FORT MYERS — Embracing her bi-racial identity as a Seminole and American woman, Jessica Osceola created art from the issues she has faced throughout her life. After five years of study and work, she recently earned her Master of Fine Arts in Sculpture from Academy of Art University in San Francisco.
The result of Osceola’s creativity was on display at Florida Gulf Coast University’s ArtLab Gallery in her MFA thesis exhibition titled “Thirty-One” from Nov. 28–Dec. 8. The show featured bas-relief ceramic figurative sculptures, self-portraits that represent different aspects of life. The sculptures are Osceola’s expression of identity, culture, societal roles and motherhood.
“Portraits can tell a story and are a moment in life, a really short moment,” said the 2008 FGCU graduate. “This is a reflection of 31 years of living. Figure studies have taught me that we live and we die; it’s not like when I was 20 and thought I would live forever.”
Osceola sculpted the pieces from selfies she took in the bathroom mirror. The four portraits of her younger self have color and vibrancy, while the large pale portraits represent her life as a mother “who has figured out that in life it isn’t the little things that matter, life is bigger than that,” she said.
Bas-relief is an ancient technique where layers of images on a flat panel create illusion and depth. Two life-sized full body sculptures devoid of color, four colorful head and shoulder pieces and 15 smaller sculptures that served as sketches for the larger works, lined the walls of the intimate art gallery.
Friends, family, students and professors attended a closing Dec. 8 reception where Osceola spoke about her vision and technique, which included a lot of math and biology. She studied muscle, bone, flesh, color, light, shadows and gravity.
“Age affects our fatty forms,” she said. “I feel like we look, think and act differently every day.”
The foundation of her idea for her master’s thesis began by contrasting her two distinct cultures.
“It started with tension but it wound up that the cultures complement each other,” Osceola said. “Five years of this project and I realize the cultures don’t oppose each other but work well together. The things that seem to pull you apart are the things that can unify you. In the end, we are all humans trying to live and survive, it’s very basic. We’re all just the same.”
During the journey to her MFA, Osceola had a family and learned to carve out time to care for her son, Joaquin Velasco-Osceola, 3, and tend to her small farm.
“It gave me time to reflect on work and what’s important in life,” she said. “In the middle of my academic work, I had to shift my life. Working in ceramics wasn’t easy. I used to ask my family why did I do this; I could have cast it in bronze and it would have been easy.”
Osceola took courses online, but was always in contact with professors and other students via video.
“It took a super disciplined routine,” she said. “School was in session seven days a week and my professors were in Germany, Italy and California.”
An integral part of attending art school is the critiques. The professors and the other students commented on each other’s art; Osceola said the feedback helped her to develop her work.
“The professors were tough, but that helped,” she said.
In addition to creating the artwork, she wrote a book-length thesis about her process, research, concept, glaze recipes, firing schedule and other details.
Osceola, who has been an artist since she was a small child, has shown her work in Art Basel in Miami Beach and at the Collier Museum in Naples.
“I used to draw things for her when she was not even 6 years old and the next thing I knew, she was drawing on her own,” said Osceola’s father Douglas Osceola. “She always took art classes and school. That’s how she does things; she sticks with them.”
Osceola’s next path in life will be as a teacher; she begins as an adjunct professor at FGCU in January and will teach ceramics.
“I hope I can influence the program with figurative work,” she said. “But I will also give time back to my family; I just want to come up for air.”