Jesse Small was born in Big Sur, California in 1974. He grew up in Los Angeles, California, prior to attending the Kansas City Art Institute.
Small lived and worked in China for a year after receiving his MFA Degree. He now lives and works in Kansas City. The exhibit title acknowledges the time spent in China, as well as constituting a visual metaphor of “soaked.” The artist takes soaked to mean saturated, in this case not with water, but a gallery saturated with his work, his personal concept of ornamental theory in the form of Folding Screens, Chandeliers, Grande Mirrors and vessel-like porcelain shapes, all of which he draws from his life experience.
My most prominent influence stems from growing up in Los Angeles in the 1980′s, where electronic music and “rave” events led to a new form of graphic design inspired by the rhythm and bright tones of electronic music. This appeared primarily in the form of fliers for raves that were distributed at raves. I often saved these and copied the styles of lettering and design for my own work.
Many hours were spent playing video games on the original Nintendo and Atari 2600 machines, which formed my preferences for clothing, music, design, and art. In the process of mining my own aesthetic information as food for ornament, characters from the Pac Man and Space Invader games have shown up prominently. It seems an unlikely source for ornament, until you consider that all ornament throughout time has been drawn from the environment surrounding the inventor.
Another influence in this exhibit are the years I spent doing Graffiti in Los Angeles (1987-1992). My use of the cloud motif stems from this period, when such forms symbolized paint fumes, not clouds. Graffiti is a volunteer urban renewal program, and is the most misunderstood aspect of the creative impulse’s face-off with mass produced environments. By encouraging me to reinvent standard text in a personal style, graffiti set me on the path of reevaluating the mainstream definitions of ornament. The habit of tagging, the design proportions that make it good, constantly play into my layout and drafting process that I use to make sculpture.
My intention in formatting these influences into folding screens and chandeliers is to collage homegrown ornament with an opulent past, setting up objects that portray a forgotten style, or an artifact from the future. In this respect, my work is not a real chandelier, but rather, a shadow of one, a sculpture that has invaded the “chandelier” space.
I started making the porcelain Ghost sculptures in Jiingdezhen, China, inspired by the popularity of ghost-defense items there. The neighborhood I was working in mass produced porcelain figurines of all sizes, who’s purpose was to ward off ghosts. Conceptually, I wanted to create a “ghost figurine” that would welcome, instead of ward off, and give form to something invisible. The Ghost figurines uncovered a shared experience I was totally unaware of, because the visual language is exactly the same, spread globally, hidden by language barriers.
Small is about to embark on a Percent for Art project in New York for the Richmond Health Center, a two year project , which will bring him to New York to live and work.