The Soul of Piety Street
There’s a proverb that says, “The eyes are the window to the soul” and we use this adage a countless times to convey the story or intention of a human being. People say that true artists can capture the emotion in the faces of the portraits they sketch or paint. In New Orleans, there is an artist whose work captures a secret in the eyes of the subjects she paints. Her work is trying to draw you in and reach you on a deeper level, evoking emotion and a clearer understanding about the human condition. The visual artist, Jessica ‘J-Hand’ Strahan is telling the story of the 9th Ward; New Orleans; Africa and all parts in between.
Jessica recalled that ever since she could hold a pencil she was sketching. In first grade, her teacher recognized her talent and encouraged her to draw more and used her skills in creating art projects for the class. Jessica remembers those days fondly and credits her teacher and family for letting her explore her talent.
Life itself, is the inspiration for Jessica’s work. However, in the beginning, she recalls that she only painted in black and white hues - she was afraid to touch the color palate. Eventually, she struck up the courage to start using color in her work and her pieces now are bursting with color. Jessica admits that during that period she saw life in terms of black and white and it reflected in her early work.
While Jessica draws inspiration from many local artists; poets and musicians, they don’t directly influence her work. She doesn’t want to imitate anyone’s style and originality is what she strives for. New Orleans culture and architecture are a prominent feature in her work and for those of us who value this cities unique place in America will appreciate her desire to preserve this authenticity.
Jessica paints on wood instead of canvas and explains, ‘I paint on wood because it compliments my style.’ Also, she doesn’t sketch-out or outline her pieces, it's strictly brush stroke on wood. She claims she’s impatient and drawing it first would take away from the creative process and emotion that she is trying to invoke.
Her other unique style however is testimony to her patience as it involves deft use of painted rice grains that give dimension to her work. Most of time these grains act as adornments for her subjects and adds to the eye catching and mesmerizing elements that draw you to her work. Jessica also makes a range of wearable art that includes painted leather earrings and miniature portraits that are accessible to all and provide a source of income without compromising her style. Every element of her wearable art is handmade and motivated by passion not profit because following her passion and being true to herself is how she measures her success.
Painted rice grains give dimension to Jessica's work
In 2005, Jessica was just starting to fully embrace her craft and was determined to make it as an artist. After making the choice to be dedicated to her craft, the Hip-Hop artist Common bought one of her paintings which was a picture of Marvin Gaye. This purchase by Common validated her decision to become a serious full-time artist.
Like all people who lived in New Orleans before and during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, everything was just completely surreal. Displaced, dazed, confused and pregnant (with her first born child at the time); she was one of many people who sojourned from state to state hoping to reconnect with family and loved-ones. The check that Common gave her for the painting was the only funds available to her at that time. She thanks God because without it, she didn’t know what she was going to do.
After she reconnected with family and loved one’s, she was determined to come back to the city and neighborhood that she has always known. Jessica recalls how the streets were brittle and that seeing her family home not there on their lot, tore her apart. So many memories - dissolved.
Jessica refused to call any other place home. So with that decision, along with her family, she decided to rebuild. Moreover, Jessica wanted her first child to be born in the city- and he was.
By staying in New Orleans, Jessica is now thriving personally and professionally. She’s part of an artist cooperative known as “Axiom” which has a show that is free and open to the public on March 18th, 2017 called ‘Art Madness’. She’s also been accepted to sell her paintings at the 2017 Jazz Fest and is debuting her first solo show on November 4th. Apart from her professional happiness, her greatest joy is being the very proud mother of 3 children (Jovan, Zaire and Jah’maad).
Her most notable achievement came when she received the 2016 Regional winner of the ‘Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series’. She was one of 16 finalists from around the country to make it to the finals. After hearing the news that she won the award she said ,‘I was speechless. It’s great to be recognized for doing something you love to do.’ She hopes that this award will lead to more exposure and more travel so she can bring her work to a wider audience.
Jessica said that the eyes are important in her work because it’s the window to the soul. She said that, ‘the art is a reflection of her mood’ and that New Orleans is a big inspiration in her work. She said that in all her travels, that “New Orleans will always be home because there is no other place in the world like it. This is home.”
Original artwork featured in story can be purchased at Bennachin Restaurant, New Orleans LA. or online at Where Y'Art