"UNCOMFORTABLE ART" Uretsky. [Photo by Xander Morro]
J.R. Uretsky is having a moment.
On Friday, February 28, when the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts Fellowship Exhibition holds its opening reception at the Pawtucket Arts Collaborative, Uretsky — a 2014 merit fellow for three-dimensional art — will have a number of pieces in the show including the large, lumpy, multicolored, beguiling sculpture, “Size 6.” In the upcoming months she’ll be teaching separate classes on Photoshop, InDesign, and “Beginning Video: Guerilla Tactics for Image Making” at AS220 . Meanwhile, an hour’s drive north, the 28-year-old artist’s mesmerizing video piece, “Jesus Cleans House” — in which she strips to a bra and tighty-whities, tapes a floor mat to her face, tapes sprigs from a house plant to her head, applies ketchup to her wrists and abdomen, and proceeds to furiously scrub and sweep her kitchen — is currently featured as part of a wall of artwork and ephemera from the legendary Olneyville feminist studio space, Dirt Palace (where Uretsky worked from 2011-2013), at the Harvard Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts “Living as Form” show. Thirteen miles west, you’ll find more of Uretsky’s work at the deCordova Museum’s biennial exhibition.
All of which is to say: Uretsky is an artist you should know about. And when I visited her Smith Hill apartment/studio last weekend in Providence, our conversation ranged from Jesus to Photoshop to student debt to social media to her fascination with beards. What follows are excerpts from that visit and ensuing emails.
ON RELIGION: I’m a very angry agnostic. I wanted to be a pastor. That is why I went to Bible college. What I found at Bible college, and from reading the Bible, was that people like stories and humans like to create meaning. People want to feel heard, we want to feel a part of something, we want to feel loved. When I was looking for those things in a loving creator, I found heartbreak.
ON THE DIRT PALACE: I was a part of something really magical — and still am.
Even though I don’t work out of there anymore, those are the women that I call when I’m like, “I can’t do this any more. I don’t know what the fuck I’m making. I don’t know how I’m going to pay for it.” And we just sort of sit around and drink and talk about that, support each other emotionally.
ON PROVIDENCE BRANDING ITSELF “THE CREATIVE CAPITAL”: Like anything, it’s what you make of it. But I have found that people want to see art in this town. Further, there are people making good art here and if PVD wants to claim that as their thing, that’s great.
There are resources here that support artists: RISCA provides plausible funding opportunities, AS220 has classes and community work spaces, [New Urban Arts] supports art mentorship in a really magical way (to name a few).
Are there jobs for artists in Rhode Island? Some, but we’re all going for them.