Jeff Hesser: Presence and absence in sculpture and digital art

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Friday, February 5th, 2016

Although Jeff Hesser moves fluidly from traditional media, primarily sculpture, to digital media, the  Rhode Island artist told PCA&D students during today’s artist talk that he has continued exploring the same theme throughout his career: the concept of simultaneous absence and presence. This theme relates as well to his early sculptures depicting sleepwalkers as it does to his current work with virtual reality.

In addition, as an artist Jeff Hesser is interested in the viewer’s experience and wants to move the viewer from passive viewer to active participant. Jeff’s exhibit currently at PCA&D “Memory: Traditional and Digital Work” uses anatomy, which Jeff believes is itself an abstract form with an internal hard structure layered with soft surface forms, to present the idea of finding and losing a memory. He uses multiple castings, each a bit different, and sometimes broken and repairs, to illustrate recalling a sometimes fragmented memory.

While he admits his own memory is a seed from which his pieces grow, he is not concerned with sharing his memory with the viewer. Rather he invites the viewer to actively consider their own memories and create their own narratives while viewing the work.

During the first segment of his career as an artist, Jeff used traditional sculpting methods, plying the material into the narrative he envisioned. A fellow faculty member at RISD encouraged him to try a Z-Brush, a digital tool. Once past the barrier of learning how to use the Z-Brush, Jeff realized, “I felt I was watching the inside of my brain – watching my thoughts evolve in my brain without fighting the material.”

He became immersed in digital art, and approached friends at Harmonix to work alongside of them to learn digital art by doing. While there he spent three years working as the Lead Environment Artist on Disney’s Fantasia: Music Evolved,

Jeff is a founding member of Secret Portal, a collection of artists, designers, coders and musicians that has created two virtual reality installations for events at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, including Between Lands, a cooperative room-scale experience in which one person wearing Virtual Reality (VR) headset works with another not using VR to navigate a course and illuminate physical sculptures in the exhibit.

During his artist talk, Jeff shared slides and videos from his work on Between Lands, sharing how the base is built by layering shapes that would enhance the user experience. He spoke how his work with Virtual Reality was truly a continuation of his recurring theme of presence and absence.

He had advice for PCA&D students:

  • On critiquing: Art is about experiences. To Jeff, art is more about experiences than ideas. When asking people to critique work, ask them to describe their experience. How do they feel in the presence of the art?
  • On play testing: Jeff said virtual reality has taught him a lot about allowing people to see his work early in the process. Previously, he would wait until a piece was “ready” before allowing critique. However, at Harmonix, every stage was play tested to gauge the users’ reactions. He has since taken this on as a needed process in his art. He encouraged students to do the same.

As part of new incorporation of “Play Testing”  his own art, the exhibit at PCA&D includes a digital work in process “Newborn.” He invited students viewing his work to send him their thought s and share with him what they experienced while viewing this piece.

Following the artist talk, Jeff critiqued student work in “Media & Manipulation” class and “Sculpture: Observation & Interpretation” Foundation class.

Jeff will be attending the First Friday Lancaster Reception at PCA&D, from 6 – 8 p.m. this evening.

PCA&D’s Main Gallery bring works by nationally and internationally recognized artists to Lancaster. PCA&D, in Lancaster Pennsylvania, is located less than two hours from Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, DC, and three hours from New York City, making a visit to the gallery possible during a day-trip. The public is invited to attend Artist Talks and Gallery wxhibits and receptions.

Current and Upcoming Gallery Exhibitions, Spring Semester 2016

JEFF HESSER, Drawing, Sculpture, Digital Models and Interactive Environments, February 5 – March 18, 2016, First Friday Reception: February 5

The MOUNTAIN and the BUMBLEBEE, Contemporary artists and poets confronting broadly defined notions of landscape as both cultural icon and raw material, March 25 – April 22, 2016, First Friday Reception: April 7. Curator Talk by Chris McGinnis March 25, 10:00 a.m.

SENIOR SHOW & CELEBRATION, May 6 from 5 – 8 pm, Show continues in the Main Gallery through May 28

Other upcoming artist talks

Rob Evans, February 16, 10:00 a.m., http://www.robevansart.net/, is an artist and independent curator

Ethan Morrow, March 22, 10:00 a.m., www.bigpaperairplane.com, drawings, video and sculpture

Christian Patterson, April 5, 2 p.m., http://www.t.christianpatterson.com/#1, photographer