This past weekend, Beep Beep Gallery held an opening reception for Falling In..., a solo exhibition of works by Jessica Caldas. The Atlanta artist works with printmaking and other media to create works that reflect on her experiences in her day job as a domestic violence advocate.
Caldas is the recipient of two notable Atlanta residencies from the Atlanta Printmakers Studio and Mint Gallery. We caught up with the artist to talk about her current body of work, the way her day job has influenced her, the impact of arts funding, and more.
What's your background?
In the simplest terms, I am an Atlantan. I moved here when I was 2 from Jacksonville, Fla., where I was born, so Atlanta is pretty much all I have ever felt is home. The more complicated background is that my mom and dad have been divorced for as long as I can remember, and perhaps as a result, we moved around Atlanta, and a few other places, quite a bit.
My dad's family is Puerto Rican and lives mostly in Texas. We lived there during the summers a lot until my dad moved back to Atlanta. When he and my older brother moved back, we all lived together for a long while; my mom, her partner, my dad, and my brother and sister. It was probably the happiest part of my childhood. My whole family is really close. Even now, my dad is remarried and I have this little sister and brother combo in addition to everyone else and we see each other all the time. I'm very lucky in that way.
I always drew and painted growing up, so when I went to college I was sure that would be what I majored in. It was easy to get bored with that in art school, though. The art department required you to take printmaking classes for the painting/drawing major, and when I finally got around to taking one of those classes - it was my third year, as I spent my second year of school in Japan - I fell in love with the process.
I've never been a patient person. Although the printmaking processes can be tedious and time-consuming, there is an active element to it that really makes me happy - particularly carving woodblocks.
You work during the day at the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation as a domestic violence advocate. How has that affected your current body of artistic work?
When I started at the job, I was almost overwhelmed by everything I was learning and hearing and initially, my thought was just that "I HAVE to share these stories." As a part of my job, I [help] survivors of domestic violence fill out legal paperwork for temporary protective orders, which requires interviewing the client about what has been going on, the incidents and things that have been happening to them. I think I'm a fairly socially conscious person and I guess I always felt that if I hadn't heard a lot of this type of thing, then most people hadn't either. Also, it was pretty cathartic to create artwork around something that felt heavy and exhausting to me personally. Eventually that desire shifted, and while I still want to share the stories I am hearing all the time, I am thinking more and more about the different perspectives that impact this kind of issue.
When I started making work around domestic violence I was so worried (I still am) about how people would view it: Would they think I was trying to say I understand how a victim feels? Would they think I was being presumptuous? How can I most clearly and respectfully relate the stories without being heavy-handed or manipulative? I worry about these questions (and others) all the time. Still, I've begun considering and refocusing on my own position as an advocate as well and how I am affected by this job. A lot of people have responded to my work and worries, confirming that it is a direction I need to more seriously consider.
You've been awarded two artist residencies in Atlanta - first with the Atlanta Printmakers Studio and then with Mint's Leap Year program. How did those affect your work?
Well, I believe 100 percent that the Atlanta Printmakers Studio residency is the only reason I am actually producing and showing work now. My plan after my exit show at the end of 2010 was to move to Washington State and live with my sister and figure things out there. Then the application came out, I applied on a whim, and got the residency. Thinking about it, I wonder if I would have continued to work so hard on art. I like to think I would have, but it would have been so much harder. The residency, right after exiting school, was so vital to keeping me afloat and bridging school art-making to some kind of real-world setting. And it was so good because I still had so much to figure out. For example, a printmaking studio is a shared space, and I was so terrible in school about being a good studio mate. At APS I learned much more discipline about cleaning up after myself. It seems so simple, but I bet a lot of artists are lazy about it in their own spaces and in some ways it is a small thing that can make huge differences. I'm still not perfect at cleanup but I try a lot harder. Also, discipline in general about going to the studio. I procrastinate like (almost) everyone, and pushing myself to go and work was a challenge without school deadlines and projects and things.
Getting Leap Year is insane. I laughed when Erica called me to let me know I'd been selected, I couldn't believe it. It's mostly just allowed me to continue learning and solidifying my studio practice. I'm kind of lazy and, like I said, I procrastinate terribly. With Leap Year, you get your own studio space. I love it. I kind of hate working around other people, which has always been a challenge in the printmaking studio. I still print at APS, but when I have drawing or carving or other pieces I have to work on, I can work on my own. I get to pick and choose when I want to be around others, which may sound terribly picky and rude, but it's really important to me. Also, I have this space I can invite people to so when I do want to show people work, or get feedback, or work around others, they can just come over and I don't have to figure out where or how to meet others. Studio visits are a new thing to me. I have had a few through the residency and it's so valuable, and again, with the space, I was able to invite SeekATL to my space for feedback and discussion. Having a supportive environment like the residency is so ridiculously helpful - the other artists, Rebecca and Johnny to talk to, mentors, studio visits, all of it. I can't imagine I would be progressing so much without that support.
I've only had these two residencies, but it is incredible what they do, aside from general support, to boost your confidence, to make you feel almost validated. Maybe other artists don't need that, who knows, but to feel like people have enough faith in me and my work to support me really is encouraging. It's only made me reach further and further.
You're a twin. I recently spent a lot time hanging out with a couple of twins who seemed to be deeply affected by that relationship. Does that relationship affect the art that you make?
Yep. I think so. I don't think it's always apparent - especially with the body of work I'm showing now - but I definitely think so. My work revolves almost always around relationships of some sort, how people or things interact and what happens before and after, and I think this has a lot to do with how I view relationships, which I have always thought is deeply affected by my having a twin.
Being a twin, I've always kind of felt it's affected everything I do, even if it is subconscious. (Although, if I'm thinking about it, it's not so subconscious?) I met another printmaker, older and very established, who also happened to be a twin. We got to talking and when he found out I was a twin, he sad something along the lines of, "It's hard on them, isn't it?" He'd been teaching a workshop with his wife and was referring to the pressure that significant others seem to feel when in relationships with twins.
I don't know if it's true for all twins, but my sister and I talk about it all the time and I had the same conversation with this artist. And it's true, I try not to, but I know I put so much pressure on all of my relationships based on the one I have with my sister. Imagine growing up with someone and never being without them, even when you're violently angry at each other? Then you get older and things pull you apart psychically but you still share everything and talk every day. It's insane. Now, my sister and I are so different, we lead very different lives, but I still share no other relationship like the one I have with her. I don't think I function well with others. I think I might be defective at relationships due to this constant feeling that something is missing. All of this has fueled a deep curiosity about how others interact and how relationships grow, develop, and change, and how they change people.
Falling In..., a solo exhibition of work by Jessica Caldas, runs through May 4 at Beep Beep Gallery. More details at the gallery.
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