Jessica Brilli’s work is a meditation on finding beauty in the mundane: The calm contentment of an unoccupied swimming pool. A parking lot view from a classroom after the bell. A scruffy classic car parked in the driveway. Her work has a way of feeling as though it’s simultaneously part of the past and the present, without trying to harken back to a simpler time.
Instead, it reflects what Jessica is seeing in her mind’s eye right now: a sense that these “borrowed memories” just happened. While the subject matter could easily be seen as good ol’ days nostalgia, her approach gives the work a grounded presence which, upon closer examination, reveals the pieces to be referential, yet squarely contemporary.
“Painting is like eating and sleeping for me," she says. "Once I have an idea for a piece I feel driven to create it.”
At a young age, Brilli had a natural aptitude for art. Her parents and teachers recognized her talent and encouraged her to pursue it. “I can remember drawing portraits of my teachers and being thrilled with their praise,” she says. “As a kid, I was into drawing and painting with watercolors — then in college, at the University of Rhode Island, I began painting with oils and never turned back.”
Her style leans towards American realism and 20th-century graphic design and expresses the beauty in everyday scenes. She’s sparked by Kodachrome slides and old photographs she gathers from yard sales and attics around the country. Her work brings a modern interpretation to themes from days gone by, and a new look to images that haven’t been seen in years.
Brilli says that she feels naturally compelled to create. “Painting is like eating and sleeping for me,” she says. “Once I have an idea for a piece I feel driven to create it.” When it comes to influences, she loves the work of Vivian Maier, Walker Evans, Gordon Parks, Robert Frank, and Langdon Clay. She also says that many of her contemporary peers are a huge inspiration, and she likes using social media to see what they’re working on all over the world.
She grew up on Long Island and has spent the past 20 years in the Boston area. When asked why automobiles are a recurring element in her work, Brilli points to that upbringing. “American car culture was a huge deal in Long Island,” she says. “What you drive makes a statement about who you are. My father sold cars, and would often bring home a different car every week, which was very exciting for my brother and me. He mostly sold German cars, which are now my favorites to drive. I have a 1984 BMW 533i, a project car with a quarter-million miles on it. Because I love painting mid-century American scenes, Cadillacs, Fords, and Chevys are the vehicles that show up most in my artwork.”
While discussing the challenges and ambitions of life as an artist, it’s clear Brilli is a perfectionist. “There can be moments of frustration trying to get my work to match my standards,” she admits. “The content, color, composition, and light all have to be exceptional in my eyes; this is why I’m very selective when it comes to the images I work with. I want to make the best paintings that I can. If I can do that, hopefully, success will follow.”
The quiet beauty in Jessica’s everyday scenes serves as a reminder to slow down and look around. Life is full of peaks and valleys … but if we’re being honest, the majority of life’s journey is spent in the valleys. It’s not until you are willing to find inspiration there — outside of the most extraordinary aspects of life — that you’ll truly find contentment.Jessica Brilli