Jessie Homer French

Jessie Homer French, "ON FIRE", detail view, 2020. Oil on plywood, 29.2 × 81.3 cm. Private Collection

In parallel to the Festival Exhibition, Bergen Kunsthall presents an exhibition of paintings and textile works by Jessie Homer French. Jessie Homer French, a self-proclaimed “regional narrative painter,” is known for her works in small-scale format that explore themes of life, death, and natural disaster. Born in New York in 1940, Jessie Homer French has spent much of the last four decades as a resident of California. Influenced by the rugged landscapes of the Coachella Valley area, she has developed a distinctive, self-taught painting style. French captures the interactions between untamed wilderness, encompassing mountains, lakes, forests, and deserts, and the human presence on the edges of urban landscapes. Many of her works look into what’s under the layer of the visible — buried in the earth, underwater of oceans, or the looming dangers of environmental catastrophes resulting from man-made interventions or geological constellations.

Homer French’s style evokes American pastoral, regionalist, and realist painting traditions. Her works often depict stillness, estrangement, death, decay, and disaster, rendered in bright, flattened colours. Cemeteries are a recurring theme, reflecting her fascination with atmospheric edge-lands and existential themes. Despite the sombre settings, her artistic character is far from gloomy. Even when depicting bleak scenes such as graveyards or funerals, as seen in works like The Sunken Grave (2017), her paintings show a saturated liveliness and formal peculiarity that fills them with a sense of vitality and twists the narrative. Homer French’s themes also encompass the spectre of natural disaster, as in Burning (2020). These works capture the allure and devastation of wildfires, offering a reflection on humanity’s impact on the environment. French’s sincere appreciation for the beauty of wildfires and her ability to convey their power and complexity invites viewers to contemplate the fragile balance between natural forces and human intervention.

Despite the urgent nature of this subject matter, French’s paintings also show a sense of awe and reverence for the natural world, highlighting the cyclical nature of life and the enduring resilience of nature. Through her art, French encourages viewers to contemplate the human condition amidst the enduring beauty of the natural world.

The exhibition presents a selection of works made over the past twenty years that give a poetic, associative insight into French’s long-standing artistic practice. In addition to the more well-known works on canvas and plywood, the show also includes a selection of rarely shown textile works, called “mapestries”, which depict fault lines and other landmarks and were designed to be hung above the bed in earthquake-affected areas.

Jessie Homer French (b. 1940, New York) has most recently shown in the main exhibition of the 59th Venice Biennale (2022). She had solo exhibitions at Massimo De Carlo, Milan and London, Various Small Fires, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Seoul, and Mother’s Tankstation, Dublin and London, amongst many others.

Members Tour
Tue 21 May 18:00
Free for our members & 1 guest

Thu 23 May 13:00
Official opening on the steps of Bergen Kunsthall
Speeches by Axel Wieder, Director Bergen Kunsthall, and Tom Knappskog, Director Culture and Creative Businesses at the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Opening Party
Thu 23 May 22:00—01:00 Free

Opening Weekend
Fri 24 — Sun 26 May 11:00—17:00
Free entry to the exhibition during the opening weekend!