I wrote and photographed this piece on Jesse for my People Watching column for the NYTimes T style online
Sometimes names fly into your life like birds, and without noticing, what was once just one bird quickly becomes a flock. I started hearing Jesse Schlesinger’s name among friends, and each one would tell me a completely different tale about him. “He is the artist that built the greenhouse behind the General Store.” “He is designing the interiors of Bar Tartine.” “He sells at the farmers’ market every week.” It didn’t make sense, but it made me curious about who Jesse Schlesinger is. When I met him by chance at an art opening in San Francisco, I realized I already knew him. I had been buying strawberries from him at the farmers’ market for six years. Since then, I have come to know Schlesinger as an artist. All those seemingly disparate activities that I heard about him are true and feed into his art practice.
Working in a variety of media — site-specific installation, sculpture, drawing, built environment — Schlesinger creates works that are consistently imbued with a light, poignant touch and are rooted in exploring the ideas of home, ritual and space. “Nothing to No Thing” at the Highlight Gallery’s project “3020 Laguna St. In Exitum” earlier this year involved Schlesinger living in a room in a house scheduled for demolition. Although nine other artists participated in the project, he was the only one who inhabited the house full time, gleaning from the life he spent there. Living in an abandoned building amounted to camping indoors. When I visited him, our breath was visible as we talked over coffee about the pieces he was building. Floorboards, door frames and picture rails became Schlesinger’s bed, shelves for daily necessities and stools for sitting. The spartan existence (cold showers!) was one that Schlesinger thrived in. His space became a marriage of a few personal objects — a flea market blanket on the bed, fresh produce from his farmers’ market gig, a kettle for the shared ritual of tea or coffee, his tools, camera, books (including a copy of Gaston Bachelard’s “Poetics of Space”) and a record player and LPs for music — with the architecture.
These same objects migrated with him to the Headlands Center for the Arts, where until today he was in residence. In his massive studio, a stark contrast to the Highlight room shown here, Schlesinger reacted not by filling the space, nor building into it, but by connecting with the land around it. He talked about the “subtle, gentle act to show the unseen wonder of things,” while listening to John Fahey on a portable record player. The ritual of shared tea or coffee that he engaged in at the Highlight house was replaced by daily walks on the trails surrounding the residency. Collections of small brightly colored pebbles and leaves, bits of wood and other objects — the yield of those walks — skirted the edge of the studio, all sitting in the order of their discovery. His building tools, a constant companion, sat on top of makeshift tables of wood and old radiators. The space was largely devoid of color except for the shock of electric blue — from tape to drawing pencils to large spools of thread being used in his largest piece for his final show. It’s interesting that as an artist so invested in the idea of home he’s inhabited so many places that are impermanent. “There are so many ways to understand the idea of home,” he said. “I think it really comes down to a sense of place, a sense of where you are. Though there is a liminal quality to the spaces I inhabit now, there may be great potential in that. Within all of this, there is a feeling that I am where I belong.”
Learn more about Jesse Schlesinger and his work at jesseschlesinger.com.
See the original post in the NYTimes here.