Skylar Jessen has things figured out.
A recent graduate of Billings Senior High, the graphic artist is the youngest person selected to be part of PechaKucha, an art happening in downtown Billings next Friday night following ArtWalk.
Jessen’s philosophy about life and art are reflected in one of his favorite pieces that states “Reality is wrong. Dreams are for real.” The graphic painting pairs organic images that suggest people’s arms and heads reaching toward a line of rigid skyscrapers draped across the top of the panel. The words are printed in the middle, separating the two extremes.
Since Jessen has spent a good portion of his young life manipulating art assignments to make them his own, the graphic reads like his autobiography. While others curse technology for restricting creativity, Jessen harnesses it to push the boundaries of art.
“I found a way I could manipulate my assignments to get a grade, but still be able to take it downtown to ArtWalk and sell it,” Jessen said.
Inspired by graffiti artists, Jessen said he embraces street art but many people misunderstand it.
“It’s more than people spray painting trains,” Jessen said. “It might be LED lights spelling out words on a wall.”
After studying with premier art teachers like Russell Walks at the Career Center and Carolyn Thayer and Karen Tanner at Senior High, Jessen heads to art school next month at Pacific Northwest College of Art. He was surprised to get the dean’s scholarship based on 15 images in his virtual portfolio and a couple of essays. One of the essays was written in response to the question, “If you could make art anywhere in the world, where would you go?”
Amazingly, Jessen chose Billings because he said he wants to surround himself with new ideas about art and bring them back to his hometown, eventually opening his own graphic design studio.
“Now that I’m older, I see there are things that Billings is lacking,” Jessen said. “I want to throw stuff out there. When I’m at the ArtWalk, people say ‘this is so fresh.’ I want to show people there is more than oil paintings of horses. Not that that’s not all right, we need those paintings, but we need new ideas, too.”
Jessen learned from his stepfather Rusty, a Billings tile contractor, how to problem-solve his way through a project. Jessen used his carpentry skills to build and hang his submission in the Montana Meth Paint the State art project and his desire for new ideas to shift the typically dark, death images of other anti-meth art into something fresher.
His piece, which is displayed on the side of the Log Cabin Bakery on Montana Avenue, shows a teenager in a mug shot photo with thought bubbles defining his remorse.
PechaKucha is a perfect fit for Jessen. At the May ArtWalk, he used a software program to morph signatures into multi-colored swirls that he projected onto a wall at del Alma Gallery. At PechaKucha, artists will project their work onto a brick wall on Montana Avenue.
When PechaKucha organizer Jeff Kanning went looking for a diverse pool of artists to launch this first event Aug. 6, various folks pointed to Jessen. David Overturf, owner of del Alma Gallery, said customers are drawn to Jessen’s work because it’s so unique.
“I just think he’s great,” Overturf said. “ It’s encouraging. The pop art that he makes people really like.”
ArtWalk organizer Sally McIntosh said Jessen is inventive and his interpretation of what art is is innovative.
“Skylar is quite an amazing student. I look forward to seeing his mixed-media images at the PechaKucha,” McIntosh said.
Kanning said he wanted the artists to have freedom showing their work, so he kept things simple.
“I put two rules on them: make sure it’s not political and keep it PG,” said Kanning.
What’s your 20?
Billings will host its first PechaKucha (peh-cha-koo-cha) the night of ArtWalk, Friday, Aug. 6. It starts at 8:20 p.m. (20:20 in military time) in the parking lot of Walkers Grill, 2711 Montana Ave. It is free and open to all.
PechaKucha was formed in 2003 in Tokyo, Japan, by two American architects as a way for young designers to meet, network and show their work in public. It has a turned into a massive celebration with similar events happening in hundreds of cities around the world. It draws its name from the Japanese term for the sound of “chit-chat” and relies on a presentation format where artists show 20 images each for 20 seconds. The short time forces artists to be concise.
This inaugural PechaKucha features 10 regional artists and designers. Architect and organizer Jeff Kanning, of Collaborative Design, will be one of the presenters. Others are Brooke Atherton, fiber artist; Troy and Coila Evans, furniture/painting; Travis Hunt, painting; Skylar Jessen, mixed media; Nic Jovanovich, painting/sculpture; Jon Lodge, printmaker; David Overturf, photographer; and Andrew Parent, metal sculpture.
Plans are to offer PechaKucha parties after every ArtWalk this season. The party will move inside, possibly to an empty warehouse, when the weather turns cold.