People

Jesse Gray

i. I work as an:
Artist-type person who sometimes works in/with jewellery.

ii. I do this creative work because:
Working through ideas with my hands keeps me (mostly) from falling into despair about the state of the environment and the political climate. Though there is an ecological/political impulse in my work, I don’t look to it to find answers or solutions, but instead to work through and build constellations of different ideas. Working with found materials lets me use the familiar as an entry point, so anybody can feel that they can participate in and engage with the works.   

iii. Personal qualities that help me in my work are:
I think I have an overenthusiastic ‘seeking’ system, the neurological drive that rewards us not for finding, but for the search itself. It’s the emotional system responsible for foraging, curiosity, and expectation. For me this manifests in obsessive collecting, sorting, organizing and archiving, and a creative process that is often labour-intensive and monotonous.

Early on I tried to harness this drive and use materials in my practice that already existed in the world as waste – collecting broken glass off the sidewalk from car and store break-ins, pulling old electronics out of alleys and dumpsters, then spending months cutting all their inside bits out.

Currently, I collect plastics from local beaches to cast in bronze. I try and use this tendency towards the obsessive to challenge systems of material overproduction and global distribution. 

iv. The greatest challenges around doing this work are:
The hustle. I’m not a natural self-promoter or a business person, and especially with jewellery, I’m always trying to balance the valuing of my work (earning a living) with my desire to not make it exclusive or financially unobtainable for people who want to experience it. There’s also the tricky bit of making jewellery that critiques systems of value and preciousness while also participating in that system.

I’m also experimenting with sliding-scale pricing right now, and I am always open to trades.

v. Creative childhood hobbies:
I loved making art but put it aside for a long time because I wasn’t ‘good’ at drawing – when I was young that seemed like the only criteria for being an artist. It wasn’t until I studied at SFU’s School for Contemporary Art that I discovered a world of art that concentrated on ideas.

I teach classes in elementary schools that focus on process, critical thinking, and experimentation – trying to bring kids back to the joy of creative work without worrying overly much about the final product.

vi. Other creators who inspire you:
Modernist studio jewellers Betty Cooke, Margaret DePatta, Art Smith, and Pentti Sarpaneva are some of the inspirations for my current project. Agnes Denes’ art has been a big influence on my work, and I’ve had generous mentors in local artists Marina Roy and Jin-me Yoon. 

vii. Training that has helped me in this career:
I have a MFA in Studio Art from UBC- it gave me the time and resources to work on my practice full-time and really develop my sensibilities as an artist. After graduating, I realized that I had been to nearly 8 years of art school and still had an extremely limited practical skill set, so after graduating I did a 2 year training program in metalwork and jewellery from Vancouver Community College.

viii. A common trap that can hurt people in this career:
I’d say being an anti-capitalist trying to make a living selling commodities is a pretty big obstacle, but I don’t see any way forward other than through it. 

ix. Some proud career moments: 
A friend was playing a show wearing one of my Plastic Brutalism (bronze-cast beach plastic) necklaces and two women in the audience next to me were talking about how much they loved it and wondering what it was and what it was made of. That they were drawn to it aesthetically and then became curious about its materials and origins is pretty much exactly what I’m going for in all my work.

x. If you want to work in my field, I suggest that you:
Cultivate a community that will both support you and critique you, as needed.

xi. A professional goal I have for the future:
I’d like to find a retailer to carry some of my Plastic Brutalism works – every piece is unique and it’s a pretty specific aesthetic so I’m still looking for the right fit. I have tons of ideas, and there is unfortunately no shortage of raw materials, so I’d love to be able to continue producing this series for as long as it’s financially sustainable.

xii. If you want to see my work, go to: 

www.instagram.com/graymetal

www.jessegray.ca

https://mersociety.org/auction

Online auction benefitting the Marine Education and Research Society -a wonderful organization doing important work on our coast- will have a few of my works in it.

www.creatorsvancouver.com

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