Jeanne Bessette: Painter
Painting an Internal Landscape
Jeanne Bessette’s art career began at a young age. When she was four, her grandmother gave her an art kit, “You know,” Bessette says, “the kind that has all the papers and markers with the scissors that have safe round edges? I was hooked.” She was so talented as a young child that people didn’t believe the art she produced was actually her own. She recalls a first grade project where she had to draw a lamb under a tree. “I worked on it all weekend and brought it into school. The teacher gave me an F…because she thought my mother did it.” The same thing happened again in the third grade when the students were asked to create a self-portrait. “The teacher would not hang [my portrait] up with the rest of the stuff.” Although these experiences pushed her away from art, they never pushed her far.
Bessette went to a community college after high school to study fine art. Her professors applauded her art skills and told her she had what it took to be an artist. But she had been told countless times by others close to her that being an artist isn’t a way to make a living, so she switched her focus to photography. She became a very successful photographer in Rhode Island and Massachusetts for thirteen years, “but there was a burning that was missing,” Bessette says. So she left the Northeast and moved to Florida, leaving the art world behind her. Over seven years later, she found herself working with a shaman who asked her what she was doing with her life. This caught her off guard. After all, at that point, she was keeping busy “rehabbing houses and making money because I thought that’s what was important.” The shaman, though, saw through her and said, “No. You’re an artist,” and encouraged her to pick up a paintbrush again. It took six months and a lot of tears, but she says when she finally started painting again, “It was like going home.” Since then, she left Florida after “becoming a big frog in a small pond” and moved to Raleigh in 2006. In the last several years, she has earned national recognition for her paintings.
A lot of Bessette’s time is spent in her studio behind her home. She arrives between 8 A.M. and 10 A.M. and works until somewhere between 5 P.M. and 7 P.M. every day. Multicolored paint splotches dot the wood floors; paint containers, brushes, and works in progress rest on two tables in the middle of the room. The space is lined with finished pieces either hung up or stacked along the walls. She listens to music as she is creating. “I have no idea who I’m listening to most of the time…If I’m working toward something, I need music that is unrecognizable and [emotionally] moving, so I can stay neutral.” She has created a room of accomplishments, contemplation, and inspiration.
Primarily, Bessette paints with acrylics because they dry quickly, and she admits she’s “very impatient and spontaneous.” She produces work almost daily. “The pieces tell me when they’re done. They jump into the pile,” Bessette says. “I always wait until the next day when I feel this way about a painting. The next day is crucial. I have to walk away from it and revisit before knowing for sure.” Several of her paintings portray her own internal landscape, which gives her work a lot of variety and depth. “Most of my paintings are a response to how I feel about a particular day or something I’m going through during a particular time in my life,” Bessette says.
Many of Bessette’s paintings have human figures; however, Bessette says, “I don’t paint figures. I paint human nature…I’m responding to the canvas and the textures and shapes. People show up in my paintings, but they’re not paintings of people. They’re paintings of the essence of us.”
“Woke Up Full of Awesome,” is Bessette’s signature piece. It started from a post on Facebook from a friend whose young daughter dressed herself in goofy clothes and didn’t care what anyone thought. She just woke up full of awesome. From that, Bessette created a colorful, whimsical scene with a human figure with arms stretched up in the air. It became her bestselling print. More serious paintings are enveloped in darker colors with human figures looking like shadows against a backdrop.
Ladders and spirals appear in many of Bessette’s paintings. “I didn’t know I was doing this,” Bessette says, “but then I realized that the ladders were about ascension. Not ascension in a religious way, but ascension as in aspiring for a higher self—moving through and getting to that higher place of existence.”
While each piece may not have a detailed story attached to it, “every single one of my paintings has something to say,” says Bessette. “It’s a Karmic journey. It’s all my spirituality.” That essence is present in every painting through a strong quality of light that exists in each piece. It’s unmistakable and impossible to describe, but it pulls viewers into each one of her paintings and takes them into a place where they can experience Bessette’s journey and their own. “Painting offers a spirit and a tactile experience that the world responds to,” Bessette says.
Bessette is inspired by the “tenacious attitude of the human spirit to grow.” She has also become aware that if it wasn’t for her grandmother urging her to harness her natural ability as an artist as a young child, she may not be where she is today. All of her hard work has also taught her many life lessons. “Painting has taught me to focus…to live in the now. I’m just learning that what I’m learning in the process of painting can be applied to the rest of my life.”
She affirms that “anyone can do what I’m doing.” So she mentors interested artists to help them get where they want to be in their careers. “Art is important. It’s healing. There’s nothing in our lives that doesn’t include art.”
Currently, Bessette has a dozen galleries across the country that show her work. Her newest addition is a gallery in Santa Fe, which has become her bestselling gallery. She also has galleries in Atlanta, Georgia; New Hope, Pennsylvania; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Spring Hill, Michigan; Essex, Massachusetts; Toronto, Ontario; and Indian Hills, Colorado. In North Carolina, she is featured at ArtEtude in Ashville, Broadhurst Gallery in Pinehurst, and ArtSource Gallery in Raleigh. Her paintings range in price from $1800 for a 20” x 20” painting to $7900 for a 72” x 72” painting.
“Painting is teaching me how to become a better person,” Bessette says. “The world isn’t black and white; it’s filled with color.”
*Also published in the Triangle Downtowner Magazine: Dec. 2012