Visiting an artist’s studio can be like taking a tour of an artist’s brain. The creative process is on view in the workspace, the artist’s strategies and methods exposed. The studio of Toledo painter Jesse Mireles is a colorful place, crowded but well-organized and full of possibility.
Mireles’s studio is in downtown Toledo’s historic Secor Hotel building, a luxury hotel at the turn of the 20th century, the nine-story structure is currently home to Registry Bistro and River House Arts, as well as the studios of other artists. The halls outside his studio are decorated with examples of resident artists’ work, including his own abstract paintings.
From the open studio door, the oblong, light-filled room is neat but filled with artworks on canvas and paper, in varying stages of completion. Mireles, in the middle of working on a new painting, provides a warm welcome. Four-by-six-foot paintings with bright, saturated hues predominate, seeming to recall his Mexican heritage. Other works, more subdued, still look lushly tropical.
Experiments with paint
Mireles is an empiricist: each canvas is an experiment the artist conducts, applying paint intuitively, observing it on the surface, responding to it, and arriving at a composition that satisfies his restless eye. He describes his method of working as an action-and-response process:
“You have an idea of what you want, you decide on a color scheme then you go for it… sometimes the paint goes in the direction you want and sometimes it doesn’t. Then you decide— do I follow that or do I want to turn it around? Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But it’s a wonderful thing when it turns out to be this surprise that just knocks you off your feet. In the end the artist must decide [if it works].”
Mireles has enjoyed a successful career as a graphic artist, working with the Metroparks before he retired, but he prefers to work in a non-representational manner. “One thing I don’t do is highly representational work… I admire someone who can do that— I have friends who are excellent [figurative] painters, but I can’t go there,” he says.
While brushes are abundant in his studio, Mireles also employs squeegees, palette knives and even wadded-up paper to achieve varied effects. For him, the paint is a force of nature; he never tires of seeing what it can do. He works on an easel, or moves the canvas to a horizontal surface, depending on the direction or movement he wants from the paint.
Mireles points out a paper sheet of tiny, brightly colored squares taped to the studio wall, explaining that they, too are part of his working strategy: “These things here are sketches… when I decide on pieces that are keepers, I will scan or photograph them, and these are parts or sections of paintings that make interesting compositions. So they’re kind of guides for me— like maybe the next painting will go in this direction. They are also good guides for color schemes.”
Mireles jokes that expecting visitors motivates him to clean his studio. While his process creates— and demands— a certain amount of clutter, he finds that organizing the chaos is helpful. “If it’s a messy studio, then (I feel like) I’ve done some work, but it also drives me crazy when I’m in the middle of a project and I can’t find some tool because it’s a messy studio,” he admits.
Mireles points to the abstract painter Franz Marc as an important influence on his work, in his color choices and the shallow compositional space of his paintings. But after visiting his studio, it seems that his colorful, eventful paintings fit more comfortably into the tradition of American action painters such as Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline and Willem De Kooning.
Mireles has exhibited at the National Center for Nature Photography and the Toledo Museum of Art. He lectures, consults and has served on design and art review panels for the Toledo Arts Commission and the Ohio Arts Council. This summer, Mireles’s work is showing in Hutson Gallery in Provincetown, MA, and Marcia Evans Gallery in Columbus.