Jessica Hargreaves’ paintings depict quotidian, intimate, and fraught human experiences through figurative and animal imagery and allegory. The work walks a tightrope between taste and kitsch, pathos and bathos, tragedy and comedy. Her style pays homage to conventions of narrative and history paintings, but veers off the art-historical rails with sculpturally molded menageries of wild-eyed snakes, tigers, seahorses and dogs bulging out of the canvases and meandering along the paintings’ gilded frames. This animal interplay continues in her hand-carved jewelry and decorative yet disturbing toile wallpaper.
Hargreaves is fascinated by human instincts and desires, particularly the way people can bury their emotions under layers of social and personal constraint. Animals, in contrast, are more honest sexual, brutal and violent, or innocent, loving, and playful–all without pretense. This directness brings humanity's convoluted and self-conscious psycho-emotional landscape into high relief.
Hargreaves’ work was always political, but after 2016 it became much more explicitly so. She found new energy in her rage at the misogyny, racism, corruption and disregard for the planet shown by those who gained power, and she began depicting specific political figures in allegorical paintings directly referencing current events. The first of these, after 18th century British-American painter Benjamin West’s “Death on the Pale Horse,” depicts Trump as Death astride the horse, surrounded by most of the major players in the political, cultural, and financial carnage that continues to unfold. Other works feature Putin, Oprah Winfrey, Ivanka Trump, Beyonce and other recognizable figures in settings fantastical, realistic or unsettling hybrids of both.
“Girls At the End of the World,” Hargreaves’ most recent series, features aspirational visions of heroines that entwine news stories about disaster and environmental destruction with surrealistic scenes of female empowerment and twisted humor. The girls’ shero-styled antics take on a hyperbolic quality as they face zoomorphic monsters while incorporating art historical references to iconic works by artists such as Turner, Delacroix, Bruegel and Tiepolo. The resulting images knowingly incorporate cliches of feminist separatists and sexy superheroines into scenes that are dark, absurd and ultimately hopeful.
Along with two other artists, Hargreaves co-directs Mother-in-Law's an experimental, installation-based project space in Germantown (Columbia County). Other curatorial projects include 49.5, a 12-artist installation in 2020 at 601 Artspace in NYC. Since 2010, she has exhibited in numerous one-person and group exhibits throughout the greater NYC metropolitan area and beyond. Two posters she designed for the 2017 Women’s March were acquired by the Museum of The City of New York.
Hargreaves was born and raised in London, and earned a Bachelor’s degree with honors in fashion and textile design at Central Saint Martins (University of the Arts London). After working in fashion and illustration in NYC, she received a Master of Fine Arts degree from The School of The Art Institute of Chicago. She currently lives and works in NY.