Like a strong tree that in the virgin earth
Sends far its roots through rock and loam and clay,
And proudly thrives in rain or time of dearth,
When the dry waves scare rainy sprites away;
…So would I live in rich imperial growth,
Touching the surface and the depth of things,
Instinctively responsive unto both,
Tasting the sweets of being and the stings,
Sensing the subtle spell of changing forms,
Like a strong tree against a thousand storms.
– Claude McKay, Jamaica b. 1889
The art of interdisciplinary artist and educator Jesse Wright is akin to a tree with a singular base from which 4 distinct branches rise. These branches include presenting the spirit of a subject or a situation, exploring the complexity of it’s narrative context or history, promoting empathy across socio/political boundaries through championing the sharing of these narratives while also considering the idea that a spirit exists in the diaspora of the body (vis-a-vis the way in which a people can exist in diaspora throughout the world). Many of these works serve as tableaux in an ongoing poetic meditation on scripture. Wright’s blended visual approach to this content references his blended Jamaican American heritage. Through his mixed media paintings, often involving reclaimed materials from the streets, he recalls both urban textures as well as the way various materials are appropriated in creating dwellings as seen across Jamaica’s landscape. Likewise, the inclusion of language is informed in celebration of the hand painted signs and artistry of noted figures from the island such as “Nurse” and K.L. Rankine among others. The work is frequently layered and fragmented juxtaposing formal and academic elements with abstract, gestural elements communicating a balance of what is known and unknown regarding the content while also acknowledging art history. Forms shift from being fully rendered to only suggested via confidently drafted outlines revealing what’s contained within them emotionally or situationally.
Wright’s paintings, printmaking and videos are often inspired by global humanitarian projects at underserved and disenfranchised communities – orphanages, medical centers, schools, and displacement camps – in Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Uganda and the United States as well as everyday events observed locally. Whereas initial source imagery seen in earlier work was often found and repurposed in a formal response to a specific narrative or theme, the work now consists of intentionally selected, artist generated imagery alternating between the personal and the universal. His current focus reconnects the artist to his mother’s homeland of Jamaica through the depiction of locals and family members as vessels for biblical allegory and commentary on their life throughout the diaspora in its complex beauty and tension.
Wright currently teaches at the Goldman Sachs Student Art Program in Jersey City and Eastern Christian High School in Haledon, New Jersey. He received his Bachelor of Arts from the School of Visual Arts in New York City and Middlesex Polytechnic in England. Additionally he serves as design consultant for American Indian Artists Inc. (AMERINDA) which promotes indigenous perspectives in the arts to a broad audience through the creation of new work in contemporary art forms—visual, performing, literary and media.