Step Into the 18th Century Universe of Jesse Mockrin’s Contemporary Paintings

Jesse Mockrin’s work is the embodiment of Contemporary Romanticism. The dedication present in her undetectable brushstrokes, the quality of color, light and composition, and her own personal touch, all make the result a feast for the eyes. Mockrin introduces to her work detailed symbols and subtle subjects relating to feminism and women in history, and through the 21st century. Her figurative paintings are on worldwide debut, through Night Gallery in LA, and Nathalie Karg Gallery in NY. Enter into a dimension of such detail and movement that leave the viewer at awe with each encounter. Read below to learn more about Jesse Mockrin, her upbringing and unique approach to painting. 

Plague, 2020, Oil on Cotton, 37.5 x 26 in, Courtesy of the Artist

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from, and when did art first come to your life? 

I grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland. Like many children, I drew a lot. My Mom carried yellow legal pads in her purse and I remember always drawing on them while we ran errands or waited for appointments. In high school, my art teacher introduced us to oil painting and, based on my enthusiasm, she recommended I take summer classes at the Yellow Barn, where I was introduced to plein air and figure painting.

Summon, 2018, 90 x 62 in, Courtesy of the Artist

Has your work always taken on the style it currently embodies? 

No, but I have always been focused on the figure. Even in high school and college, the figure was always central to the paintings and photographs I made.

The Enjoyable Lesson, 2016, 37 x 25 in, Oil on Cotton, Courtesy of the Artist

What’s your process like? How do you begin a work? 

I might start with an idea, like witches or hunting, or a time period or an artist I’m interested in, like Rubens. I look through art history books or magazines and make pencil drawings in my sketchbook based on images that interest me. I photocopy the drawings I like and move them around on the wall, to create a group that works together.

Ritual, 2018, Oil on Cotton, 90 x 62 in, Courtesy of the Artist

Walk us through the studio.

At the back of my studio, I have supplies, books, and a large table where I draw, eat, work on the computer. I have another desk for messy activities and my printer. Above that desk is my drawing wall. The studio is long and narrow, and paintings in progress hang along each of the long walls. I also have one corner that has unfinished paintings on paper and another that has a big pile of cardboard for packing things and cutting paper on.

If you could have dinner with three historical figures, who would it be? 

I’d like to visit Artemisia Gentileschi and Ingres in their studios, and to have dinner with my Mom when she was in her 20s. 

Ravished, 2020, Oil on Cotton, 71 x 49 in, Courtesy of the Artist

Tell us about your relationship to Art History, how does it directly and indirectly reflect in your work? 

Most of my paintings extract fragments directly from art historical works and create new compositions and contexts out of them. My interest in popular culture is usually piqued when I see a connection between it and art history, like between men’s fashion and rococo painting, for example. I am so heavily invested in the depiction of the human figure, and in how the construction of gender codes change over time, that I end up looking to art history as the place to see human history made visible. It is only a small slice of human history, of course: Eurocentric and male dominated. My hope is to interrogate that little slice of history for both what it deliberately states and unconsciously reveals about society, and by extracting sections of past paintings, to bring that complicated human history into the contemporary moment and shine a light on it.

Fallen, 2020, Oil on Cotton, 68 x 49 in, Courtesy of the Artist

Have you experimented in other mediums?

In college and for a few years after, I focused mainly on film photography. Although I don’t practice it anymore, my approach to composition in my paintings is very much influenced by photography. In grad school I made one or two terrible sculptures. 

Snatch, 2019, Oil on Cotton, 37 x 25 in, Courtesy of the Artist

Where do you draw inspiration from?

Inspiration to try to be a better artist comes from looking at other paintings in person, both historical and contemporary. Inspiration to create my own work comes from images. Images of paintings in books and online. Photographs by artists and in fashion magazines. More generally, popular culture and art history. 

The Honest Model, 2016, Oil on Cotton, 62 x 43 in, Courtesy of the Artist

What’s next for you? 

I am working towards a three person exhibition at Spurs Gallery in Beijing and a solo exhibition at Night Gallery in Los Angeles, both in the fall of 2021. 

Between desire and Dread, 2018, 68 x 49 (both), Courtesy of the Artist

At the end of every interview, we like to ask the artist to recommend a friend whose work you love and would like for us to interview. Who would you suggest? 

Elsa Sahal!