlier works in which he used instant coffee on paper. Later that year when I decided to branch out from using ink, and as I didn’t have paint, I went through my pantry and fridge, remembering that he had used coffee as a pigment. I made my first coffee piece that day, with Japanese ink, acrylic, coffee and beat juice. From there my technique has evolved, and while I am using less and less coffee, I will always appreciate the qualities that it adds to my work.
I have recently started incorporating different materials and papers into my pieces, something I find fun as it adds not only a new element to my style but can add personal meaning to the pieces. I find these materials throughout my days whether here in the city or on the road traveling. I used to use coffee from the places I visited, and this is just another way I can add that same personal touch to my art.
Being a young self-taught visual artist – what are the biggest challenges you feel that you face in the art industry today?
Learning everything through trial and error probably isn’t as efficient as taking courses or having someone show me the “proper way” although I have absolutely no regrets in the challenges of being self-taught. Had I learned through formal education, I would not have developed the style I have now, which I am grateful for.
I live similar challenges to other artists such as rejection, although I believe there is always something positive in those situations. Recently, I was declined for a project grant request by Canada Arts Council for not being considered a “professional artist .i. not having received formal education in art.” It is one thing if you don’t like my art or don’t believe in my project, and quite another to deem me “unprofessional” because I “did not receive a formal education in art.” In the end, their absurd reason for not accepting me as a grant recipient only made me work harder to show them what it requires to be a “professional artist” and that it is more than ok to be self-taught!