Jessica Dessner is a student of the world and modern day jack of all trades. The Brooklynite has spent much of her life devoted to learning about the world and herself. She expresses the many parts of her through the use of three mediums; dance, drawings, and poetry. As her wealth of knowledge builds, so does the amazing content she produces. We were allowed to peek deeper into her mind for this interview.
When did you start to get into the arts?
I grew up dancing from a very young age and I was in a professional ballet program. I continued up until college when I came to New York City to go to Barnard, as a dance major. I danced professionally here until I was thirty-four. I took a break and then went back to school where I got a Masters in creative writing and poetry with a focus on poetry. I found out I could draw in 2008, I just felt like drawing something and discovered I could do this hyper-realistic type of drawings even though I never had any training.
How do you keep yourself from burning out creatively?
I do mix it up a lot, I do choreography. I’ve done a lot of dance projects after taking a hiatus from it. I have been doing all this artwork and writing is on the backburner at the moment, but it is always there. I will probably do writing much more in my old age when I can’t dance anymore. My primary work right now is drawing and dancing. I’ve been an artist my whole life.
Why do you use color pencils as your medium?
It was on a whim. Actually the real story was a friend of mine gave me a drawing he had done in colored pencil and it was a drawing of these mockingbirds. I had it on the wall and was looking at it. I realized the bird in the drawing did not have the right number of toes, it had three instead of four. My first impulse was that I wanted to draw birds. I went to the store and bought the most expensive and complete set of color pencils which I still use to this day. I needed to have all the colors and they had 120 colors in that set. I do experiment with other materials but I always come back to them. I love them because I can be very precise with them.
Where do you draw your inspiration for your drawings?
I have collected many projects over the years which have influenced my drawing, working as an art album. For years I have had a crappy point and shoot camera that I take everywhere I go. Even before I started drawing, I would have a stash of my favorite photos that I had taken over the years, later on I decided I wanted to draw those images.
What are your favorite things to draw?
I am a huge fan of landscapes and still life.
Do your drawings influence your poetry?
I would definitely say there is a correlation. There is a sort of stillness and quietness to everything I have drawn so far. My poetry tends to be contemplative. They are coming from the same place, I don’t do it consciously.
Is there anything specific that inspires your poetry?
I write the most when I am reading other people’s works. I am really inspired by other writers. I’m very much like a magpie, I copy lines from all over the place all the time. I draw from everything. I’ll just jot down little specific conversations I have heard. It’s coming from everywhere. My poetry is a collage of all the language I’m picking up throughout my life.
Do you have any projects you are currently working on in regards to your writing?
I’m trying to be a little more structured. I have been writing a long term poem loosely based on this book of essays.
As a dancer, do you prefer choreography or being a performer?
It’s funny. As I have gotten older, my body has definitely changed. It is more and more difficult to trust myself specifically in performance situations. I have been involved in projects but not to the same extent as when I was younger. Most of the professional work I did was modern dance. It is hard to let go of being on stage, I really do prefer choreography at this point. I do intend to perform again. I’m actually pregnant right now. After I come out the other end of this, there is a whole new set of new physical information to contend with. There is a part of me that will always absolutely adore performing. My truest nature is to be a performer. It is wonderful to still be able to access it through choreography.
Do you find that by connecting all three mediums you are able to fully express your creativity?
Definitely! It is startling to me that I trusted writing at such a late age then finding out about drawing. I can’t imagine not having access to any of these forms now. Someone told me there’s this idea in Kabbalah that “life doesn’t begin until you are forty”. It really resonated to me. I feel more sound and equipped to say and do what I need to do now because I have these three mediums available to me. I have no doubts…I mean of course I have doubts,but none that I can’t work through.
Which medium do you find is the hardest to harness?
At this point, I would have to say dance, even though I feel like there is so much movement in me and I still have desires to keep on dancing. It is difficult because I am always suffering from some type of injury at this point. On the practical level, that is the greatest impediment to being able to do what I want to do and then, you also rely on other people. On the other hand, writing and drawing are so self-sufficient. To make dances,it’s the whole infrastructure: you have to rent a space, get the people and so on…That’s part of the reason I got out of it, I was really burnt out, the resources were so limited.
Any advice for young artists?
As long as you do your work, the energy from that work has to go somewhere.From my dancing background it was the discipline of showing up every day at the studio to work on your body, something which was drilled into me at a very young age. It might not happen in this lifetime but the most important thing is to do your work.
What are your future plans?
I have a dance project I have been working on for a while now, and after I have the baby I will get back to it. I want to make four solo dances for three dance friends who are very dear to me, and one for myself. I have commissioned three composers who are also close friends and family to write the music for these four solos. I will be working on drawings that correlate with each of the dances, two for each dance. This is a project I dream to make the most, they are all talented and amazing artists. I have so many drawings I want to do also… I would be really excited about getting into a gallery and having a home for my drawings.