John De Jesus (1969 – 2015)
I was born in 1969, in the Bronx, New York. I spent a lot of my youth between the streets of the city and my family’s farm in Puerto Rico. Passing the time on airplanes by reading comic books and playing with action figures. Dreaming that someday I might draw and design my own toys.
One can imagine, that being bounced around like that, I quickly learned the value of being multi-cultural. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. Those who know me from my youth would say that I was highly influenced by my early exposure to the garment district in New York. Both my grandfathers were tradesmen there. My Dad’s father was a pattern maker and worked for some of the most respected names in fashion. My mom’s father owned a trucking company that delivered the final product to runway shows and showrooms.
Lets not forget the ladies… My mother and grandmother were professional seamstresses and more often than not, I spent a lot of time on the production floor, running odd jobs and fetching “parts” of one design or another from different floors. I may not have realized it then but that became my “dream factory.” The place where I would read my comics, draw pictures, and make cardboard and wire sculptures.
In the early nineteen eighties my family relocated to Albuquerque, New Mexico. What an opportunity! Once living here, I became immersed in the cultural melting pot. Being of Hispanic decent, I felt right at home and realized that my passion was art. I attended The College of Santa Fe for two years in the visual arts program and then life as it often does, made other plans for me. I moved back to Albuquerque where I earned my degree in business management.
For over a decade now, I have been a free-lance sculptor with some of the largest and most renowned toy companies. I have had the pleasure of sculpting and breathing life into some of the most famous and recognizable comic characters in the world, but for me there was still something missing. With the undying support from my family I was encouraged to finally go out and find my own voice.
As you can see, my own original artwork, it is a mixture of techniques and experiences that I have learned along the way. I have spent the last 20 years being privileged enough to live in Alb/Santa Fe. My work is a reflection and tribute to the cultures and people that have embraced me. So maybe that’s why my Dia De Los Muertos Carvings look like they grace fashion week and my Spanish colonial work is a tribute to my Hispanic roots. My ancestors’ that sailed from Spain, to Puerto Rico, Flew to New York and my Parents that drove over 2,000 miles to help me achieve my dreams.
LA TIMES REVIEW
“The bas-relief works of sculptor John De Jesus walk a fine line between traditional craft and pop- culture fun, even as his skeletal subjects themselves walk a more final sort of line— the one that separates life and death.
From Roman sarcophagi to Renaissance tombs, relief carving has ancient associations with funerary art. De Jesus’ colorful figures are unmistakably dead, and yet these icons are no somber medieval altarpieces. Painstakingly liberated from thick planks of soft sugar pine, each of his fashionable skeletons poses and flirts within her wooden niche, seducing her viewer from mortality’s far shore. Their living flesh may be long gone, but their vibrant spirits remain on full display.
Each piece is rich in narrative detail, from a gun secreted within a bouquet of roses to a Japanese Hannya mask displayed like a totem in a delicate, bony hand. Like the well-dressed Catrinas and comical Calaveras who come back to visit each year for el Dia de Los Muertos, these girls recall their lives and revel in their personalities. Slinky gowns continue clinging to the curves they once possessed, or else skinny jeans hug their narrow hip-bones. They’ve got a rebellious streak they’re not afraid to show, sporting glossy, femur-high boots or the occasional tattooed humerus. Their styles tell their stories and their accessories reflect their attitudes.
The artist’s relationship with his medium is intimate. The hours De Jesus devotes to his creations imbue the raw wood they’re cut from with vivacity and depth. Everything that isn’t them falls away in fragrant curls of pale blonde pine before he sands their bones smooth, shapes their hair, and paints in the final, vivid details of their costumes. Grouped together these couture corpses resemble a collection of bright plastic action figures or high-fashion dolls crossed with a polyptych of mausoleum plaques. When viewed individually the girls beckon and invite our attention, each model eager to seize her moment upon the stage. Their bared bones remind us, with sly sensuality, of the price we pay for the brief experience of life.
Not to mention, they’re just plain cool.”
—Sean Patrick Traver
LA Times, Art Section, Contributing Writer