In conversation: Jessica Russo Scherr
Meet Jessica Russo Scherr, an internationally exhibiting artist whose work examines the intersection of personal and universal themes. Using a range of media including drawing, photography, oil paint, and collage, Russo Scherr creates layered and evocative compositions that invite the viewer to contemplate their own place within the cultural and emotional landscape.
Insights of an Eco Artist Team
9 de maio de 2023
As an artist, you are internationally recognized. Can you tell us a bit about your artistic background and what initially inspired you to pursue an art career?
It's been a long and fulfilling artistic journey for me. Since childhood, I have always found solace and joy in creating art. I remember spending hours on end, tucked away in a corner, sketching and drawing during family gatherings. For me, art was not just a hobby, but a natural extension of who I am. It didn’t seem like a choice to pursue art rather it was just the natural progression of my journey.
Your works examine the intersection of the personal and universal, using themes of identity, memory, nostalgia, expectations, and motherhood to explore the human experience within culture. Can you deconstruct these themes for us? And what motivated you to develop your artistic practice around them?
As an artist, my work is deeply personal and autobiographical. I use my own experiences and those of my loved ones as a mirror to reflect upon the world around me. In doing so, I often find myself unpacking memories that can be viewed as nostalgic. As a mother of two daughters, the act of raising them has greatly influenced my work. I confront the rules and expectations that culture thrusts upon women, requiring them to be everything and nothing at the same time while always maintaining a pristine and pure image. This inherent contradiction is a prevalent theme that I often confront in my artwork.
What are your insights into the role of contemporary art in breeding societal change? How do you feel artists contribute to a more prosperous society?
Contemporary artists have a unique ability to create works that challenge societal norms, provoke critical thought, and inspire change. Through their art, they can convey powerful messages that resonate with individuals and communities on a deep emotional level. As I mentioned in my TEDx Talk in Florence, Italy, artists play a vital role in shaping society and inspiring change. They can raise awareness about pressing issues, promote sustainable practices, and bring people together in shared experiences. While it may not directly create a more prosperous society, I do believe that art has the power to create a more compassionate and emotionally rich society, which ultimately contributes to a better quality of life for all.
In your practice, you combine a range of media, including drawing, photography, oil paint, and collage. When did you start linking these different media? And, what are the normal steps you take when creating new work?
For me, the idea always comes first. I spend a lot of time brainstorming, researching, photographing and sketching to transform my initial concept into a concrete composition. The theme of the artwork then determines which media I will use and how I will express it. The process varies depending on the specific media that I have chosen for the work. Sometimes I will start with a photograph or a drawing, while at other times I will begin with an oil painting or collage. Regardless of the medium, I allow my creative intuition to guide me through the process, experimenting and exploring different techniques until I achieve the desired result that best communicates the concept behind the work.
One of your submitted colleges is called Stanstead, Quebec Canada/Derby Line, Vermont, US. How did you reach the final visual composition? What can you tell us about the concept behind the artwork?
This particular collage is part of a larger series of works that I've been creating that explore contentious borders around the world. I create these works through a meticulous process of attaching repurposed magazine images together to form a detailed collage. The result is an image that resembles a satellite view from afar but becomes more abstract and complex upon closer inspection, revealing smaller images that inform the larger idea.
In the case of "Stanstead, Quebec Canada/Derby Line, Vermont, US," the artwork is inspired by the US-Canadian border, which is often less contentious than other borders around the world. However, I was intrigued by the story of the Haskell Free Library and Opera House, which straddles both countries and highlights the differences in immigration policies between the two nations. This ornate Victorian building was deliberately built on top of the international border in 1901 by the Canadian wife of a wealthy American merchant. Today, it serves as a critical space for families divided by immigration restrictions and travel bans to reunite informally. That building is seen from above in this collaged satellite map.
Through my art, I hope to bring attention to the complex issues surrounding borders and immigration policies, and inspire critical thought and discussion about how we can create a more equitable and just society.
How do you incorporate references to art history in your compositions?
I find inspiration in the artists who have come before me. In my more figurative works, I often incorporate smaller images of art historical works, particularly religious works from the Renaissance. My collages are a playground for these historical references, and I love to see how they interact with modern imagery. In my oil paintings, I explore the concept of double exposure, where images emerge and overlap each other to create a new visual narrative. The result is a fusion of past and present, a bridge between classical and contemporary art.
You have already worked and exhibited extensively across the world. How has your experience living in different countries influenced your artistic perspective?
Living in different countries has given me a unique opportunity to encounter and experience different cultures and perspectives. Each country has a rich history and unique artistic traditions that have helped to shape my work. My experiences living abroad have challenged me to adapt to new environments and new ways of thinking. I have been fortunate enough to experience a diverse range of art and artists from different parts of the world, and this has expanded my artistic vocabulary and approach to my practice.
