At first glance, Jessica Bingham’s beautiful paintings are abstract and colorful, but describing them as “intentionally casual,” you’d be forgiven for glossing over the more grim underlying ideas surrounding childhood and mortality. Find more at the links below!
Can you tell me a little bit about you?
I am currently living and working in Peoria, IL, and have called this place home here for five years now. I received my MFA from Bradley University here in Peoria in 2016 where I focused on painting and installation. I am now the Gallery Curator at Illinois Central College and also teach as an adjunct professor at Monmouth College. In 2015 I co-founded an alternative space and short-term residency program called Project 1612 in the detached garage at my house, and have loved every second of it. I am able to provide artists with living space for a few days and an exhibition at the end of their stay. 1612 has allowed me to bring contemporary artists to Peoria and also provide support to student-artists through an internship program. It’s been a beautiful thing to help grow the art community where I live.
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
When I was a child I wanted to either be an artist or a pastor. I choose art, but not before I designed my own church. I was young and remember my parents giving me supplies or taking me to art classes to help foster my interest in art. Their support has always been really important to me even into adulthood.
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
My work comes from a dark place and explores the connections between childhood and death. I lost a very close friend in 2015 to a heroin overdose and his death propelled my work in this direction. We grew up across the street from one another and in front of our houses was a huge cemetery. After his death, I began exploring the loss of innocence, loss of time, people and memories. When he passed it almost felt like my memories were fake, so I tried to preserve them and his life through my art. My work tends to include cemetery or funerary imagery like tombstones, funerary wreaths, burial mounds, and flowers. However, I recently became a mother and it is quite strange to be making work about death while bringing new life into the world. My daughter is only two months old now, but I am sure her life with impact my work as our relationship evolves.
What is your process like?
My work varies from paintings to installations and found-object assemblages. I do some research, but many of my ideas come from personal experiences and memories that are then abstracted. I visit a lot of cemeteries, often collecting dirt from beneath the trees and photographing tombstones to use as reference images for paintings and installations. The amount of time needed for pieces varies. I paint rather quickly and can complete a few small paintings in a week; I tend to work on 2-3 paintings at a time, but it really depends on the size and if it is on canvas or paper. My installations take much longer and I usually sketch my ideas, referencing images from a space, collect materials and experiment. Photographing the installations and assemblages is very much a part of my process as well.
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice (or both), which has influenced your practice?
I do, Heather Brammeier. She was my painting professor in graduate school and we became very close, now collaborating on installations and sharing ideas. Our work definitely feeds off of one another.
What is your studio like?
My studio is currently in the basement guest room. It is a pretty nice sized room with a few tables, an easel, a large dresser for storage, and a bed (which comes in handy with my daughter). I have had change studio spaces in my house three times this past year as my life was gradually shifting into parenthood. This basement studio is still new to me, but is much larger than what I have had in the past so I’m pretty happy with it so far.
What do you find most daunting, challenging, or frustrating about pursuing art?
Making time can be challenging, especially as a new mom, but I have a really supportive husband who understands my career. But this also applies to just taking on too much at times, with curating, teaching, and being the director of 1612. These things all add up and can chip away at my studio time. I also find myself comparing my work or “success”, whatever that means, to other artists. I know it’s a terrible thing to do but I blame it on social media.
What are three words you would use to describe your work?
What are you working on right now?
I am currently working on a series of paintings on paper that deal with cemetery imagery, but also have an exhibition coming up in September at Heartbreaker in Peoria, IL. This will be an interactive exhibition focused on funerary wreaths and will be similar to an exhibition it just had at Yours Truly in Milwaukee, WI.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Love what you’re doing!