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St. Louis Community College Art Student Realizes Dream of Solo Exhibit

June 21, 2013

Jo Jasper Dean and gallery visitors looking at her paintings  
Jo Jasper Dean (center) and visitors at the
opening of "Drunk on Color," her solo art exhibit
at PHD Gallery in St. Louis.

Jo Jasper Dean is a talented artist who finds nature inspiring and color intoxicating. She now has her own solo exhibit at PhD Gallery in St. Louis aptly named “Drunk on Color.”

The St. Louis Community College student has been studying painting under art department chairperson Mark Weber since 2009. Before coming to STLCC, she had enjoyed a career at Brown Shoe, studied art at Fontbonne University and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management from Maryville University.

“I have been painting since I was very young and won my first blue ribbon for an oil painting when I was 12,” said Dean. “Mark Weber has been very influential in my creative development and growth as an artist. I started studying under him at STLCC during the fall of 2009, with the mission of developing my style, and I happily discovered it in January 2011.

It’s always been my dream to have a solo show,” said Dean, as she recounted the journey from student artist to exhibitor. She started visiting galleries last summer and thought that it would take at least a year to find a gallery that would show her work. But in January, Philip Hitchcock, artist and owner of PHD Gallery in St. Louis, offered her a solo show. “I was absolutely shocked,” she recounted.

“He offered me two dates; one for the summer and one for next fall. I only had 12 paintings that were available for sale and Philip wanted more than 20, so at first, I said that I couldn’t do the earlier show. But Philip thought that a summer show would be better.  I went home and did some math and calculated that I had enough time if I worked really hard.”

Dean cancelled out-of- town trips and set aside other projects to paint, but quickly made a significant discovery. “I equated the challenge of getting all the paintings finished to when I was working in the corporate world and had to meet short deadlines. But in the studio, it doesn’t work like that. I couldn’t paint for 12 hours a day.”

Instead, she started in the mornings and painted for about six hours a day. “Then I would take a break and in the evenings, I did cropping or color pencil studies for new paintings. I couldn’t paint in the evenings.”

“I couldn’t have done any of it without the support of my husband. David has done everything – cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping... He would yell down to my studio to let me know dinner was ready, and then clean up afterwards when I went back down to do more work.”

Her hard work has paid off in ways she could only have dreamed of. In Dean’s words, the opening night June 8 “was really pretty amazing. It was jam-packed and Hitchcock was blown away. It was really something else.”

“I couldn’t have a full conversation with anyone. It was full of Philip’s clients and many of my friends and family. People wanted me to explain the process that I used, how I came to it and where the photographs that I took as a basis for the paintings were taken. People asked such intelligent and thoughtful questions.”

And they also bought Dean’s paintings. Before the show even opened, seven paintings had sold. By night’s end, another 10 had sold, including her two largest ones. Only a few remain unsold.

Dean credits Hitchcock with a masterful display. “The pieces are so intense that they need a lot of white space around them.”  When Dean delivered 28 paintings, Hitchcock wasn’t sure he would be able to get them all on the walls because the colors were so strong. But he worked with them for a few weeks before the show and arranged them in grids that gave the bright paintings the breathing space they needed.

Gallery visitors were not the only ones who loved Dean’s paintings. “Dean’s paintings communicate a heat and energy that is as intense and enjoyable as a top-shelf cocktail consumed on a tropical beach,” raved Sarah Hermes Griesbach of the STL Beacon. “Dean’s cacti crackle with preternatural shades of purple and green, and her crab sizzles in a shell of oranges ranging from melted SweeTart to sun-going supernova,” wrote the Riverfront Times.  The show was also featured in Alive magazine’s “Alive Agenda” weekend feature, and Where magazine.

“I was sad to see the paintings gone from my house,” said Dean. “After I delivered them and came home, it was like two years of success had been erased.” But she realized that art can become special to different people for different reasons. “Philip told me that he received a call from a gentleman from out of town who wanted to buy the signature piece from the exhibit. It turned out that it was a couple whom we have known for years. They bought it for each other as a 20th wedding anniversary present.

At one point during the exhibit, I turned around and saw one of my friends in tears. She was standing in front of a painting that reminded her of the place where her husband had proposed to her. When she went over to the desk to buy the painting, she found it had been sold. What she didn’t know was that her husband, motivated by the same memory, had bought it minutes earlier.”

Dean’s exhibit runs until July 20 at PHD Gallery located at 2300 Cherokee Street in St. Louis.