Jesse Corlis is a studio and graphic artist specializing in mural and sign painting, drawings, and sculpture. He was born at home in Frametown, West Virginia, and earned his BFA from WV Wesleyan College. He met his wife Cathy when they were both working in the same building where he painted the original “Irene,” 222 Capitol Street in Charleston, WV. He is the proud father to Gavyn and Delaney who are already pursuing their own creative talents in acting and painting.
“My favorite of my series of White Elephant Saloon murals for Pies & Pints. Based on the faded and worn remnants of an old mural sign found in the Charleston, WV, location that I restored back in 2006, I create a new version of the White Elephant sign at each new location the restaurant chain opens. This one, in Birmingham, AL, was the 10th version I’ve painted for the chain. We’re up to 13 now, with Richmond, VA, being the latest. I’ve named the elephant Irene, after my grandmother who loved elephants. I used to draw them for her as presents when I was a kid. An elephant has been incorporated into the company’s logo and branding. I dedicate each “Irene” upon completion, usually to a family member.”
I predominantly work in realism with my art largely because I love science, nature and history and I like to call attention to and explore some of my observations in life in a way in which most people can relate. For me, art seems to be communication of my attractions and appreciations as much as my emotions or ideals. I always want my work to have a positive impact and be constructive, but I like to do it in more nuanced ways that don’t necessarily strike you on the surface.
It may not be cool to say, but my nature is to be somewhat of a people-pleaser and I want everyone to like my work on some level. Art has always been my best voice, socially, and I think these are some of the reasons why I seem to have found my niche in murals and public art. It’s more approachable for people, literally and figuratively. I try to make things that appeal to the eye and convey a feeling right away, but work in cues that hopefully make the viewer want to come take a closer look and realize there’s more to it. I want to lead the viewer’s eye to see thoughts that I put in, expression in brushstrokes, references to history, and sometimes odd details that I incorporated because I found beauty in something that might often be overlooked. And I find that people seem to feel a more personal connection when they spot little hidden details that they know someone else missed.
Mural art and large scale painting seemed to come pretty naturally to me. I always liked to draw and painting and I earned my BFA in studio art. During the summers all through high school and college, I would make money painting houses. I got pretty comfortable being on ladders, using large brushes and the ins and outs of more commercial paint products. My first mural commission was for a large wall and came right after college in the Summer of 2000, and I quickly realized that my skillsets were merging. I was at least as happy painting outside on a ladder as I was in a little painting studio where everything can be just so. It’s also a big reason why you still see me brushing away on a wall instead of using spray cans.
My style and imagery can really vary. I like to try different styles and find the sort of aesthetic and imagery that suits a given project but still represents me as an artist. So while my creations can really vary in appearance, I think you’ll find common themes that help tie the variety of pieces in my portfolio together. You’ll generally see some sort of narrative along with some clean leading lines, some nature, attention to detail, and hopefully an heir of sensuality. I like to set moods and inspire thought and conversation. Sometimes my imagery is a bit darker and maybe even a bit creepy – I was born on Halloween and I have fun with it – but I try to make sure there’s always a kindness or a romance about it so it doesn’t scare anyone off. In the end, I have to leave a positive mark.
When I approach a mural project, I want to make art that is designed to be exactly where it is, not simply a predesigned piece that was adapted to fit on the given wall. It’s more intimate that way, more like a custom tattoo as compared to a design on a t-shirt. Because most walls aren’t built with being a canvas in mind, there are often imperfections. I like the problem solving to coming up with ways to integrate the imperfections and obstacles you often run into, like a sign, a pole, some conduit pipe, or, in a recent case, an old out-of-service hot dog frying hood in a restaurant. I ended up turning it into a storefront awning and doing a big 40’ sort of 1920’s sidewalkscape based around it that celebrated the building’s early history as a fruit and candy shop.
“A Mexican folk art-inspired piece for Mi Cocina de Amor in Charleston, WV. It’s a festive “garden of love” for the then-new outdoor dining area. It features personal touches like the owners’ recently deceased dog and sugar skulls celebrating their departed parents. I was able to paint this mural entirely within the month of December thanks to a super el niño and the warmest December on record.”
“For Pies & Pints in Short North Columbus, OH, a historical district known as Arch City for those signature arches over the street. The Pies & Pints renovated and moved into the bottom floor of an old bank, known as the Fireproof Building. This mural was inspired by from some old photographs and celebrates the history of the neighborhood. It can be found inside along the wall of the main dining area.”