Written by Andi Agnew | Photographed by Frank Farmer
In the studio behind his house, artist Jerrod Partridge is adding gold leaf to one of his pieces. It’s a large, round, mixed media piece: paint, gold leaf, and handmade paper as the canvas. The rough texture of the paper, which is indented with handprints, becomes another facet of the overall work of art that cannot be ignored. The airy studio, designed by Partridge, takes advantage of lots of natural light, and is filled with artwork without being cluttered. The yard between the house and studio is a peaceful sanctuary the artist also designed and curated himself. “I’m kind of obsessed with plants. The garden is where I find God,” Partridge says. “I’m going to really miss this place.”
A Fondrenite for many years, Partridge and his family have moved to Ocean Springs. It was a bittersweet decision – one that the artist and his wife, Jessie, put a lot of time and thought into. Originally from Mobile, Alabama, Partridge admits that proximity to the beach was definitely a selling point. “When you grow up near water, you have the desire to be around water,” he says. “We have flexibility in that we are both self-employed (Jessie owns Maidenhair Floral and Event Design) and can move to an art-friendly community that reminds us of Fondren.”
Partridge studied graphic design at Mississippi College and did some marketing work for a local architecture firm before deciding to pursue further education in the arts. “I always enjoyed painting but got really frustrated with it – felt like I didn’t know what I was doing. I did some painting and caricatures with Bob Pennebaker – he had a drawing school in the Rainbow Co-op building at that time – but I would still get really frustrated, so I decided to go back to school. I wasn’t really trying to become a full-time artist; I didn’t have a concept of what that meant. I just knew I liked to paint and wanted to learn more about that.” He attended the New York Academy of Art in Manhattan, graduating with a masters in painting in 2004.
“It was a great experience, but when my wife and I lived there, we knew we were going to want to start having kids soon,” he says. After a brief stint in Washington, D.C., they returned to Fondren and started a family.
The evolution to full-time painter was a natural progression for Partridge. He went back to the architecture firm for a few years, and then worked at Pearl River Glass Studio. “I was doing the preliminary figure drawings for the stained glass designs. While I was there, I started teaching figure drawing and getting some commissions, so becoming a full-time artist started seeming like a more viable option – becoming a bigger part of my daily life. It wasn’t something I sought out, but it made sense.”
Partridge lists his best friend and Art Space 86 collaborator, David West, as a heavy influence on his work. “We’ve been in this process together and developing at the same time. Art Space 86 came about when I moved to New York and David went to grad school at LSU. We started taking sketch books and I would do an entry and mail to him, and he’d do an entry and mail back to me – it was a visual conversation that we were having that initiated the idea of collaborating and building a working relationship in addition to our friendship. After we both moved back to Mississippi, we were looking for other ways of showing our work and promoting the work we saw that was really good around Jackson. Doing this as a profession, early on I realized that I couldn’t just promote myself, that I needed to spend more time promoting the art community as a whole.”
A member of the Fondren Renaissance board since 2011, Partridge has spearheaded the annual juried art shows at the Cedars ever since. “I had this idea that I wanted to help promote other artists and highlight what I felt was real quality work. Juried shows give artists who aren’t showing regularly in galleries to get a little recognition and exhibition experience.” He turned the reins over to executive director Jim Wilkrson this year, but Partridge hopes to continue on as a participant in future shows.
Partridge says he will miss Fondren greatly. “Being involved to the degree I’ve been able to has made me feel more invested in the neighborhood than I would have otherwise. It’s exciting to think about coming back and seeing new projects coming up. It’s such a vibrant, exciting place to be.”