Local Talent

A Fiendish Conversation with Jesse Link

The Seattle artist chats about his colorful animal paintings, street art, and 'American Majestic.'

By Seth Sommerfeld May 5, 2016

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Jesse Link, American Majestic, 2016, acrylic and oil on panel, 28 x 21 in.

Image: Jesse Link

There’s a chance you’ve encountered artist Jesse Link’s creatures out in the urban wild: perhaps along Second Avenue construction walls or on the facade of Shack Coffee. Link specializes in wood-panel acrylic paintings of animals that mix street art and vivid colors to make viewers wish each critter had its own adventurous backstory. He shows off his latest wares in American Majestic at Artifact Gallery, which opens tonight at 6 as part of First Thursday and runs through May 28.

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Jesse Link

For our latest Fiendish Conversation, we chatted with Link about testing out new techniques for American Majestic, the importance of street art, and his appreciation of rope.


What are aspect of American Majestic are you most excited about?

Well at first, this project actually kind of ended up a failure. My plan was to do these really quick paintings with lots of expression and lots of abstraction, then I was gonna kind of tighten it up and experiment with that for a couple weeks. But I only had three months to put the show together. I started in January, and then after I built all my panels—which took me a couple weeks—I started experimenting with the way that I wanted to do this. But I couldn’t get it to work quite right. So then I was like I better go back to what I know, just cause the show was scheduled, so you gotta have something.

One thing that I hadn’t really spent a lot of time doing was oil painting. I had this nice set of oil paints and brushes and everything, and I was like well, why don’t I at least learn something new by using a different medium. So in the show I used oils on most of the pieces, almost all of them, except for the tortoise.

So the limited time forced you to find something new?

Yeah. I wasn’t planning on using oils, but once I did, I loved it. I will probably use oils from now on, actually, to some degree.

What draws you to the animal aesthetic that has been the prominent focus of your artwork?

The animals have an allegorical quality. I like the way they look, I like painting them, I like people to be able to draw meaning from them. Just being in Seattle and going out into nature a lot, that’s something that I just kind of draw off of. I try not to make them seem so anthropomorphic. I started off just not doing people because there are too many um variables when it comes to humans, too many things that you can draw meaning from.

One of the things I enjoy about your pieces is the way the animals seem to have an adventurous untold backstory. And that after this one captured moment, they’ll be on to the next journey. Is that something you see or strive for as well?

Yeah, that’s kind of something I like to do. I like there to be like a missing backstory. I want you to look at it and wonder what is the story behind this piece, like it’s an illustration to something that just doesn’t exist. It exists in the viewer’s mind and they have to come up with their own narrative.

Do you have narratives for each critter in your head, or is the focus more on putting together the various visual components in a way that looks good on the canvas?

I mean there are some narratives, but I try to not really follow through with that. Like if I see a certain narrative, I try to not let that feed the next direction I go. It’s like free association, and people can associate things they want with the different imagery. The way they put it together makes it their own kinda meaning. I want the piece to be meaningful not just to me.

There are certain elements that repeat. Lately, I’ve used a lot of rope and a lot of bells. I’m really into tools—like I have a small collection of antique tools—and am really drawn to rope for some reason. I think it’s because it’s one of the first tools that humans started using, so it kind of like this connection throughout history. Bells are kind of the same. There are lots of reasons for the bells. They’re one of those things you see across cultures.

Rope is one of those things that you hardly ever even think of as a tool anymore. We kind of take rope for granted.

You barely ever see ropes actually being used. I was in Paris once and I saw them actually using a rope to hoist a table up into a window, and I was like wow, they’re actually using that for what it was meant to be used for not like a banister for a restaurant.

How has Seattle influenced your art?

I think the thing that’s influenced me the most is the people around here. The way that they see nature as a resource they need to rejuvenate their spirit. Like you go to the beach and there are people just sitting in their cars just staring at the beach on their lunch break. Or it’s Saturday and you’re stuck in traffic leaving Seattle cause there’s so many people just going out to the mountains. It’s that culture that really inspires me.

What draws you to public art projects? Why do you think public is important for a city?

I mean, I love public art. Seattle Office of Arts and Culture has a program to fund smaller projects throughout the city called Art Interruptions, and this year I’m actually on the panel for that. It’s really important to me to live in a city that has public art, and being able to contribute is really an honor to me.

Really street art is just something I got into for fun, but I really want to be able to get in to public art as a vocation. I’ve always loved urban art, spray paint art, and stuff like that. It’s important for people to walk down the street and feel like they live in a culture where art is important and art is possible.

Jesse Link
May 5–28, Artifact Gallery, Free

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Jesse Link, Giant Tortoise, 2016, acrylic on panel, 36 x 48 in.

Image: Jesse Link

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