My time in Florence, Italy was particularly impactful. The city is a veritable museum of art, and I found myself surrounded by some of the most incredible works in the world. It was there that I was able to truly immerse myself in the craft and history of art, and it has had a lasting impact on my work.
Living in different countries has also allowed me to explore themes that are central to my work, such as migration, identity, and privilege, through different cultural lenses. This has added depth and complexity to my work, and has encouraged me to think more critically about global issues. My experiences living abroad have made me a more versatile and adaptable artist, and have enriched my work in countless ways.
Let's talk about your work as a teacher. How do you balance your roles as an artist and a teacher of IB Visual Art/Theory of Knowledge?
As an artist and a teacher, I find that the two roles are inextricably linked. My experiences as an artist enrich my teaching and provide a unique perspective to my students. Balancing my roles as an artist and teacher can be challenging at times, but I find that they complement each other in many ways.
My work as an artist informs my teaching by giving me real-world examples to draw from and helping me to better understand the creative process. It also allows me to model for my students the importance of self-reflection and critical thinking in the artistic process. Spending time talking to students about current issues, art making and critical thinking helps me refine my ideas and sparks new ones. Being able to explain my work and the process by which I create my work to the students gives me the opportunity to be cognizant and self-reflective of my practice. That part would be missing if I worked isolated in my studio.
Ultimately, being a teacher and an artist is a symbiotic relationship that allows me to grow as both an artist and an educator. It is a privilege to be able to share my knowledge and experience with my students and to learn from them in return.
How has receiving the Fulbright Grant impacted your artistic career?
The Fulbright has been pivotal in my life and my career as an artist. I has provided the spring board for my work internationally. Prior to the grant, I was building my career in and around New York City, but my ideas felt stagnant and lacked diversity. The grant allowed me to spend a year teaching and creating art in Bratislava, Slovakia, where I was exposed to new perspectives, cultures, and techniques.
Teaching at the Josef Vydra School of Applied Arts was a remarkable experience, as I was surrounded by some of the most talented and dedicated students and teachers in the country. My time there taught me how to connect with individuals from diverse backgrounds, navigate language barriers, and bridge cultural differences. The impact of this experience was immeasurable and translated directly into my artistic practice.
The Fulbright Grant also provided me with the opportunity to showcase my work in a large exhibition, in collaboration with the U.S. Embassy in Bratislava. This exhibition toured the country for a year and helped to expand my audience and network, both nationally and internationally.
Overall, the Fulbright Grant has been instrumental in helping me grow as an artist, both in terms of skill and exposure. It allowed me to step outside of my comfort zone and explore new horizons, and I am grateful for the opportunity.
Lastly, what message would you like to leave for our readers?
In terms of environmental sustainability, I aim to create works with repurposed materials whenever possible. This is most readily seen in my collage work, but it is also evident in my approach to painting where I repurpose materials and canvases. I am always considering how making art sustainably is not only about the materials but also how artists can use their work to raise awareness about the world around us. The visual arts can provide a powerful platform for activism, and artists can use their work to highlight the importance of social issues, conservation, and sustainable practices. I believe that it is important for artists to consider the impact of their own practices and strive to make their work as sustainable as possible. Through my work, I hope to create a sense of community and encourage viewers to consider their own place within the cultural and emotional landscape.
Know more about the artist here.
Mexicali-Calexico by Jessica Russo Scherr. Image courtesy of Jessica Russo Scherr.
Jessica Russo Scherr's art examines the intersection of the personal and universal, using themes of identity, memory, nostalgia, expectations, and motherhood to explore the human experience within culture. Through her use of a range of media, including drawing, photography, oil paint, and collage, Russo Scherr creates compositions that are layered, atmospheric, and evocative, inviting the viewer to contemplate their own place within the cultural and emotional landscape. With a focus on the interplay between subject and place and frequent references to art history, Russo Scherr's work engages with themes of privilege and turmoil, using mark-making, pattern, and color to construct a visual representation of the self. Through her art, Russo Scherr invites the viewer to consider the complex interplay between the individual and the world around them, offering a unique perspective on the human condition.
Jessica Russo Scherr has a strong educational background in art, with several degrees and coursework from several prestigious institutions, including Boston University, William Paterson University, Montclair State University, and Hartford Art School, University of Hartford.
In addition to being an internationally exhibiting artist, Jessica Russo Scherr is a highly accomplished and respected member of the art community. Originally from New York, she has received recognition for her work in the form of the prestigious Fulbright Grant from the US State Department. Along with her husband and two children, Russo Scherr has lived in five different countries and currently resides in Germany, where she creates her art and teaches IB Visual Art/Theory of Knowledge. Her diverse background and experiences have no doubt contributed to the depth and complexity of her art, making it a compelling and thought-provoking addition to any exhibition.