Starving in Niagara: One Artist’s Journey

JALeppAnyone involved in the art world likely knows or has known at least one ‘starving artist’. For centuries, they’ve been part of our culture and, probably, always will be.

Jesse Arnold Lepp has been living that life. He may not entirely qualify or epitomize, in a traditional sense, the stereotypical starving artist to the letter, but for our purposes he’s close enough.

Recently, the 33 year old Niagara native sat down with Raz Mataz Magazine to discuss his background, his work, his thoughts on art, and what it all might mean from his perspective.

Raz Mataz Magazine (RMM): When did you begin painting?

Jesse Arnold Lepp (JAL): When I was around ten or eleven I tried to do a water colour. I can remember liking the feeling of putting paint to canvas but at that time it never amounted to anything. There was always something else for me to do. My family was in the agriculture business and from an early age I was involved, but as I sit here thinking about it, I can say that for some years after I often dreamed of painting and I would come up with all kinds of different ideas for a piece.

RMM: When did you actually begin to get ‘serious’ about becoming a painter or artist?

JAL: It was in 2009 that I finally decided that I might have what it takes to produce something. But it was in 2007 when I saw a local artist’s work – David Drum – that I first started having a real sense or itch about my interest in becoming a painter. I think because Drum is local and I liked his work, it gave me some confidence that I could do it, too.

I finished Brock University with a degree in English Literature and a B.A. of Education and became a secondary school supply teacher. Trying to become a full time teacher took up all my time and energy. Even though I’m painting a lot more than teaching these days, I would still like to be a full time teacher. Right now it’s a toss-up as to which way things will go; I love both.


RMM: Does being a teacher infringe on your ability to paint or create or even the time to work on projects?

JAL: No, not at all. In fact it’s the opposite. Painting allows me to distill my experiences in life and for me that translates into a more accessible educator capable of a lot more or broader sense of the intangible elements of educating. In relation to time for painting, I have to admit that opportunities to teach are less than when I started.


RMM: Do you draw on what happens in the classroom to formulate an idea or topic for the canvas?

JAL: Occasionally, yes. Being inspired is often a subjective experience for me. How I perceive a given image or situation can sometimes turn into an obscure message that floats around in my head and then can manifest itself in some other form or impression. It’s hard to explain and I’m not sure it’s worth trying.



J.A. Lepp’s Bee Keep

In his short career as a painter, J.A. Lepp has been impressively prolific. With 34 completed works since 2009 he has seen some of his creations on display in local galleries and art shows. Some of this exposure has garnered sales.

The sales may not be as frequent or as lucrative as he might want, but they’re sales none the less. Lepp feels that getting his work into the hands of aficionados, collectors, or dealers and out of his home studio – by whatever means – helps keep the creative spirit fed and the commitment to the craft unconditional.


RMM: When did you make your first sale? 

JAL: Bee Keep (2010) was my first sale. It was somewhere around my seventeenth completed work. Because I knew some of the people involved in the Brock University Art Program, I was able to get my work into an exposition in a St. Catharines Art Auction around Christmas time in 2010.


RMM: How did it feel making a sale?

JAL: Besides being totally surprised it was quite humbling at first and I remember wanting the person to buy another one. But gradually I began to feel empowered. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.


RMM: Looking at your blog, I get a real sense of an eclectic, surreal, almost abstract style. How would you describe your process of fitting together texture and content with your style?

JAL: Around the time of Bee Keep (2010), I started working predominately in oil on canvas. It allowed me a certain kind of flexibility in relation to texture and gave me license to manipulate the images I come with to fit more constructively with my imagination and emotions.


Detail of The Dreamers

I also tend to plan the outcome contextually after the first brush stroke. The Dreamers (2010) is a good example of that. It was painted in 3 days where during the process the light in the room kept changing all the time. When I began the work on that piece I felt as if that light would dictate the outcome of the texture so I went with it.


RMM: Are you working on anything at the moment?

JAL: Yeah, I’m working on something that was inspired through the grieving process; a funeral painting. I know it sounds heavy and I suppose it is. Maybe it’s therapeutic for me; I’m not sure. It’s kind of new territory for me so I’m not quite sure what to expect even though I have a general sense of where I’m going. It’s probably the most [emotionally] difficult piece of work I’ve contended with. But as with most of what I do creatively, it’s a labour of love.

J.A. Lepp works out of a studio in his home. To view his work, visit his blog:

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