The dark and the delicate work of Jessie Rose Vala

My Sinews Take No Rest, 2007, Graphite on Paper, 36" x 42" (detail)


Artist Jessie Rose Vala, based in Portland, Oregon, has a way of mixing utterly beautiful graphite detail with dark, often mythological narratives. I first saw her work at Motel Gallery for the exhibition: The Tortuous Veil. In it, Vala explores the archetypes of the vampire, werewolf, zombie and shape-shifter, using them as metaphors for our own over consumption, complacency, mob mentality and environmental degradation. Other works of Vala include explorations of inner struggle despite the security and comfort we create for ourselves in something as mundane as our living room (Future Remnants of Dreamvilles), as well as scenes that mix modern female figures with ancient myths and tropes. 


Rosewood, 2006, Graphite on Paper with Frame (Foam, Paper, Wire, Floral Tape, Wax, Polyester Flocking), 16" x 18"


Lace Overtures, 2006, Aqua Art Fair, Miami, Fl.


She has just released The Tortuous Veil/Sketchbook which features 64 full-color pages of drawing and photos from the exhibition, paired with sketchbook drawings on the flip side. While it's available at various galleries, I encourage you to purchase direct from the artist here: (Just like it's best to subscribe/purchase your magazine directly from Bitch. Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink.)


Jessie was kind enough to take time out of her schedule to answer a few of my questions about her work:

The first time I saw your work, was 'The Tortuous Veil' installation at Motel Gallery in Portland. I was immediately consumed by the massive scroll-like images of what seem to be innocent-looking young women, who at closer look have decomposing zombie flesh or are changing form in to werewolves. Other works of yours feature serpents and creatures who are seemingly using magic against the central women figures. Personally, they appeal to the escapist (and frankly, the Middle Earth nerd) in me, but when you mix this old imagery with modern-looking women, I'm forced (and pleased) to view them in a more contemporary context. What draws you to these archetypes and mythology?

The images in the foreground of my drawings and installations are in various forms of disintegration. Disappearing, rotting, shifting into other elements. Although the images in my work may be unsettling, there is also importance placed on creating a composed and beautiful image.

I notice a common thread of inner struggle/violence that contrasts with beauty and delicacy. Why do you think these themes show up in your work on a regular basis?

I have been attracted to death sense I was a small child. I watched way to many horror movies. Perhaps I was drawn to horror movies because they showed death in a very grisly form. Now I cannot watch horror movies they totally scare me, and I am repelled by the use of violence and fear in the media.I am obsessed with trying to show transformation whether physical or emotional. Birth and death are the ultimate transformations we have in life, both intensely mysterious. The inner struggle in my work is very much autobiographical. Often I feel at odds with the greater world around me, I battle with my own emotions, I to try to stay positive. It helps me to look to myths, fairy tales and archetypes, to understand human struggle and survival.


My Sinews Take No Rest, 2007, Graphite on Paper, 36" x 42"


It looks like your mediums of choice are graphite and paper engineering. Any particular reason why?

I went to school for ceramic sculpture and painting….so 3-D in combination with 2-D is what I feel closest too. At first I started making sculpture with paper for practical reasons. It is light and much easier to transport then ceramic and wood. I love creating objects out of it, because it is fragile and temporal. In one of my last shows I made a headstone out of paper, I like to juxtapose seemingly opposing elements. 

About five years ago when I started to use paper I made the decision to use graphite. I felt I needed to simplify my materials. This simplification helped me to focus in on a specific skill and opened me up to new possibilities conceptually. 


We Are Black Sunlight, 2006, Paper, Graphite, Foam, 36" x 36" x 28"


What are you working on now?

Now I am working on a sculptural installation. I am incorporating paper, paper-mache, ceramic, agate, graphite and glass.  I think after 5 years of streamlining the materials I work with I feel the need to synthesis different and new elements. The piece is called 'lost kingdom'. There are women figures, life size trees, animals and spiders. I am very excited for it.

Which artists, politics or ideas do you take most inspiration from?

Our current plight with the environment is something I am constantly thinking about. This is a major crisis. What can I say we see it on all fronts, animals (including us), plants, weather everything is being affected. We live in an unsustainable way, it is frightening and overwhelming and we are the only ones that can change it. One might not see this in my work, but it goes back to the first question of inner struggle and violence…I see this all around me, it is a constant theme in my work. With in this major crisis I have been thinking of colonialism, which has definitely begun to have a great effect on my next piece after 'lost kingdom'.

I am inspired by many artists, of course my friends Emily Counts and Miel Paredes. Also KiKi Smith, Marlene Dumas, Odilon Redon, Hilma Af Klint, Olaf Bruening , Eric Beltz, Suehiro Mauro, and Hundertwasser  to name a few.  'I want to Believe' by Guo-Qiang was definitely one of my favorite shows of the last year. I am a huge lover of books. Through books I find so much inspiration, especially art books and comics. So this last year I decided to self publish a book the Tortuous Veil with Motel Projects on design. The images come from my last solo show at Motel Gallery in Portland Oregon. 

Anything else you'd like to add?In the last year I have thinking a lot about the established art world. I have recently been reading many of Hundertwasser's manifestos and Judy Chicago's Through the Flower. Hundertwasser once said "contemporary art has become intellectual masturbation". Well I was thrilled to read this, it is hilarious, harsh and to the point. To often I feel the hierarchal system of galleries and museums confuses the power and transcendence of art. I strive for a world where art is accessible to the masses, inclusive instead of exclusive. So my question of late is what can I do to help facilitate this change. I hope in my life I will see great change in our perspective towards a worldview where inclusive holistic vision reigns instead of one ruled by dualism and power.


I Am Temple, 2004, Motel, Portland, Ore.


Jessie Rose Vala (b. 1977, Madison, WI) lives and works in Portland, Oregon

by Briar Levit
View profile »

Get Bitch Media's top 9 reads of the week delivered to your inbox every Saturday morning! Sign up for the Weekly Reader:

4 Comments Have Been Posted


I love how her concern for the environment is conveyed through her amazing installation work. Every detail is carefully thought out and executed. Awesomeness.

Her figures kind of remind me of Camille Rose Garcia! The graphite work is tremendous - will definitely be keeping my eye on her! Thanks, Briar!

Thanks for interviewing such

Thanks for interviewing such an interesting and great artist, I look forward to seeing her future work, especially in regards to making it more accessible. It is always such a struggle, it seems, to get away from the hierarchy of the art world and reach the general public-especially when the art isn't sugar-coated. I really admire her for that.

2 GB Memory

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.




Add new comment