A! Magazine for the Arts

Jessica Walker working in her studio.

Jessica Walker working in her studio.

"Color Me Bad" — Jessica Walker

February 29, 2012

Jessica Walker, age 29, is the daughter of Mary Clayton and Bob Walker. Jessica says "Color Me Bad" is "an opportunity for me to share the work I've been making about Appalachia within the region that has inspired its content. The show's title is taken from the name of an R&B group from the early '90s which coincides with the time all three of us were 'coming of age' in Abingdon. The curator is also drawing on the duality of the word 'color' as a visual phenomenon and as a cultural metaphor, as in 'local color.' We now live outside the region and, therefore, have a viewpoint on Appalachia that must be drawn from teenage memories. Humor and satire seem likely tools to access that past."

As a young child, Jessica watched one of her grandmothers, Mary Ann Jesse of Bristol, Va., quilt for hours, usually while watching The Golden Girls on television. "She encouraged me to make things with my hands, to be creative," Jessica says, "and I assume this is why I feel guilty sitting idly by the TV to this day.

"My other grandmother, the late Mary Ann Andersen of Bristol, was always taking me to yard sales, antique shops, and the various mom-and-pop shops that used to dot State Street. These excursions were great because I have always had a fascination with collections of outdated things and the idea that every object has a story to tell. She also took me to her hairdresser, an artist who made oil paintings that are stylistically somewhere between Bob Ross and a psychedelic out-of-body experience. The imagery is full of astrological symbols, clowns, abstract human forms, and 'happy little clouds.' I used to get lost in these paintings, and my grandmother would make up stories about the figures within them.

Jessica continues, "I realize now, after being away for more than a decade, that growing up in Abingdon was about being close to the land where my family has lived for generations. I feel in some way I've ruptured this pattern by living far away, having spent several years in California, a stint in Australia, and now New York. In New York City they say the days are long but the years are short. I feel just the opposite about Abingdon when I visit. The days are short because time flies when I'm visiting friends and family, and the years are long because it's only the holidays that bring me home."

Of her work, Jessica says, "Collection, repetition and storytelling are at the heart of my visual practice and stem from a deep interest in combining techniques of art-making with social science research. I use my video camera as a documentation tool, then rework original or found footage into handmade and typically abstracted systems. I see video as a malleable medium, much like a textile, where the pixels can be manipulated and woven like threads into time-based patterns. I employ humor as a means to address cultural taboos and stereotypes associated with the rural American identity. In my work, I am questioning how film and television have impacted outsider perspectives of Appalachia versus how the people of this region view themselves."

Jessica lives in Brooklyn and works at Parsons The New School for Design in New York City, where she advises students in the Communication Design and Technology program. She also does set production and art direction for independent films.

A 2000 graduate of Abingdon High School, she attended Virginia Highlands Community College, then received her BA in Art History from the University of Virginia and her MFA in Conceptual Information Arts from San Francisco State University. She has been a Christine Tamblyn Women in New Media Fellow, a Headlands Center for the Arts Resident, and a Fulbright Postgraduate Scholar. Her work has been shown in New York, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Melbourne, Australia, and is in the permanent collections of Yale University and the University of Washington.

Brian Clinebell