A long journey of loving
Jessica Damen is a painter, mother, grandmother and wife. She was dubbed the “Lewis Carroll of Baltimore” by renowned artist, Grace Hartigan. Her paintings, inspired by myth, fairytale, verse and the mythic in contemporary events, have been described by Glenn McNatt, Baltimore Sun art critic, as “...surreal, sometimes nightmarish scenes of childhood
anxiety that seem to hover just outside the neat categories of fantasy, expressionism or realistic depiction.” She is known for her narrative oil and ink brush paintings, and her use of paint is both sensual and tough.
Maj Ragain’s sensual and tough poems have inspired Damen ever since they met while resident fellows at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts in 2001. Their call and response collaboration began after Maj’s reading of his poem, “The Summer
We Longed for Comes,” a love poem for his wife LuAnn. The following hot afternoon Jessica painted LuAnn’s portrait, “Sweet Sweat.” The canvas was filled with determined brush strokes of drippy paint and embodied the sweaty and yet powerful presence of LuAnn. Maj’s song to sweat liberated Damen’s painting.
In 2004, their joint exhibition at Verde Gallery in Champaign, IL, Vision to Verse – Verse to Vision, featured twenty of their poems and paintings. William Tucker, Maj’s English professor friend and writer of the exhibit introduction, described their collaboration:
[Damen’s] images, momentarily stopping the flow of every experience, were iconic: latent with what is becoming true – representations of the mystic, revealed but still enigmatic. The artwork seemed to bring elements constructed of word in Maj’s poetry to a momentary standstill, allowing the viewer a glimpse into what is ultimately too large to see in a single glance. The poems, moving experience beyond the point at which it had been suspended by art, were incantations, mythic, calling forth and telling the mysteries, illuminating them without attempting to explain them away.
After a pediatric nursing career, full-time mothering and helping in the family business, Damen found her way to her creative soul and completed a post-baccalaureate in art and then an MFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), Hoffberger Graduate School of Painting. Her paintings have been selected for invitational shows at the Maryland Art Place (MAP) and the Delaware Center for Contemporary Art (DCCA). She has received Juror’s Choice prizes and fellowships from respected museums and independent curators. Her works can be found in private and public collections such as v J. Sharp Foundation, NY; IIT Research Institute of Fairfax, VA; and Sunwest Communications, Inc., Dallas TX.
Damen and Ragain continued their collaboration for more than 17 years, till his death on April 19, 2018.