“I hope that my portraits are of people as they are.
Honest documents of a person in a frozen moment.”
by Lauren Kindle
This is the Artist Profile article I wrote for the Easton Irregular newspaper for the February 2018 issue.
Jessica Bastidas is a fine artist, illustrator, and full-time art teacher. Her exquisitely realistic portraits of men, women, and children are characterized by confident draftsmanship and a masterful application of oil paint, enhanced by elements of abstraction and unconventional surfaces, often becoming assemblages of repurposed wood and building materials.
One can sense the artist’s sincere desire to bridge society’s perceived differences, to connect the viewer and the subject, and to celebrate the common ground we all share: humanity. The subjects of the painting meet the viewer’s gaze with dignity, revealing a deep connection on a human level. Or else they turn away, absorbed by their own private thoughts, sorrows, or joys. With her art, Bastidas appeals to society’s potential for greater compassion and understanding.
“Often times,” Bastidas says of her subjects, who are people she has met during her travels, “they are of people living in incredibly challenging social and economic conditions, whether that is within the country of São Tomé and Príncipe or halfway across the world in Baltimore [Maryland] . . . the goal of the image is to not capture someone who has been defeated or degraded, but rather to illustrate resilience and defiance, the beauty of persevering. There are all types of strengths: of spirit, relationships, ingenuity, entrepreneurship . . . They are the characteristics that built our country and continue to spearhead innovation and social change across the world.”
In her website bio, Bastidas expresses the hope that art can “ . . . combat recurring themes of cultural alienation, disenfranchisement, and racial stereotyping.” She feels that, despite being more digitally and globally connected than ever before, people today are becoming increasingly more separated and insulated. “Most individuals,” Bastidas remarks, “myself included, are much more comfortable when they aren’t being challenged, when they aren’t being pushed to think critically, to challenge their own assumptions and prejudices that, often times, they aren’t even aware they have. It is a difficult and painful task to hold oneself accountable, to admit one’s weaknesses, flaws, and myopic perspectives. But as cliché as it is, you have to greet hate and bigotry with love . . . not a passive love, but an aggressively strong, blindingly visible, all-encompassing love…”
Bastidas herself admits that it is pretty ambitious to hope that art might help bring about drastic social change, but in this current political climate, it’s certainly relevant and needed. For example, Bastidas often gets challenged by people about her choice to paint “only” people of color. “Firstly, that’s not even true,” Bastidas explains. “I paint people of all races. But my response is always, would you be asking me this question if all my pictures were of white people? And a lot of times the answer is no, they wouldn’t. Why? Because it has been normalized by hundreds of years of portraiture in the Western tradition, where people of color are relegated to the background, the periphery. People of color aren’t the subject [in traditional Western painting]; they are depicted as slaves, servants, or exotic afterthoughts. They are often caricatures . . . exoticized or eroticized. I hope that my portraits are of people as they are. Honest documents of a person in a frozen moment . . .”
Bastidas grew up in the Lehigh Valley, and was encouraged to pursue her love of art at a young age. After high school (Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts), Bastidas went to Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), where she majored in illustration and humanistic studies, with a minor in art history. Through MICA, Bastidas has been able to travel abroad. She became interested in community arts and teaching at an after-school arts program in the Commonwealth of Dominica. It was then that she realized she loved teaching just as much as artmaking! She recently got her Masters in Arts and Teaching and currently teaches boys at Mount Saint Joseph High School in Baltimore.
Bastidas plans to keep learning, teaching, and, of course, painting. She describes her vision with simple clarity: “I just want to continue making and showing work that speaks to people, that sparks a conversation, and that reflects individuals that aren’t normally visible or valued.”