Jesse Small

Small grew up in Los Angeles, California.  He spent a lot of time in his Grandfather’s architecture office, drawing.  In High School he participated in student government, California Boys State, Kids City, Student Conservation Association, and a variety of environmental projects.  An active graffiti artist, Small focused on murals and black and white photography.  At 17 he went to earn a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute.

Finishing a dual major in Sculpture and Ceramics, Small maintained a studio in Kansas City for 5 years and had several exhibitions, curated shows, created public art, and struggled to survive.  In 2005 Small earned an MFA from Alfred University, and began a 6-month residency program in Jingdezhen, China.  This trip extended to a 5-month residency in Shenzhen as well.

In 2008 Small returned to China, working in Jingdezhen and Shenzhen.  Exhibiting ceramic and metal sculptures in Chong Qing, Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Jingdezhen and Shenzhen, all made in China.  Small recently completed a three-month work period in Jingdezhen for his solo exhibit “Heavy Toys.”  Being in China, learning language and a new set of cultural norms has been a massive inspiration on Small’s work and life.  He is directly investigating the pollination of ideas globally.  Small’s recent work focuses on Chinese pirating of products and ideas, how it helps and hinders the pollination of ideas. 

Small is currently an artist in residence at the Angels Gate Cultural Center in Los Angeles, California.
What follows is an abbreviated interview between the artist and students who viewed his major work in Vallauris, France, a 14 foot diameter chandelier with hanging lanterns, a true global project, pictured on this page.

Why have you chosen to draw vehicles on this work ? What does it mean for you ? Why have you chosen to represent traffic in China particularly ?

– The images of the vehicles are ceramic decals I made in Jingdezhen from photographs I took in Jingdezhen of those big dirty cars.  The photographs are a record of the specific place and time that the work was made.  In glaze, the dirty cars become wet, glowing, pleasant colors. Maybe this can prove that ANYTHING looks nice as a ceramic glaze. It is a serious story about daily life in Jingdezhen.  It is a poverty stricken city, crumbling apart, and crumblinbg together.  No doubt it has been crumbling back and forth for hundreds of years.  I want to share clues from an exquisite, and, indeed, tragic city at the edge of the Earth.  In this case, I choose the vehicles.

For what reasons have you chosen to do a suspended work ?
– Drama.  A big chandelier is dead serious.  Its easy to ignore a sculpture on a pedestal or the floor. But with a chandelier, everyone looks up.  This has a deep connection to the origins of architecture and ornament.  The first basic subdivisions of space.  The chandelier describes the symmetry of the space that it is in.  Space is the most interesting material.

What do you want to say through this work ? Is there a message you want to tell ?
– Platane Secrets is revealing the structure of ornament.  I am exposing the rules of decoration by inserting some oddity into classic forms.  We all have the word “chandelier” in our minds.  When you see my sculpture, right away there is a fundamental question: Is this a chandelier or is it a sculpture?  I dont know, is life a dream or is it real?  Is a car a sculpture ?  Why do we think things are this and that?  I just want to show people how easy it is customize the world.

How much time did you take to realize the chandelier and the insets ?
– My first step was to visit the castle (where the piece is now installed), and make sketches.  I had a wonderful time there for some days, soaking in as much of that castle as I could.  From that visit the ideas came together and I began to make the Porcelain Lanterns in my studio in Jingdezhen. I was also living in Kansas City where I was making the metal chandelier parts.  This took about 3 months of constant working and, of course travel between China, France, and the US to complete.



Aurora’s Arbor


Memorial for the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, KS