Blacksburg artist’s work to appear in TV episode
BLACKSBURG — Local artist and Blacksburg High School art teacher Jesi Pace-Berkeley’s artwork has been receiving a lot of exposure over the past few months. Now at least one of her pieces will be seen by a national television audience tuning into NBC’s “Law & Order: SVU” on Monday night.
Pace-Berkeley is a Virginia Tech graduate and a self-taught watercolorist. Her painting’s journey to NBC began back in the ’90s when New York City resident Mark Epstein made his way to Radford University.
Epstein, now a commercial real estate agent in New York, serves on the board of directors at Cooper Union, an art, architecture and engineering university in Manhattan. He came to Radford with a friend and Radford alumna Dorothy Gillespie when she received an honorary doctorate, Pace-Berkeley said.
“When I walked into the gallery and saw Jesi’s work, I was struck with the vibrancy and intensity of both her use of color and her subject matter,” Epstein said. “The piece I originally saw is now hanging in my home.”
After seeing the painting, Epstein said he had to have it and found out who Pace-Berkeley was. He contacted her, and the two have remained in contact over the years. Pace-Berkeley said Epstein has purchased five large paintings since the Radford art show.
Pace-Berkeley said NBC was filming an episode of “Law & Order: SVU” in Epstein’s loft earlier this summer when they noticed her artwork hanging on his walls. The network contacted Pace-Berkeley and asked her permission to use them in one of their episodes.
That episode will air on NBC Monday night at 8 p.m., Pace-Berkeley said, and will feature her piece called “Inner Strength.” Pace-Berkeley said the NBC contact told her the piece was “very strong,” but could not go into detail about the storyline for the episode and how the piece may be used.
“I’m proud to be recognized by working artists in the television and film industry,” Pace-Berkeley said.
Although having her work featured on national television, Pace-Berkeley is more excited about her work currently being displayed at the Gallery Flux art gallery in Ashland, Va. The exhibit, “Subtle,” is a 60-painting retrospective and has been on display since Sept. 6 and will conclude Oct. 1.
In 2010, Pace-Berkeley won a fellowship from the Virginia Museum of Fine Art in Richmond for her painting “Sisters and Friends” and was awarded the chance to exhibit 67 paintings at Piedmont Arts galleries in Martinsville earlier this summer.
For that exhibit, Pace-Berkeley hired a professional photographer to document the paintings, and she put the visual inventory on a CD.
While on a trip to Richmond last June, Pace-Berkeley’s friend, Jane Warner, told her about the new gallery that had opened up — Gallery Flux.
That CD was in Pace-Berkeley’s possession as she traveled, as it usually is, and she met with Gallery Flux’s curator Nissa Lipowicz to see if she could present her work at the gallery.
“I felt the large, painted brick white walls, polished concrete floors and spacious layout space might be a perfect match for my large-scale contemporary paintings,” Pace-Berkeley said. “I gave her a copy of my recent paintings and promised to be in touch.”
Pace-Berkeley said Lipowicz met with gallery owner Hugh Joyce and within a week the parties agreed to present the work to the Richmond public once her work in Martinsville was taken down.
“It’s hard not to relate to Jesi’s work,” Lipowicz said. “Her portraits are meditations on the human experience.”
Lipowicz said she believes the gallery was well-received by the public.
“When we were installing the show, we had a few people who came in and were visibly affected by the work,” Lipowicz said. “As you walk through the exhibition, your gaze is held hostage — it is impossible not to feel something.”
But the glory of showing art in galleries comes with a price, Pace-Berkeley said.
“I sacrificed nights and weekends for two-and-a-half years to complete my agreement,” Pace-Berkeley said. “I could go in on Monday and show that I, too, completed as many works as my AP Art Studio students.”
Even with sacrifice, Pace-Berkeley said she grew more and more into “good practice” with each painting she completed. It wasn’t difficult to begin another painting, and it became “habitual,” she added.
Pace-Berkeley said her paintings are scheduled to move into another gallery once they leave Gallery Flux. Beginning in October, her paintings will be featured in the Richard Stravitz Sculpture and Fine Arts Gallery in Virginia Beach. But until then, Pace-Berkeley is excited about one of the exhibit’s final visitors — Louise Cochrane. Cochrane spent many years at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in various roles.
“Cochrane’s interest in my work is a possible mark of validation in the very competitive field of visual art,” Pace-Berkeley said.
As if Pace-Berkeley wasn’t already busy enough, she’ll also have a local gallery on display at the Montgomery Museum and Lewis Miller Regional Art Center from Oct. 5-26.
But part of what makes Pace-Berkeley successful is how she takes the “busyness” of an art career and balances that with her teaching career.
“My students and I discuss how one’s absolute ‘can do attitude’ can open doors of possibility,” Pace-Berkeley said. “I allow the students to see the process through my eyes, and I’m willing to share any part of my experiences with them if it will help them further their goals and ‘voice’ as young artists.”
Pace-Berkeley has been doubling as an exhibiting artist and an art teacher for years so she often discusses the entire spectrum of what it means to be an artist with those students.
From creative expression to college and career goals and eventually financial management, Pace-Berkeley said she is able to give her students an idea of what it’s like to make a career of art.
One might say she’s setting a nice example for those students.
To see more of Pace-Berkeley’s work, visit www.jesipaceberkeley.com.
The Roanoke Times | 381-8627