So let me paint you a picture...
The paint doesn’t come from one of those expensive, exclusive art supply stores. It comes from Lowe’s Home Improvement. Store #0780 in Homestead.
“I’m here almost every day, honestly,” artist Jesse Best says, grabbing a sample of Valspar's Gold Seal from the shelves. “You save 60 percent buying house paint. It’s basically the same thing as acrylic but it’s an artist hack I’ve applied.”
When he gets back to his studio/gallery on E. Seventh Avenue a few blocks away, he opens a brown FedEx box that arrived from somewhere in Florida. Inside are two gallons of Ultra Clear resin. Super high gloss. Not tacky or gummy. It’ll finish hard. Really hard; sealing a painting for decades, actually. A two-part epoxy he empties into a plastic bucket and begins mixing with a dart-like contraption that attaches to a drill, instead of hand mixing it like he did for years. “This stupid thing changed my life,” he says over the hum.
After a few minutes, he crouches over The Clarity of May, a 48x32 acrylic on wood propped up by two black, plastic United Dairy milk crates, and begins pouring the resin over it. Thick, gooey, colorless pudding he’ll spread around with his favorite brush that he paid like, three bucks for — also from Lowes — and then blast with a yellow Wagner heat gun to dissipate any air bubbles. “If I go thick the first time it saves me the trouble of going over a second time,” he says, scanning the resin for rogue paintbrush bristles he plucks out with an Xacto blade. “This shit gets expensive.”
The B.A. in Cinema and Fine Arts came courtesy of Edinboro University in 2004. Paved the way for gigs in film animation and script supervision on movie sets filmed in Pittsburgh. Great jobs, he’ll say. Rewarding, but brutal as hell. Six straight months of work and then … nothing. “Having a daughter, it just wasn’t consistent enough,” says the single dad. “So, at 26, I made the horrible decision to go full time art and sacrifice all that money. But, creatively it was better.”
For the next few years, he worked out of his Dawson Street studio in South Oakland, bartending full time to support painting full time. He never really planned on opening a gallery, just a bigger, working studio. “Lawrenceville blew up so quick that it became way too expensive for artists,” he says. So, he kept an eye on Homestead. Six years later, he stumbled upon 2,000 square feet at 216 E. Seventh Avenue. Soon after, he created his company, and in November 2017, christened the Jesse Best Gallery.
Whenever he walks into that dream come true, it’s hard to get him out again. Working on glossy originals and commissions that live harmoniously with Veva’s artwork propped against the window and partially chewed rawhides belonging to his boxer, Piper, under the table. “I’ve kinda been a Pittsburgh hermit. I just want to be in the studio painting. I try not to participate too heavily in the art world. Because it’s so much more about the scene and speculation. I think people take that stuff way too far.”
Everything he does is in large part a protest of everything about art that alienates people who don’t understand it. “The things that I run into in New York are just absurd; the way people value and evaluate art and what it means to be an artist. For many of the people I know that are artists, it’s so much more about creating the persona of an artist instead of just painting. I’m such an old man when it comes to that.”
He prefers wood surfaces to canvas and the way its texture plays with the acrylics. Laughs over the fact that he’s colorblind. Isn’t afraid to break taboo and paint with black even though classic painters refuse to, believing that even the darkest tones are not truly black. And he’s adamant about sharing his space with as many other artists as he can, showcasing their work on a rotating basis.
Most of his paintings, sculptures and furniture deal with the universe and God. Microscale vs. macroscale. Figuring out what all this means. Asking bigger questions. “I turned 40 this summer and had always painted darker paintings and then I made this whole series of white paintings and it was a chapter turn for me.”
These days, he’s more into minimalism. Building multiple surfaces and color combinations. Keeping what he finds interesting. Whiting away his paintings almost therapeutically until eventually, the less it has the more powerful it becomes. “It’s almost like a math equation that begins to make sense.”
And yeah, he booked a December 2018 solo show at Galerie Michael Schultz - one of Berlin’s biggest - and maintains a presence in New York and Tokyo, but really, there's no place else he'd rather be.
“I think for me, success is just getting to the point where I don’t have to worry about anything. I can just paint every day and be completely financially secure and my daughter can do whatever she needs to do,” he says. “We’re getting there.”