Jesse Reno's Epic Poems and Morality Tales

By Shu-Ju Wang

When you look up into the night sky, you see the beautiful light of the stars, light that was emitted thousands, millions or billions of years ago, in a time before people, before earth.

The light from this distant past is just now reaching your eyes, passing through your cornea, passing through your pupil, your crystalline lens, hitting the retina. The signal is now traveling on the optic nerve and finally arrives at your brain. The brain receives the signals, interprets and makes sense of what it sees.

And our ancestors, seeking to understand what they saw, created the constellations in which heroes, villains, lovers and seekers live out their lives in full view of us mortals.

Fast forward a few thousand years.

You’re in Jesse Reno’s studio, looking at his work. And that can make you feel old. I mean ancient, like a few thousand years old. Seeing his work is to know what our ancestors experienced when they looked up into the night sky and saw epic poems and morality tales written in starlight.

Like a shaman, Jesse Reno can take you to a vastly different time and place. And like a shaman, you can imagine earth’s energy coming up through his feet, his legs and his torso. And then through his arms and hands, paints and pigments spill out, forming the new constellations of an alternate universe.

Below, Reborn, acrylic, oil pastel and pencil on wood.

As a child, Jesse dreamed of selling his drawings for $5 each. He thought he would have it made if he could just do that. On the way to growing up, he got side tracked. First, there was a stint as an would-be offset printer, and another as a would-be rock star. At one of his rock concerts, he met a band mate’s little brother’s best friend, a painter. The two connected and Jesse started to paint in Chris Giordani’s studio.

The first year, Jesse created 100 paintings. Using very simple geometric images of circles, lines, Xs, half bodies and figures, he played with colors and techniques, experimenting all the while thinking about the action and energy of painting.

He painted each panel over and over again, each time saving a little window so that he could remember what it once was. After a while, the simple forms and shapes acquired meanings, so he put them on his body to better remember them.

Over the years, his work evolved–animal characters started to appear and his art became more complex in imagery and concept. To step up his effort to remember the past lives of the paintings after so much layering and obliteration, Jesse started to write down his thoughts on the back of the panels.

guardian of keys protector of kings granting black dreams the collector soul collector keeps the spirit the order of dreams the value of freedom the value of a dollar he burnt all his money to unearth his heart then he became locking keys deep beneath golden pyramids gumming the keyholes swallowing dollars like gum drops that was all just yesterday now he’s just an awkward boy bouncing skeletons while wearing a dress hoping someone will see things the way he does

Above, Guardian of Keys Protector of Kings, acrylic pastel, pencil, collage and driftwood.

It should come as no surprise that Jesse had wanted to study archeology and loves The American Museum of Natural History in New York City. And it should also come as no surprise that when ebay came along, Jesse was able to fulfill his childhood dream of selling his work at ‘$5 each,’ although it probably wasn’t for $5…

Over the years, he has garnered the attention of collectors worldwide and, as a result, has travelled and exhibited his work internationally, most recently in France.

Portlanders are in luck–come October, you can see for yourselves how this rising international star go about creating his work in his workspace. Jesse Reno is artist #71 in the Portland Open Studios 2010 tour. Please see for more information about the event.

You can see more of Jesse’s work on his website at And for the month of August, Jesse is showing at Local35 (see, with a live painting event on Sunday, August 15 at the Hawthorne Street Fair.

Below, Jesse & his dog in his studio.

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