The house Jean Foss grew up in was filled with color and design—Persian rugs on the floors, intricately patterned tiles in the bathrooms, paintings on the walls, the carved furniture dressed in embroidered table clothes, and woven runners, footstools with needlepoint designs, chairs adorned with colorful handmade pillars. Her parents both came from immigrant families – from Holland and Norway, and much of the design and color came from things that had been in the family for many years.
Everywhere Jean traveled with her family; her parents exposed her (and her two siblings) to art and architecture. Jean’s mother, herself an artist and scholar of art history, narrated the details of all that the family saw, often staying up late on the nights before giving a family tour, to read about and refresh her memory about the site. Throughout Jean’s upbringing, the Fosses took their children to many museums and art galleries in Europe and the United States. As a child, she was particularly taken by Russian folk paintings and by primitives of all kinds. Later, as an adult, she became fascinated with Latin American folk art, which contains similar elements.
In her artist bio, Jean writes, “Mexico is a country charged with color and sound, both in its natural world and its culture. From my first trip to Mexico, in 1997, I was drawn to the vibrancy and spirit of the people and to the colorful culture here.”
In 2001, she completed a B.S. in fine arts, at the University of Oregon, after which she started looking into MFA programs in Mexico, as an excuse to follow her dream of returning to Mexico, after falling in love with it on her first trip. Her advisor suggested that since she didn’t want to teach, it would make more sense to skip the MFA program and just to move to Mexico to paint. Jean asked many friends and acquaintances who were familiar with Mexico, where a good place to live and paint would be, and they unanimously recommended Oaxaca. She moved here in July of 2001.
Before studying art at U of O, Jean studied art and creative writing at the University of Iowa (in Iowa City). After moving to Oaxaca, she took a print-making class from el Maestro Shinshaburo Takeda (a professor at the School of Art at UABJO, The University of Benito Juarez, Oaxaca) at Bellas Artes, in Oaxaca.
From the start, she felt at home in this culture of strong ties to family, akin to the culture with which she grew up. In fact, Jean felt so at home upon moving here, that she said she “felt like she had been born in the wrong country.” She was also immediately taken with the layering of ancient and modern traditions in everyday life and the blending and clashing of pre-Columbian and post-conquistador elements of the culture. All of these things became the central themes of her work, which Jean refers to as “Stylized Realism.” She paints with acrylics, either on wood or on locally hand-made paper.
When asked to talk a little about her technique, she began by talking about her early experiences, here in Oaxaca. “As soon as I arrived, I began exploring the valley of Oaxaca on foot, walking or taking public transportation out to small towns and the surrounding foothills. While soaking up all the visual beauty and ambience of my new home, I began to find prehispanic art– mainly broken clay pots with designs carved into them– but also quite a few clay heads– animals, humans, deities. Oaxaca is such a magical place–and I wanted to try to incorporate some of that into my work.”
“I started off by painting some of the clay heads, but with modern bodies and personalities attached to them. From there, I went on to paint people in scenes from the villages I passed through, with very faceted — almost mask-like faces, influenced by painting the prehispanic heads. I’ve always used a wide pallet of bright colors–often associated with Latin American art– even before moving here and painting Mexico. I also have always liked to experiment with styles, all of which are grounded in strong black outlines. I like to paint from a mix of photos, my memories, and my imagination. My work varies from quite realistic to cartoon-like.
From 1997 to 2000, I worked with potter/painter, John Fleenor, painting pottery with a whole world of weird cartoons. Recently, a number of collectors of that work (sold as Beast Ware, by Flying Hippo Pottery), have suggested I do paintings in my old cartoon style. I’ve recently started playing around with something akin to cartooning again, in a series of work which is largely about gastronomical traditions here. I’ll include some of that new work in my up-coming show in June.”
In her artist statement, Jean writes, “Here in my adopted country, surrounded by color and light, I try to capture the vibrancy of the land and the vitality of its ancient culture, which bring me daily happiness.”
She describes herself as being a slow and meditative person, by nature, and, by the same token, not a fast painter “I’d say I’m a painstakingly slow perfectionist,” she elaborated. She says that she was therefore very happy to learn about Giclée prints (pronounced zhee-clay) a relatively new process for art reproduction, which allows her to offer beautiful and accurate reproductions of her work at accessible prices. Jean stressed that the quality of Giclée printers varies greatly, but that the small art press she uses (Sterling Graphics in Springfield, Oregon) makes extremely accurate archival-quality reproductions, almost indistinguishable from originals.
Jean says, “I hope, through my paintings, I can convey some of the beauty and flavor of Mexico to other parts of the world. I also hope that, locally, my work reflects the beauty in everyday life here, elements of which are often overlooked, as people strive to replace traditions with more modern conveniences or styles. I greatly appreciate all of the encouragement and feedback I have been given, both here in Oaxaca and in the U.S.”
Up until about a year ago, Jean was concentrating most of her shows in Oregon, but decided she would be better off trying to take advantage of being in a large tourist town, which directly relates to the theme of her work. She had a solo show at El Museo del Palacio (The Museum of the Palace of the Governor), from July to October of 2012, and will have another solo show in June, at Hotel CasAntica, in Oaxaca’s historic Center. She will also have another solo show in the fall, in a relatively new gallery in la Colonia Reforma of this city, called Atelier et Galérie D’Audiffred (owned by long-time Mexico City resident/artist Fernando Audiffred).
Jean’s studio is in the rural village of San Andres Huayapam, where she lives with her husband Chucho and daughter Xochitl. Chucho makes all of Jean’s frames and is an artist himself, specializing in paper mache sculptures and wood-cutting. Jean’s art can be seen on her website at http://www.jeanfoss.com.
For more information, or to arrange a studio visit, you can contact Jean Foss at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Facebook: Jean Foss’s Facebook page.
EXHIBITIONS AND PRESENTATIONS
William White Gallery, Eugene, Oregon (solo show)
Mayor’s Art Show (juried), Eugene, Oregon
Mayor’s Art Show, Springfield, Oregon
Opus 5, Eugene, Oregon (solo show)
Centro Latino Americano, Eugene, OR
Oregon Census Bureau, Eugene, Oregon
Island Park Art Gallery, Willamalane Recreational Center, Springfield, Oregon (invitational, with one other artist)
Espresso Roma, Eugene, Oregon (solo show)
Café Soriah, Eugene, Oregon (solo show)
Springfield Library Invitational, Springfield, Oregon
Emerald Art Center Art Gallery, Springfield, Oregon
Mills Gallery, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon (invitational)
Museo De Ferrocarril, Immigrant Day’s Invitational, Oaxaca
Las Truchas Gallery, Eureka California
Galeria de Design y Diseño, Oaxaca
Nueva Babel, Oaxaca (solo show)
Taller Rufino Tamayo, Oaxaca
Galeria La Zancada, Oaxaca
Hotel Camino Real, Oaxaca
Museo Del Palacio Oaxaca (solo show 2012, collective exhibit 2013)
Hotel Casantica, Av. Morelos, 601, Historic Center, Oaxaca (Solo show opening June 22nd, 2013)
Atelier et Galérie D’Audiffred Emilio Carranza #123 Col. Reforma, 68050 Oaxaca, Oaxaca
(Opening date not yet set, but planned for fall 2013)