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Local Artist Spotlight

Jess Bean

Jess Bean loves the way murals can bring so much happiness to a space. When she first moved to Fort Collins eight years ago from her hometown, Peoria, Illinois, Bean donated her talents to transform the outside of Animal House Rescue (which has since moved and changed its name to Animal Friends Alliance). 

“It was just a boring, sad, cinderblock building and to add some paint to it isn’t hard, but it adds so much life to that building,” Bean said. Since then, she’s brought life to electrical boxes, business interiors, and many walls in people’s homes. Recently, she painted a nursery to look like the kind of Colorado mountain scene reminiscent of a trucker hat and a sunroom ceiling that feels like you’re looking up at the treetops from a hammock.

She started painting commissioned murals in 2005, when she was in high school, and until recently, she was happy to exclusively paint other people’s ideas. It felt much safer than showing the world what she wanted to create. 

“I had a fear of sharing what I would want to paint because I wasn’t ready to share that I had bipolar disorder with other people,” Bean said. “It doesn’t have a good reputation,” she laughed. Her diagnosis is bipolar 2, which mostly manifests on the depressive side, without the mania of bipolar 1.

“Commission work was great because it pushed me outside of my box so much and taught me so many techniques that I wouldn’t have tried if it wasn’t asked of me,” she said. But over the years, her need to create more personal work kept growing.

Then in 2019, she had two hip surgeries to correct a genetic deformity she didn’t know about until things started to fall apart. Unable to get on a ladder to paint murals during six months of recovery, she started her Emotions collection.

“I finally came up with this idea of how to express emotions in paintings,” Bean said. “Not evoke it or use it as a backdrop for my image but to just solely express that emotion.” Each image is a mix of fine art imagery layered over a street-art style anatomical heart. 

Exploring emotions deeply enough to create art was therapeutic. “To actually look at them and move through them and think about them so heavily that you can express them in a painting takes a lot of self-reflection, even just to come up with the concept,” she said.

This month, from February 5th to the 27th, her original Emotions painting, Happiness, will be part of the “I Heart…” group show at 40 West Gallery in Lakewood. 

In September, she had finally recovered enough from her hip surgeries to get back on a ladder to participate in the Fort Collins Mural Project. “It was a big deal. My husband was pretty excited to see me up on a ladder,” she said, laughing.

Her piece on the west side of the Alleycat Coffeehouse building is a large-scale version of the Solidarity painting from the Emotions collection.

Between the thriving art scene and being surrounded by natural beauty, Bean says it’s easy to find inspiration living in Fort Collins. Seeing public art all over town “just makes everything feel a little warmer.” And the community of artists feels like a family, with everyone taking inspiration from each other’s work. 

This year Bean has several commissions lined up and plans to show her work in more galleries. She’s most excited to begin a new portrait series that will be an extension of the Emotions Collection. She wants this new work to help people feel seen and connected. 

“This has been a rough year and people have been grieving so many things.” she said.  “I want to take those hard emotions and give people that are going through those hard emotions something to look at to know that they’re not alone and that it’s okay to feel like that.”