380 Paintings In All
With the expansive popularity of Marie Kondo and her KonMari methods for tidying up thousands of people worldwide are getting inspired to live more simply clearing out their clutter and simplifying their lives and spaces. Artists — even those who love art materials as many of us do — are finding the idea of downsizing and simplifying equally appealing. One artist took the impetus to live more simply to incredibly creative, as she embarked on an art project that was two-fold: downsize the “stuff” in her life and then documenting her new clutter-free status by painting her possessions.
“The idea for this creative project began with a question: What would it look like to see all of my possessions at one time?” says Jaye Schlesinger of her 380-painting installation. “The impetus for the question was my growing “interest in downsizing and living more simply. I wanted to create something more conceptual instead of continuing to paint objects in the traditional still life manner.” Thus began the painting project that when assembled forms the artist’s extraordinary installation: “Possessed: A Documentation in Painting of All of My Possessions.”
Mindfulness and Minimalism
Over a two-year period, Schlesinger and her husband moved several times before finding their present home so many of their belongings remained packed in storage over the duration. With this project in mind prior to packing she photographed every item she owned.
Grooming by Jaye Schlesinger, oil on board, 6×12.
From the project’s inception, an integral part of the process was to declutter. Schlesinger went through all of her possessions one by one choosing either to keep or discard them. “I was thinking about simplifying my life,” she says, “and mindfulness and minimalism seemed to resonate with me. I wanted to feel more peaceful. The experience was difficult at times, but overall, very enlightening. In contemplating each item, I used two criteria: First, is it functional—something that I really need and second is it something that I find beautiful interesting or meaningful? It got complicated, because particular things had sentimental value. I had a ‘maybe’ box for objects about which I was undecided, but after a year of not needing anything in it, I discarded all of its contents. I had to be ruthless to accomplish my goals, but I was determined. While I wouldn’t say my home today looks minimalist, I would describe it as having a more curated look—and it’s wonderfully uncluttered.”
The Art Book by Jaye Schlesinger, oil on board, 5×7.
Beyond the Basics
Because she was painting during the period in which she was moving from house to house it was necessary for Schlesinger to work largely from photographs and to keep her workspace to a minimum. “I set up a small work area wherever we lived,” she says. “Since I work flat, it was just a table and two spotlights—one on my work, the other on my palette. I’d work on as many as five paintings at once.”
Schlesinger prepared birch panels some flat and others cradled with coats of gesso or an imprimatura, and on occasion, she’d work directly on the birch surface as in Corner Vice. To lend variety she painted the edges of the boards to match the background or in a contrasting colour or she simply left them alone.
“The most exciting part of the project was experimenting with different methods and styles,” Schlesinger says. “I wanted to delve into the idea of how many different ways I could paint an object and background taking objects and removing them from their normal context so they became more like symbols or metaphors. I think that something without a well-defined background or tabletop is more isolated and becomes something very different.” With an educational background in painting and medical illustration and 15 years spent freelancing in the illustration field Schlesinger is adept at rendering and employing methods that facilitate her process.
Painting Mediums by Jaye Schlesinger, oil on board, 5×7
“I often implemented a technique used in medical illustration to transfer images to my panels,” she says. “First, I gessoed the panel and then I printed out the photo. With transfer paper placed beneath it. I traced the major outlines transferring them to the panel. Occasionally when a subject was very detailed or complicated, as in Thread or Gouache, I first changed the photo into an outline. Then I ran a piece of canvas paper through the printer inking the outlines onto the canvas paper. I then glued the paper to the board which lent more of a canvas look to the panel. It’s basically the same thing as using transfer paper but it’s really quick because I wasn’t drawing all of those lines meticulously by hand. I know that some people might consider it ‘cheating,’ but this saved a lot of time resulted in precision and allowed me to get to the painting—the fun part—much sooner.”
A Balancing Act
The works in Schlesinger’s extensive series collectively seek a balance between a painterly approach and that of realistic precision. For example gouache eloquently integrates these two opposing characteristics into one unified visual statement.
Corner Vice by Jaye Schlesinger, oil on board, 8×8.
“I wanted there to be a level of precision because I like detail but I also was interested in being suggestive,” Schlesinger says. “For paintings that featured multiple objects in them, I had to be really loose. I couldn’t fit all of the words on the paint tubes or delineate all of the sinuous lines on the spools in Thread. I was concerned primarily with what was the least amount of information I needed to get my point across.
“Also I liked the idea of presenting an image as it was found,” the artist says. “When I was taking the photographs I tried to leave objects the way I found them. I didn’t want to be overly picky about setting them up. Plus I found it pleasing to look down on my subject from a bird’s-eye view. It’s a fun perspective to paint and seems more meditative in a way because it’s more abstract and becomes a wonderful sea of colour and shapes.”
In other compositions, such as Grooming the artist enjoyed the task of positioning the implements so that their forms interrelated and created interesting negative spaces. “This is almost in the tradition of trompe l’oeil,” Schlesinger says, “in which you can make flat objects look very dimensional. My professor and mentor in medical illustration, Gerald Hodge, was a master at that.