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Inspired by Social Issues, Jesse Howard Creates Art

Jesse Howard portrays the disenfranchised through his artwork.

This week's interview is with Jesse Howard. Jesse's subject matter is the homeless and disenfranchised, he uses charcoal and watercolors to convey his feelings of social issues. He states on the website Art World Chicago, "I'm reminded that art should be a celebration of life, which includes the good of man and the contradictions that he has placed on himself and his total environment."

Jesse's work is very bold and evokes strong emotion, which is what great art should do. His work puts a human face on this often ignored part of our society. See this exciting artist's work and become more aware of this social issue. We caught up with him for just a few questions.

Who are you?
I'm Jesse Howard and I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. I began by drawing cartoon characters as a child. At an early age, I showed an interest in drawing cartoon characters and rehabbing empty garages into club spaces. I demonstrated an aptitude to create and change chaotic spaces into something livable. Eager to continue to develop my graphic art skills, I worked for a topographer in Chicago. I found this field of art too mechanical and client based. I wanted more control over my creativity. For 20 years, I took a different career path into business. In the eighties, I rededicated myself to Fine Arts. I felt it necessary to express myself on a spiritual level. I began studying sculptors, such as Richard Hunt and Martin Puryear; I felt they had a grasp of space and materials.

What kind of art work do you do?
My work is primarily of the figure done with traditional materials. i.e. wash-charcoal-pencil and collage. I'm interested in the interaction of people in an urban setting and capturing their experiences and the effect they have on one another, as well as the environment that they are in at that particular point in time.

Where did your art journey begin?
My art journey probably began as a child watching my uncles draw as well as taking trips to Old Town in Chicago observing street artists drawing portraits. I was just amazed in how they could breathe life in their subjects so quickly.

Tell us about your educational background
I have a Bachelor of Science degree from Ball State University with a concentration in Commercial Art and a minor in Business Administration.

Who has influenced you the most?
There is no one particular artist that influenced me. However, I do like sculptors and ceramic. They seem to have a good grasp of space and the understanding of their materials.

One of my favorite instructors was Larry Graham, he encouraged me to pursue truth and spirituality in my subject matter. Plus, as I stated earlier Richard Hunt and Martin Puryear. Both of these artists are masters with their materials.

How did the disenfranchised and the homeless become the main focus of your art work?
I have always been sensitive to the plight of the homeless and how society interact with them as well as the disenfranchised. Over the years I started observing the homeless in the downtown Chicago area, and I observed they were invisible to the general public; the same way the disenfranchised are treated when they attempt to interact in certain environments.

In what category would you place your art?
If I'm really pushed to come up with something. I would say a social realist.

What are you currently working on?
The Urban Abyss series, a continuation of how different groups of people interact with one another occupying the same environment.

Do you have any goals for your artwork?
Only to explore my objects to the fullest.

Do you have any advice for emerging artists?
My advice to emerging artist, is to focus on who you are and the art will take care of itself. Stay focused on what important to you and don't chase glory.

Where can the Patch readers see your art?
My work can be seen at the or the Artslant. For more on Jesse Howard's exhibit at the Oak Park Public Library, please see the library's

Editor's note: We requested that Mr. Howard expand on his original answers, which he graciously accepted. The following Q & A has been updated.

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