Jessica Niello, Painter & Ceramist
If you’ve ever visited the Bay Area, traveled to Japan, or toured in any major city in between, chances are you’ve come into contact with a Jessica Niello original. Spotted on the bottom of a custom ceramic bowl at Ramen Shop in Oakland or the corner of a still life painting found in The Little Shop of Flowers in Tokyo, the Niello-White signature is always a treat to see. LSG took a hop, skip and a jump over to the east bay to visit the accomplished artist in her Oakland studio to chat about where in the world her work has taken her, what inspires her work, and who her dream dinner guests would be. Enjoy!
Hi Jessica, thank you for inviting us into your creative space! Can you start off by telling us what it’s like being an artist in the Bay area, as opposed to being in New York or LA?
Being an artist in the bay area is great because there’s such a rich community of artists and craft people. Often these intertwine, which is how I think of myself and my art as well. I’m a painter and a potter. I love design, craft and fine art. Although I'm a Bay Area-based artist and have never lived in LA or New York, my impression is that they both have more compartmentalized art worlds. Perhaps The Bay allows for more multi-disciplinary artists to exist.
Does your work ever pull you to be elsewhere? If so, please tell us where!
Yes! I love traveling for shows, commissions and residencies. In November I went to Tokyo for a group show at the gallery Curators Cube, as well as a solo show of paintings and ceramics at The Little Shop of Flowers. In the spring, I spent a month in France at in art residency in Vallauris. It’s inspiring and energizing visiting a new place and seeing what the culture and history have created. I love coming back and putting that new energy into my own practice.
Where was your favorite residency?
I did a residency in Taos Clay in New Mexico when I was 27. I learned so much about ceramics from the community of potters there, especially traditional Japanese wood-firing out on the Mesa in the high desert. It informs a lot of the work I make for Ramen Shop, that blend of traditional Japanese and American craft.
You’ve seen many different countries and cultures - can you tell me about a favorite place you visited in the last year?
I really love the city of Kyoto in Japan. The ceramic culture there is so mysterious and ancient, I went up into the mountains to visit a wood fire potter and his incredible designer and weaver wife. The life they had built for themselves was so intentional and creative, it was completely inspiring.
What was the wife of the potter Naoto Ishii designing?
His wife, Sumiko, was working on a project with the clothing brand cosmic wonder light source where they created a series of wearable paper garments, I believe made from a kind of root vegetable or potato. Who knows, perhaps that's the future of fashion?
Do you have any advice for aspiring artists?
As the artist Nicole Eisenman once said, "Be that kitten on the branch and hang in there, baby!" That is most likely the best piece of advice we’ve ever heard.
What does your morning routine look like?
Generally, I get up early and go for a run to my studio. My mind feels clear and energized in the morning and it feels great to head into my workspace first thing and make a plan for the day.
What do you enjoy doing on your off days, when you're not working or creating?
When I’m away from the studio, I love cooking dinner with friends, taking my pup Teddy for a walk or to the beach, hanging out with my sister (that’s you) in San Francisco, having a drink with my husband at the Starline or dinner at Pizzaiolo.
What are 5 things you’d suggest doing, in order to achieve a productive work day?
At the beginning of the day, set goals - Often in order of importance.
Allow for creativity, the spontaneous detours that might happen, and enjoy being in the moment.
A good lunch.
Green tea in the afternoon. Matcha is my favorite.
Have a good playlist on hand! I listen to all kinds of music and love being energized by a good playlist.
Tell us about a piece you are SUPER proud of.
I think I’m most proud of making the functional ceramics for the restaurant Ramen shop in Oakland. It’s an ongoing art project that’s always evolving and being used by my community: Ramen Shop cooks and front of the house, customers, friends, my family. The most recent round of ceramics was a collaboration with the Ramen shop staff and a few Pixar artists, and the collection feels joyful and fun.
What is your favorite IG account?
So many. Instagram more and more is revealing itself to be a great way to connect with other communities, even overcoming language barriers. It’s a visual language! That being said, I love looking at artists and designers in faraway places like Australia and Japan. I especially love the ceramics of Akio Nukaga.
We love your style. Can you tell us who or what you are inspired by?
I love finding simplicity and functionality in style. Bill Cunningham comes to mind. He dressed for pure function, and looked wonderful on his bicycle, always wearing his blue French worker jacket. I love simple lines, colors, shapes. I especially love the functionality, comfort and thoughtfulness of Japanese work wear. Rest in Peace, Bill. What a great inspiration!
Tell us about your favorite designers and where you like to shop.
I love to shop with local designers and wear their designs whenever I can. Some of the designers I’m really into are Matt Dick and Small Trade Company, Laura Schoorl’s clothing, bags, and sheepskins, Stacey Fulwiler shoes, Ali Golden and Marlow Goods in New York. My favorite vintage place is James Rowland Shop in Berkeley. I try to make it to the Alameda Flea on the first Sunday of the month to search for vintage clothing; there’s also great vintage Japanese work wear there – I just bought a beautiful jacket at the July flea!
What are 3 things you'd say to your younger self?
Say yes to experience - mistakes can be a good thing.
If you could invite 4 people to a dinner party at your home, who would you choose and why?
Georgia O'Keefe, I’d love to talk with her about New Mexico and the practice of painting. Toshiko Takaezu is one of my favorite potters and painters. I adore her work, especially how she's blended painting and ceramic sculpture. Also, I think she and Georgia O'Keefe would get along. Noguchi, his sculpture is incredible. I’d love to learn more about the philosophy behind his work. And finally, Brancusi, another wonderful sculptor. I’ve heard he knew how to throw a great party too.