Finding identity as an artist

Profile of fourth-year fine art student Jesse Wardell

Jesse Wardell with her prints in Ontario Hall.
Jesse Wardell with her prints in Ontario Hall.

For Jesse Wardell, defying the norm gives her art more meaning.

Hanging in the fourth-year fine art student’s Ontario Hall studio are samplings of her recent work. Included is a sculpture piece featuring plaster hands suspended by strings and a stack of black and white print portraits.

Wardell likes to stray away from the classical style of portraiture — her focus — to unveil new facets of her subjects’ identities. “The hand piece, for instance,” said Wardell, pointing to her work, “it’s all about creative portraiture that’s not traditional.”

Portraiture often limits the means in which a subject’s identity can be conveyed. For example, Wardell often portrays the absence of a body in order to focus on non-physical forms of identity. “The traditional portrait is a shoulders up, facing forward or to the side kind of a thing,” she said.

“I was interested in having the image being the back of someone’s head or distorting the facial features or doing stuff like that.”

Wardell, who works in multimedia — printmaking, drawing and sculpture — likes to combine materials to give her work different dimensions.

“Depending on the type of print that I’m doing, a lot of it is hand drawn and then transferring onto plates and then printing that,” she said.

“A lot of the stuff that I was dealing with last semester and kind of spreading into this semester, is about portraiture and about the classic student idea of identity.” She added she’s exploring the concept of “creating an identity” for herself personally, often through symbolism in her portraits. Hands, for example, represent the idea of “making” — something that is important to her as an artist.

When it comes to printmaking and sculpture, Wardell said the hardest part of her art-making process is the prep work.

“If you’re looking at it in a technical sense, it’s the prep and thinking through the process of how you want it to look and how it’s going to come off,” Wardell said.

Being a student representative at Modern Fuel artist-run centre and working for Union Gallery, Wardell has committed herself fully to a career in fine art.

“I want to be an artist,” she said.

“Whether that’s working as a professor or a teacher, or working in a print studio or doing something where I get to work with art hands on.”

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