Jessica Rohrer’s meticulous, stylized portraits of her home’s interiors have the visual lure of advertising, but they’re not selling anything, merely asking you to look. Though these are intimate spaces, the objects and scenes in Rohrer’s paintings are also interesting for what they can’t reveal about her life and experiences.
Jessica Rohrer lives and works in New Jersey. She has had four solo shows in New York City, most recently Oakridge Road at PPOW Gallery, and participated in numerous group shows. Jessica received her MFA from the Yale School of Art. All images © copyright the artist, all rights reserved.
Where are we? Your house?
These are based on rooms and areas in my house, but many are altered or manipulated in some way. I started this series by painting some of the windows. A lot of my past work has involved windows and reflections—I like the way they divide and break up the space. After painting a few of the windows my focus slowly shifted to include other areas, most recently focusing on products found in cabinets—whose labels in a way feel again like windows, sometimes even showing small landscapes.
Are these works personal? Is painting your stuff a kind of portrait of yourself?
I think these are very personal, but I wanted them to be more than a portrait of myself. I wanted them to feel familiar to a viewer and, in a way, like they could belong to anyone. There are clues to my own personal life in these, in some more than others. But even scenes that are more specific to my home, such as the painting of my dining room, I tried to use a format taken from design magazines that would be familiar. Also taking this format adds to the staged aspect. In this way I think they lay somewhere between the individual and broader issues of identity.
What do you think about the relationship between people and their living spaces or personal objects? What defines personal space for you?
I think the products and objects we have in our living spaces, and how they are arranged, are very important to us and at the same time very superficial. Collectively the products and objects define aspects of us, but each individual object varies in importance. They can be reminders of people and places that our important in our lives. They can also be necessities.
For me a personal space can be a mindset. Sometimes it is just someplace where I can be alone with my thoughts. In many ways my personal space is my studio. It is a place that is solely mine where I can think and reflect and work.
I love the intimacy of these views. Could you make similar paintings of other familiar places, or even public spaces?
In the past I painted the facades of buildings along my street in Brooklyn. I felt that through these I was hoping to raise questions about the individual and identity but within the context of a neighborhood. I like the home though; there is an inherent intimacy. I like this warmth of subject matter (also emphasized by the smaller size of the paintings) contrasted with a cool almost mechanical technique.
While this imagery is really familiar, there is a staged, meticulous quality to the paintings. How do you decide which views or settings to paint?
I wanted to present all the areas of the home, from kitchen to bedroom to bathroom. I thought about being a voyeur in my own space, peering into medicine cabinets, dresser drawers, closets, and kitchen cabinets. That voyeurism is something I wanted to examine completely, and it led me directly to the subjects I chose to depict. I also thought a lot about how these paintings would relate to one another and expose complementary details of the home.
Why don’t they seem real?
I think the sterilized quality makes them unreal. They are sanitized in a way that makes this space appear to be unlived in, and a staged emptiness that pervades each piece.