Art is Athens

BY JESSICA WRIGHT

In everyday conversations, Athens is often regarded as an anomaly within Georgia; a deviation from the stereotypical South that both rounds out and redefines its cultural complexity. Regardless of what Athens is to you, it's hard to deny its ability to cultivate talent and entrepreneurial opportunities that keep the town progressing. Thus enters Jess Dunlap into the Athens arena. After only five years of claiming the 30601 zip code, Jess has started to break down Athens’ art scene to ensure she's part of its promising future. 

FORMER ROASTER JESSICA DUNLAP

FORMER ROASTER JESSICA DUNLAP

Jess attended school at the University of West Georgia where she received her Bachelors of Fine Art with a concentration in sculpture. This allowed her the latitude to indulge in many different forms of media and 3-dimensional concepts. From there, she found herself exploring burgeoning East Atlanta. Creativity took on new forms for Jess; she held down a restaurant kitchen as a line cook, became a professional hula-hooper and performed for various burlesque troupes as well as the fledgling Imperial Ope Circus in Atlanta. That's the cool thing about art; it has no finite definition, and is made even cooler by having its inspirations drawn from unexpected places and movements. While Atlanta can be hard to beat, the mysticism that hovers over Athens was beginning to take hold in the minds of Jess and her future-husband Sean Dunlap. Sean enrolled in the University of Georgia's Historical Preservation Master's Program and Jess found herself knocking on the door of a newly opened roaster looking to hire baristas. Finally, Jess met 1000 Faces and 1000 Faces met Jess. 

As the adolescent business experienced a series of growing pains, Jess made her way deeper into the coffee world and into the company. Soon she was turning the male dominated coffee community on its head by mastering the ins and outs of proper roasting technique and cupping till she practically developed a faint brown spot on her nose from smelling and deciphering Ethiopian and other origins’ flavor profiles. At the height of her efforts, Jess received word that one of her roasts resulted in a coveted Good Food Award. 

Eventually her drive to focus more on her visual art beckoned. Jess and 1000 Faces amicably parted ways, but not for long. During her time with the company she had been responsible for designing the weekly pull down menu of the featured pours and prices at the first 1000 Faces cafe located on west Washington street. Provided with the freedom to create, the signs became kind of “a thing” in Athens. People would mosey in at the top of the week eager to see what she had decided to draw up. Around the age of 12, Jess's sister gifted her a wood-burning tool that would reappear in her later work leading to new possibilities and exciting art explorations. This unusual skill was, serendipitously, discovered by the 1000 Faces crew. Coupled with their love of all things refreshingly different, Jess was asked for some wood signage to be sent to wholesale accounts as a token of gratitude and to expose the brand.

Designs are created on birch plywood and can take a solid 3–6 hours to complete once the design has been drawn up. The completed pieces have ranged from precise geometric patterns to the curved lines of a magnolia, and even whimsical origami cranes. Each piece presents a new challenge in mastering positive and negative space. Soon, friends started making requests for her to draw up outlines for tattoos. As a collector of tattoo art herself, Jess knows the importance of being cognizant of all the components that encompass a well thought out tattoo. There's a growing market for these commissions, despite Athens being blessed with some of the best tattoo artists around. 

As I was meeting up with Jess to unearth how she became associated with 1000 Faces she jokingly made the comment that she was Jess Dunlap: For Hire. She hopes to capture and capitalize the beauty in being open and willing to take on art in any outlet thrown her way, and to not limit herself by conventional means. She feels lucky that Athens doesn't strap everyone down with an expected standard of what art should be.  

We all know that Athens is an undeniably funky place. Sometimes one is drug here by the promise of higher education and a hell of a ball game, while other times it's about grabbing the cult-like Kool-Aid this town seems to serve and throwing it back with a determination to immerse yourself fully in its wonder. So by all means, get to know this local artist and get to know her work, as it's soon to be all over town. In the fall, The Grit will be displaying her work for patrons to enjoy as they eat. Soon Jess hopes to jump back into the craft fair circuit and be asked to design wood signs for her favorite local spots, like the Daily-Coop and Normal Bar. If you claim Athens as your community it doesn't matter how you connect with it, just as long as you do. 1000 Faces hopes to reach Athenians through a good cup of coffee and help introduce you to others, like Jess, who can further tie you and brand you into becoming undeniably Athens. You can follow Jess on Instagram under the pseudonym: gneissmouse.