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Into the Wild

The Art of Jessica Pisano

by Rebecca M. Alvin

Decades ago artists in Provincetown fiercely debated the merits of abstraction versus the tradition of representational art. You might say the abstract expressionists won, as their work now stands on equal footing with the traditional works that came before and after them. But actually, both sides won, and the artists colony is the better for it. But in those debates that initially divided artists into two camps, there was little discussion of the possibility of both approaches coexisting within one canvas. In the work of Martha’s Vineyard artist Jessica Pisano, this bilateral approach coalesces in vivid paintings that appeal to the viewer on multiple levels at once.

The Optimist (2017, oil on panel, 20×20”) Courtesy of Kobalt Gallery

“It pretty much stems from me having the desire to paint tight and also to paint loose,” Pisano explains. “I kind of equate it to exercise, like if you’re going to go for a really hard run, then I think it’s also nice to balance it out with some gentle yoga. When I work there’s two sides of me that need this balance, like I need to be expressive and loose and let things unfold, and then the other half of me needs to just get in there and get technical and very much focused.”

Likewise, as a viewer, our brain is stimulated in two distinct ways. On the one hand we recognize the beautifully rendered bird or tree in the foreground and appreciate the sense of movement and life given to it. At the same time, there is a less conscious, more emotional response to the color and texture of the background that combines with that initial recognition of the main subject to stop us in our tracks.

These arresting works, which will be on exhibition at Kobalt Gallery beginning this weekend, are focused on two main subjects: birds and trees. Pisano also paints seascapes, which are quite different, both from the work you’ll see here and from the traditional seascapes we’re all familiar with. If the subjects seem simple, it may be because we’ve all seen so many paintings of nature that attempt to recreate the natural world but in the process reduce it to just a pretty picture. Pisano brings the wildness to the fore, and while she does paint her subjects very faithfully, respecting every bend of a tree’s limbs for example, the work seeks a more complex reaction. There is that spiritual quality to the representation of nature, but also the very human emotions evoked by her expressive backgrounds.

Waiting in the Wings (2017, oil and silver leaf on panel, 48×60”) Courtesy of Kobalt Gallery

“I pretty much go in with a general idea of what I’m going to do and I let some intuitive action happen,” she explains, noting that she rarely sketches them out first. “I’ll come in with my subject matter after I do the background that’s very loose, and then I’ll choose the subject matter, a pose of the tree, or a particular bird that I feel would be compatible with the background that just created itself, so to speak.”

Her tree paintings are especially kinetic. These are mostly oaks and cedars that Pisano sees along the beaches and cliffs of the Vineyard, well worn by the sea spray and salty air. “They have these bends and twists and turns in them that I just always thought was really interesting aesthetically, but then also as an artist, I always feel that it gives me an extra technical challenge to get this movement of the trees technically painted,” Pisano says.

New to the gallery scene in Provincetown (this will be her first show at Kobalt), Pisano sees similarities between her home and this town, both parts of the New England coast that are fairly isolated and surrounded by water. Growing up on the Vineyard, however, Pisano says the isolation was not really a challenge, and in fact, it gave her and her young cohorts an experience of childhood that she now treasures.

“We were just so explorative,” she recalls fondly. “I mean we went into the woods for what seemed like days. And we would just hike or go to the beach, and parties weren’t at homes, they were out at the beach, so I mean we were just always outside, never really inside, and just exploring. And I think it’s really something that, unfortunately, not a lot of kids have these days.”

September Song II (2017, oil on panel, 14×22”) Courtesy of Kobalt Gallery

Those experiences certainly contributed to the work Pisano does today. How could they not? She agrees: “It was very influential and the Island does raise really creative, unique people, really creative kids.”

Nature’s Allure, an exhibition of Jessica Pisano’s work will be on view June 30 – July 6 at Kobalt Gallery, 366 Commercial St., Provincetown. An artist reception will be held Friday, June 30, 7 – 9 p.m. For more information call 508.487.1132 or visit

Paintings by Jessica Pisano, courtesy of Kobalt Gallery (top to bottom): The Optimist (2017, oil on panel, 20×20”); September Song II (2017, oil on panel, 14×22”); and Waiting in the Wings (2017, oil and silver leaf on panel, 48×60”).

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Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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