Jessica Rue is one of the most driven and naturally talented contemporary artists I know, and I know quite a few. While a master’s student and graduate assistant at Northern Illinois University’s art school she has been able to achieve so much with relatively limited resources. This is one of the hallmarks of a great artist; the constant drive to create and innovate no matter what the circumstances or limits on time and space. I have visited her small studio in the horribly designed art building (a flat roof on an enormous building in Northern Illinois, the snow capital of the Chicago land area…brilliant, that) and she has filled her small space with the fascinating and utilitarian accoutrements of her field. There is a drill and a table saw and lights and pliers and clamps and, most wonderful of all, anvils! I have never seen an anvil that was used for its intended purpose and it was a remarkably nerdy moment when she let me weigh it in my hand.
Ms. Rue almost impulsively makes chainmail; small necklaces, sheets of tiny rings, silver and brass, all different sizes and shapes. It is enough to make a Medievalist stand up at attention. Of course her talents do not end there. She is a conceptual artist as well and delves deeply into modern art theory. She incorporates found objects in her compositions in a seamless and natural way. There is no Duchampian coyness or postmodern pseudo-intellectualism to be seen in her found object pieces and she always uses this trinkets and prizes as an element of her piece that ties the rest of the theme together. There is never a wasted element, literally and figuratively.
The piece entitled “I was thrilled by what lay before me” is a clear example of her simple but moving aesthetic. The piece is a pendant made from copper, sterling silver, and an oak wood base covered in varnish and paint. The craftsmanship of the piece itself is deceptively simple. There is no added bells and whistles, no attempt made to make this an object of pure costume fancy. This is a piece of jewelry for a person who wants to adorn themselves with beauty conveyed through meaning and pathos. The metal work that makes up the rest of the piece is exquisite and lovely; the chain is dark and has the look of aged Victorian era material. The chain is attached to shaped metal bars that are gently curved into an almost arabesque shape. If you pay attention to the shape of the metal on the top you will see that if they were removed from the piece and placed so as to mirror one another the shape would be that of a classical heart. Small screws hold the baseplate in place and the corners of the wooden frame are softly rounded. The centerpiece is a small found photograph of two women standing next to each other in a doorway. The photograph is from the 1920’s and both women are wearing fashion indicative of the era. They are smiling sweetly, even mischievously, and looking ahead at the camera.
Jessica told me that when she found the photo in a thrift store it had a crease down the middle that made her wonder about the history and true meaning behind the photograph. As a feminist activist in the most edifying and sincere sense of the term she is always trying to find a way to capture the experience of women through her work. She is especially sensitive to the LGBT community and is a champion of sexual and intellectual liberation. The piece here is a clear example of this aesthetic. Inspired by the crease in the photo she created a hinged locket that allowed the photo to be swung open and shut like a small cabinet door. The women are thereby separated and can be brought together with the pull of a slender string that runs the length of the piece. One is left with the sense of a secret love, a profound loss or even denial of desire. The rigid stance of the women is mimicked by the square wooden frame in which the photo is placed and the silver joints between them both serve as a barrier and as the axle upon which they can be brought together again. It is a keepsake of a love affair that may only exist in conception or imagination but is brought to life by the real life struggles and loss of millions of people throughout time and place who feel a sense of acute loss brought about by extreme longing and affection. What brings them together pushes them apart. It is a remarkable commentary on the struggle of lesbian and bisexual people, women especially, who find pain and hardship go hand in hand with love and a need to be accepted.
This piece is only one of dozens the artist has created since discovering her talent. She is a wonderful example of an innate talent shaped and molded by mentors and fellow artists. Instead of egotistically claiming genius or self-motivated inspiration she goes out of her way to reference those other artists in and out of her field whom she admires and has learned from. This is not a woman who sees art as a fully individual effort. It is a communal learning exercise and she believes that talent can only be improved through listening, research and sharing.
Jessica Rue is a talent you do not find all that often; a truly gifted and truly humble artist who feels a connection with the greater artistic and intellectual world. She is an artist to watch.
Check out her work, which also includes photography and more traditional, but no less beautiful, gem stone jewelry here on her blog: