American artist Jean Wells began sculpting in the late 1980’s using a beguiling array of materials and objects, large and small. Playful, paradoxical and full of technical finesse, Jean Wells offers not only visual pleasures, but stimulating food for thought with her Pop icons of ice cream, soda and pin up queens. Fitting neatly into an art historical discourse that revolves around the loaded topic of consumerism, a conversation that includes such twentieth century stalwarts as Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg and Jeff Koons, among others, Jean Wells also invokes more rarefied luminaries such as Nikki de Saint Phalle, Wayne Thiebaud and Takashi Murakami. Like many postmodern artists working with a blend of pop culture iconography and autobiography, Jean Wells’ work is charming and nostalgic, yet packs a punch with its satisfying bite of underlying poignancy, offering an authentic and personal undercurrent that balances the lyrical.
Jean Wells is deeply inspired by her sumptuous materials, and works with an exquisite palette of beautifully colored glass that she has custom created for her sculptures. These unique glass creations provide her with an incredibly wide selection of tones, qualities of reflection and color gradations, allowing her to shade forms, variegate and layer colors with great precision and nuance. Jean Wells hand cuts the glass, and keeps a reserve of tiny scrap pieces that allow her to add details and touches of color that keep the surfaces lively and variable. Like many artists, she relies upon her personal history, imagination and even her dream life to arrive at the ideas she will pursue as actual objects.
Raised in the wholesome landscape of the evergreen Pacific Northwest, Jean Wells was born into a large artistic family with a strong traditional skill set grounded in such old world techniques such as fresco secco, realism and mosaics. At an early age the young artist apprenticed with her father, mosaic artist Thomas Wells, and learned the painstaking craft and iconography of classical Byzantine-style mosaics as he completed a large commission for the prestigious and architecturally celebrated St. Demetrios Greek Church in Seattle. Having worked for a number of years in paintings and ceramics, Jean Wells has recently rediscovered her love of mosaics and in keeping with her playful, trickster nature, she prefers to turn the traditional uses of this medium on their head and make sculpture instead of murals.
Generally speaking, she prefers to make everything herself, with only a modicum of help from studio assistants. She may use found objects, such as telephones, antiques, appliances, or other household objects or she may carve large durable yet lightweight structures in foam that allow her to play with a larger scale. Initially appearing at the San Diego Museum of Art November 2007, her largest works to date are the “Urban Fruit Trees” which rise up to seventeen feet tall and span a width of eleven feet wide with their branches adorned with Jean Wells’ signature candies, confections, burgers and pop and the similarly sized “Giant Kiss (Kissing Booth)” which debuted to rave reviews at the December 2010 LA Art Fair. Jean Wells is aiming to go very large with her various figures, installations and objects, and is rapidly coming to terms with various technical requirements of scaling her sculptures to even greater heights. Installations such as the “Lipsticks”, “Urban Fruit Trees” and “Phantom” all range from fifteen to twenty feet tall.
While it is certainly possible to simply enjoy Jean Wells’ sparkling artworks as beautiful and playful romps in a shiny candy land of fun and color, the discerning viewer will also be rewarded by the more thought provoking aspects of personal narrative, cultural context and feminist concerns which are located in these inspired sculptures. Even though she offers these sculptures as outsized players in the big game of ‘real art,’ Jean Wells is also content to let us have some fun and pleasure along the way, and in a time where real life is scary enough, it is refreshing to have some moments of genuine innocence.
Jean Wells Education
University of Washington BA Fine Art
Burnley Art School, Seattle, Washington