Description Firefighter Jack Boyle was assigned to FDNY Rescue 1 at the time I painted his portrait. He was probably the most stoic of sitters, refusing the scheduled breaks, and returning several times for different poses. He represents the quintessential New York Irish firefighter, from a generation that went into fires without a lot of protective gear, but with a heck of a lot of heart. He was always polite and respectful, and regaled me with stories from a long career in the Fire Service.For the 1995 New York City Hall Exhibition, Jack wrote: 'It was and still is a pleasure to have served the people of this city in my capacity as a police officer for three years and as a firefighter for the past 27 years. I served 11 years in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, and am presently with Rescue Company No. 1 in Manhattan, where I have served for the past 16 years. It has been challenging and fun and I have felt blessed to have chosen this vocation. I credit much of my enjoyment of this career to the caliber of personnel with whom I have been fortunate enough to have worked.'
Jesse Gardner, Philadelphia Member Since April 2012 Artist Statement Jesse J. Gardner was born in Madison, Wisconsin in 1956. The son of teachers and writers, he grew up on farms in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom and Cape Breton Island in Canada. He has lived the life of his subjects, working as a volunteer firefighter at the Pine Plains Hose Company in the late 1970’s, as a long distance trucker and as a construction worker. At age 24, at the advice of an early mentor, Paul Chaleff, he moved to New York City to further his studies in drawing and painting. He went on to study at the Art Student’s League where he was influenced by the works of George Bellows, John Sloan and Robert Henri of the Ashcan School. Another formative influence was the work of Edward Hopper.
He went on to study Interior/Garden Design at Parson’s School of Design and the New School, where he came into contact with the work of Mexican muralist José Clemente Orozco, who had been commissioned to create the Table of Universal Brotherhood for the school in 1931. These powerful murals, and the works of American Regionalists like Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton helped shape Gardner’s ideas about the American worker, and led him to start the Unsung Heroes series.
In 1986, he left university to work for Parson professor Halsted Welles, a visionary sculptor and landscape architect. Since the late 1980’s, he has divided his time between design projects for the built environment where he has focused on restoration and transformation of land sites and buildings, and exhibitions of urban landscapes and a portrait series featuring NYC firefighters. For the past 16 years, he has been represented by F.A.N. Gallery in Philadelphia.
In both his landscapes and portraits of American workers, he seeks out the underappreciated and overlooked as subjects. The underlying narrative in the paintings is one of restoration and transformation—a redemption of the forgotten. Light and the absence of light are the tools that he uses to reveal transformation and restore dignity to his subjects.
He looks for integrity in the way things are made, a kind of vintage quality, which is revealed in the objects that he paints. The riveted sides of a rusting ship, utility poles with their neatly fastened struts and wires, the trusses of an old bridge. Things that were built by ordinary working class Americans who had real skills and took pride in their work. The bones and muscles and sinews of a forgotten industrial America are his subject matter. In a review of the exhibit Rivertown, Leslie Kaufman wrote that “As an urbanist dedicated to environmental issues, [Jesse] Gardner wields his brush as a spotlight—to reveal both what we have lost, and to suggest what might be reclaimed. … In his quest to open our eyes by transforming the industrial landscape, something unintentional has happened. He has created exquisitely beautiful works of art.”