Jesse Stern grew up in Cambridge, MA. He moved around a lot as a kid, but has never really considered where he lived to contribute to the kind of work he’s made as an artist. To Stern, drawing and painting are personal and private practices that put him at ease because he is completely separated from the world around him. As a kid, he considered drawing an extension of play and derived imagery from comic books, comic strips and Dungeons and Dragons. Drawing from life did not occur to Stern until high school. He made several self portraits as well as portraits of classmates eventually moving to still lifes. He found drawing objects was a great opportunity to explore details. Even though Stern makes incredible paintings he is more well known for his meticulously rendered drawings. He considers himself more fundamentally a draftsman than a painter.


Stern did not seriously get into painting until his late twenties, but he has been drawing his entire life. References for his iconic hand drawings are all based on photos of his own hands. Each piece starts with an initial concept of the energy of the piece and where he wants the weight and power to lie in the subjects. In order to make works more proficiently he has recently turned to using a grid-and-spot render approach. He slowly moves across the forms and focuses on one square inch at a time. According to Stern this is counterintuitive to the academic training he’s received at The New York Academy of Art where he obtained an MFA.


The visual tension in his subjects communicates the underlying themes in his drawings. “ I think these drawings are about dangerous impulses. Impulses we all have that oppose our hard-wired imperative for self-preservation. For example: that sickening curiosity one might entertain about how it would feel to fall from the top of a building, instead of remaining a couple safe paces from its edge. Am I suggesting that we all wish to die? I am not. But I think there’s something a bit perverse at work in our desire to experience, even if by proxy, the thrilling terror of death and doom.” Stern loves the aesthetic quality to old beat up tools and uses them to communicate the vulnerability of soft fingers and the possible wavering intent behind the hands in his work. Stern currently lives and works in New York.