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By Love's Design

Artists Open Up About The Backyard Project

Article by Jennifer Birn

Photography by Lesson Medrano

Originally published in Austin Life

This is a month we traditionally celebrate love, and that should include Jessica Love.

As we shared in our September issue, the Urbane Design owner conceptualized and created The Backyard Project over the summer in response to so many artists suffering in the wake of COVID-19. She commissioned 10 local artists to paint 6 double-sided panels to be a permanent installation in the backyard of her home near Mount Bonnell. 

After paying landscape designer Dorian Lerma to build six 2’5”x7' panels she invited a slate of 10 talented local artists, eight of them female, to bring the 12 panels to life. 

The first artist Jessica brought on board was Quincy Wakefield. “When Jessica first mentioned the idea to me, I was blown away with excitement,” Wakefield shares. “She’s always been very passionate about art and humanity and I think this project is the epitome of both.”  Wakefield painted his fantasy conceptual character Calhoun. He says, “I wanted to create the feeling of empathy, love, hope, and support. I thought that by painting Calhoun, it would bring a bit of fun to the project. It was a truly cathartic experience creating the panel. Having the opportunity to be a part of the project and create along side some of my friends and colleagues, was very fulfilling.”

Other artists who participated in the project include Feebee, Sade Channell, Jasmine Gonzales, Starla Halfmann, Mike "Truth" Johnston, ER, Matthew Trujillo and Zuzu and Niz, the only two artists to paint two panels. Love estimates she invested about $12,000 in the project that was completed in 90 days with no more than three socially distanced artists on site at a time. 

Mike Johnston, aka Truth, whose golden rose now permanently blossoms in Love’s backyard, shares, “This project came at the perfect time. Work was slowing down because of the pandemic and Jessica reached out a lifeline. Not only was I pumped to get work, I was overjoyed to hear the artists had creative freedom. That's a form of currency on its own. I'm grateful for her vision and I always love watching other artists create. It's inspiring.”

The pair of Texas tiger swallowtail butterflies were painted by Niz. She says, “Typically I use yellow butterflies as a symbol for imminent change and for the beautiful result of transformation. I felt the light colorful butterflies would be a nice addition to Jessica’s unique backyard. I can picture these butterflies in front of the piece blending life and art.”

Explaining the beautiful explosion of color on his piece, the artist known as ER says, “The inspiration is based on my background of growing up in Hawaii and Florida. The fauna and sunsets of these places have had a great impact on my mindset and imagination. The feeling I get when I reminisce on the natural beauty I was surrounded by is something I like to share through my work.” Of his inclusion in the project he says, “The project is heartwarming and is a glimpse of Jessica's support and admiration for artists and the art scene. Her generosity to create an opportunity for artists during a time where many businesses and industries were suffering speaks volumes of her character, and is also a great representation of how many in the Austin community appreciate the arts. “

Matthew Trujillo titled his painting, “In the Midst,” explaining, “It's a painting that I created  in the beginning of the pandemic that represented focus on the light that is within us even through dark time. I wanted to recreate this piece because it was a message I was still really feeling at the time I was asked to work on the Backyard Project.”

Starla Michelle says the meaning behind her painting, “Open Heart Open Arms” happened after she painted it. She tells Austin Life, “I like to start most paintings without a sketch or plan and Jessica encouraged me with the words every artist loves to hear, ‘Do what you want.’ I started to paint a rose and it transformed into a hummingbird. After I was finished, the interpretation came to me. The hummingbird looked as if it had roses coming from its heart and its wings looked like an open hug. This is why I love to paint unplanned because it’s like solving a puzzle both in terms of interpretation of the artwork and in creation of it.” 

She adds, “I think this pandemic has been challenging in many ways for artists. However, I’m optimistic, especially with projects like The Backyard Art Project. I think creatives working together and having open hearts, open arms, and being open to creative solutions and ideas will get us through this. The Backyard Art Project creates this beautifully.”

Seeing past the pandemic Jessica says she envisions each artist having their own pop-up and reception at her home and says she plans to build a pathway to the panels. “I think it’s going to be an excellent little wine walk where people can grab a glass of wine and walk around the panels and check it out,” she says. 

That’s a walk we eagerly await. 

You can see behind-the-scenes of The Backyard Project on Love’s Instagram highlights @theurbanedesign. Warning: May inspire you to commission a backyard project of your own.

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