In Memoriam | Visual Arts

John Hess (1939-2022)

John Hess, taken from our film of the artist in 2011

John Hess, 83, was reportedly a patient sort, a mandatory virtue in a successful weaver or, as he put it, “a mixed media textile artist, concentrating on folded, double woven cotton reliefs.” He died Friday night, July 15, at a cousin’s home, of causes related to age, after having spent years in a care center.

He devoted his life to two pursuits, says Jeff Juhlin, a fellow artist and friend of more than four decades: “John was a master at working with color and geometrical fiber art and one of the most committed and dedicated artists I know. He lived like a monk and did only two things almost every day of his life: John always walked to the U of U gym from his apartment to work out for an hour or so in the morning and then back to his apartment, which was also his studio, to work all day every day seven days a week. That’s pretty much all that he did,” Juhlin recalls.

Work by John Hess from his 2016 exhibit at The Gallery at Library Square in Salt Lake City.

Hess was born in 1939 in Ogden. He spent three years studying color and design in San Francisco in the early ‘60s at the Rudolph Schaeffer School of Design after receiving his bachelor’s at the University of Utah in 1961. In the late ‘80s, he studied independently at the Salt Lake Art Center and the U of U, simultaneously teaching as an adjunct professor in the textile department at the U and the art department at Weber State College. He later was an instructor in beginning and advanced weaving at both Westminster College and the Salt Lake Art Center. Hess’ work was part of the 67th Spring Salon at the Springville Museum of Art. He was the invited artist at the Utah Arts Festival in 1995 and his public commissions include works that appear at the St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Heber City, the Rose Wagner Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Salt Lake City, the College of Eastern Utah and the Salt Lake City International Airport.

Hess exhibited at Salt Lake City’s ‘A’ Gallery, where they write about him: “Weaving begins as a slow, meditative process for Hess, starting with counting threads, measuring, and setting up a grid then moving towards greater freedom and improvisation.” Hess also showed at the Pierpont Gallery and at Phillips Gallery. Bonnie Phillips says, “We are sorry to hear about John. A very dear and gentle fellow. We often spoke about the difficulties in planning the weaving to then be shaped into the many 3 dimensions his work explored.”

As Hess once described his artistic process: “These reliefs are shaped by inserting acrylic modules into double woven pockets for stability and folding in various geometrical configurations. I then plot a grid, upon which I apply a variety of patterns with metallic paints and other media. These geometrical patterns take on a variety of forms, often referenced to Islamic tiles, Roman floor mosaics, fractals, and especially patterns from nature.”

John Hess: Possessed by Pattern from 15 Bytes on Vimeo.

An April 2011 article in 15 Bytes featured Carol Fulton’s video interview with Hess. In outtakes from the interview, Hess discusses two public art projects he was working on at the time. Both projects have now been installed, one at the new Magna Library (2675 South 8950 West Magna, UT (801) 943-4636) and the other at the Riverton Senior Center (12914 S. Redwood Road (385) 468-3040).

A comment on the article, made by someone identified only as “C.” is telling: “I love and miss watching John speak. He has such beautiful hands and I love the way he talks with them. I can say he is one of the most patient people I have ever met. In this day of instant gratification, he is a quiet, solid rock amid the chaos. I can say that I was one of his students who did not have what it takes to stay with the process from beginning to end. It’s a time consuming, soul searching, slow, mirroring process that was just too intense on many levels for me. John is a saint for sticking with it all these years and he is a mega talent. His work is stunning. I learned a lot from John and perhaps he’ll read this review. If so …. thank you.”

Installation view of John Hess’ 2016 exhibit at The Gallery at Library Square in Salt Lake City.

I had the pleasure of reviewing The Seeing Eye, Hess’s absorbing and truly captivating 2016 exhibit at The Gallery at Library Square. I concluded that this show of woven textiles was “peaceful, artful, perfect.” Not a bad summation, either, for the life of this patient, talented artist.

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5 replies »

  1. Painting is a way of living, that is where the form of it lies. Wm de Kooning

    …sounds like John, as well.

  2. I photographed John’s extraordinary art from about 2010 until 2017. His piece at the Magna library is one of the most stunning pieces of art I have ever seen! His work was so perfect and intricate.

    As Jeff Juhlin said, he did live like a monk. He was humble, unassuming and always gracious.. He did not drive when I knew him, so I would pick him up along with his art and we would go to my studio to photograph it. I traveled to the many public art installations with him as well.

    Very few craftsman of John’s caliber live in our world now. He was a true master.
    He was always sweet to my dog, Lola…that meant a great deal.

    • I had the huge privelege of being John’s friend as a fellow textile artist, part of our Surface Design group, tho’ nowhere near his caliber. I helped with a complicated commission by inserting plexi triangles in designated pockets. Being with him in his lovely apartment there on So Temple was like stepping out of time,almost like a stage set of a dream studio there on the second story of the historic house. He knew exactly how he wanted to live and what he needed to do to enhance the world for those taking the time to be affected by his poetic creations.

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