Today’s Window View by artist Danielle De Jesus is a rare mural by Alexander Calder and the clean lines of architecture by Marcel Breuer. It’s an idyllic, if temporary, setup for the artist, who usually works in a crowded space in Ridgewood, Queens. This summer, the recent Yale University MFA graduate is the first resident of the Beecher Residence, located in Breuer’s historic Stillman House in Litchfield, Connecticut.
De Jesus is used to drawing inspiration from his surroundings. The main source of his rich portraits comes from his native neighborhood of Bushwick, Brooklyn. Her photographs and paintings—sometimes done on dollar bills and tablecloths—trace the individual stories of displaced Bushwick residents and members of the Puerto Rican diaspora to crystallize larger truths about gentrification, migration, and how place informs who we are becoming.
De Jesus’ work is currently on display as part of the MoMA PS1 exhibition “Life Between Buildings” (until January 16, 2023). This fall, she will be included in the major exhibition of Puerto Rican art opening at the Whitney Museum and will be the subject of a solo exhibition at François Ghebaly in Los Angeles.
The Stillman House, where De Jesus currently spends his days, was commissioned by art collectors Rufus and Leslie Stillman in 1950. It has since been taken over by John Auerbach, the CEO of art storage company UOVO, and Ed Tang, a founder. of art consultancy Art-Bureau, which began the residency this year.
We spoke to De Jesus about residency life, how she stays inspired, and why dogs are essential studio assistants.
Send us a photo of the most essential item in your studio and tell us why you can’t live without it.
The most indispensable object in my studio is my dog. It’s my favorite thing in the whole world and it keeps me company. When I’m in my studio full time, it’s still my dog, but also a handmade Puerto Rican flag.
What is the studio task on your calendar this week that you are most looking forward to?
Completing a self-portrait I started here during my stay at the Beecher Residence. I didn’t do many self-portraits; in fact, it’s only the second I’ve done, but I’m particularly proud of it.
What atmosphere do you prefer when you work? Do you listen to music or podcasts, or do you prefer silence? Why?
In fact, I like to paint with people around. I love the sounds of the city through my window, and having friends over while I paint is never a distraction. I know it’s not very common with many artists, but I find myself concentrating on what I’m doing when someone is talking to me because my mind isn’t free to wander elsewhere. I guess that’s why I really enjoy podcasts if I’m alone in the studio. It makes me feel less alone while giving me someone to listen to. Specifically, I like a podcast called “things you need to know, as well as youthe “Week of Art.”
Who are your favorite artists, curators or other thinkers to follow on social media right now?
There are so many, but I have to say that some of my favorite artists, curators and thinkers of the moment are Wayde Mcintosh, Jordan Casteel, Elmer Guevara, Aaron Gilbert, Francesca von Rabenau, Ebony Haynes, Marcela Guerrero, Jody Graf, Jasmine Wahi , Blaize Lehane and Nicole Calderon. These people have all inspired me in their own way through the work they do, whether in galleries, on canvas, or in institutions that facilitate the change we need to see.
Is there a photo you can send of your current work in progress to the studio?
When you feel stuck while preparing for a show, what do you do to get out of it?
If I ever get stuck, I walk around my neighborhood. New York, and more specifically Bushwick, where I was born and where I grew up, are my muses. They are the driving force behind what I do, so seeing them, hearing them, feeling them around me motivates me to keep pushing my work forward. Our story deserves to be told and to hold a place in future historical conversations.
What trait do you most admire in a work of art? What trait do you despise the most?
One trait that I admire most in a work is the way a story is told. I like a painting that says something without saying a word. A painting that teaches me something. I don’t know if I despise certain traits of an artwork, or maybe I’ll keep this answer to myself so as not to offend anyone!
What images or objects do you look at while you work? Share your view from behind the canvas or your desk, where you spend the most time.
I look at pictures from home. My paintings are based on images or, as Barkley Hendricks once described them, “photographic sketches” that I made over decades in New York. I’m still an image maker, like I do photography, but there are photographs I make with the intention of being a photograph and there are images I make with the intention of transforming them in painting. It all depends on how I feel about the image and the subject.
What is the last exhibition you saw that marked you and why?
“Faith Ringgold: American People” at the New Museum. Her ability to tell a story and express her experiences as a black woman in America was incredibly inspiring. The work was beautiful, but it was also nice to get a glimpse of his thoughts and process through the work.
What made you choose this studio over others?
Well, I currently work in a studio provided to me by the Beecher Residency in Litchfield, Connecticut. I’m here for six weeks and the studio is conveniently located right next to a beautiful pool at the historic Stillman House which makes for great swimming and painting!
Describe space in three adjectives.
Beautiful, calm, tranquil.
How does the studio environment influence your way of working?
I don’t know if the studio environment influences the way I work or if it rather reflects where I am in my work. Whether I’m fully invested in a painting or hyper-focused on a group of paintings, my studio usually feels like a storm has passed through it. But if I’m in a more relaxed mode, I take the time to reset and clean it. It allows me to start from scratch before throwing tubes of paint and oil-smeared rags and paper on the floor. This happens about once a month. One time it was so bad that I had a studio visit and the visitor thought it was part of my job. It was fun.
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