Jessica Maria Hopkins is a painter based in Washington, DC. While she works within the historic tradition of portrait painting, she stretches its boundaries by seeking to register a sense of her subjects’ presence more than their precise features. Her bold compositions play with binaries, from positive and negative space to color and black and white. These strong formal contrasts often bear witness to jarring personal experiences with illness and loss. She is represented by Connersmith, Washington, DC.
Beauty Behind the Beast, 2017. Acrylic and watercolor on paper. 24 x 18 inches. All images copyright Jessica Maria Hopkins and courtesy of Connersmith.
The traumatic experience of cancer has allowed me to view myself as a canvas; my body has been primed, stretched, cut, and painted. I am substituting art terms and tools for medical ones: my blood is paint, the needle is the brush, and my body the canvas.
Becoming Me (detail), 2019. Acrylic and watercolor on canvas. 24 x 24 inches.
Through all of this, I see the light which guided me on my journey. The red represents my heart and the emotion of love; the colorless feathers, my perseverance and courage. The suggestion of masks indicates roles and labels I am leaving behind and new identities I am taking on.
Transformation, 2011. Acrylic and ballpoint pen on canvas. 30 x 30 inches.
This painting contrasts internal and external views of the body. The interior view represents my encounter with cancer. The colors on my face reflect different levels of pain and light. The pain comes from surgeries, bone marrow biopsies, and numerous shots. The light is the spiritual light, at the beginning of time, as described in Genesis. The drips are my chemotherapy treatment sessions, when I would watch as the drugs dripped into my bloodstream.
Becoming the Texture IV, 2016. Acrylic, watercolor, and ballpoint pen on canvas. 24 x 24 inches.
When I was a cancer patient, my body was transitioning without my knowledge or control. I had to accept physical changes along with the chemo, radiation, and surgeries. Here I used wood patterns to define my chest, because the grain of wood reveals the secret history of trees—from periods of disease and atrophy to regeneration.
It’s in the Eyes of the Beholder, 2020. Acrylic and ink on canvas. 24 x 24 inches.
This is one of my favorite paintings in the series Elements of the Unknown. The negative space in my face and hair creates an illusion that I hope draws people to reflect on identity and perceptions of beauty.
The equinox occurs twice a year, when the sun crosses the equator and day and night are equal in length. This happens on the first day of spring, which is also the day my brother John passed away. We are born and we die: this is inevitable, and we cannot predict it. I have created ten paintings titled with the days my siblings and I were born. Each painting tells a story about our characters and reveals that part of us that is gone forever.
In this series, I use my body to depict all of my siblings, regardless of gender. Black expresses a loss that cannot be seen, and the pink stripes represent three things I can never do with my brother again: talk, laugh, and spend time. Though the pose evokes imprisonment, it also embodies a strong connection between my brothers.
This pose depicts how my brother was found, in particular the position of his hands. The colors refer to what he was wearing, and the black represents death slowly seeping in.
My brother’s passing may have extinguished one light, but he brought a world of color to one of my youngest brothers. John took his little brother numerous places and always gave him good advice. This created so much life, just as a single beam of light passing through a prism discloses a rainbow.
I split my body in half visually to compare myself to day and night, life and death. The absence of color symbolizes a part of me that will never come back.
Acceptance, 2020. Acrylic and ink on canvas. 24 x 24 inches.
A mask replicates naturalistic features of the form it covers, reiterating the structure of reality; it also imparts a new identity. In this painting, I created a subjective mask from a female viewpoint that opposes society’s constructions of beauty and equality. I believe we should not follow prescribed norms, but continue to discover who we are without worrying about being accepted or judged.
Jessica Maria Hopkins received her MFA in painting from Howard University and aligns her work with the traditions of Alma Thomas and the AfriCOBRA movement. Her work is in the collection of the University of the District of Columbia and has been displayed at Art Miami, Art on the Vine, and Access l Equinox. www.jessicamariahopkins.net
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.