Rose Jaffe’s energy is infectious. Stepping into her studio is like mainlining a shot of espresso, there is so much art to soak in you don’t even know where to start. The local artist does a little bit of everything (from ceramics to paintings to huge murals that you’ve most definitely seen all over the city) and her space shows it, but it’s not just Jaffe’s art that fills the place. After moving into her spot off of Rhode Island Ave, she decided to section a large part of her studio off and use it as an events space called The Stew. What started out as place where she would work on large murals has now become an all inclusive art gallery / yoga studio / Zine workshop / whatever she wants it to be. There’s even a table at the front where you can pick up small prints and ceramic pieces with instructions on how to Venmo the right artist.
“I love D.C. and I think that we need artists to stay here,” says Jaffe “If I can make that work, which I can right now, I’m totally about existing here and helping support artists here.” For her, The Stew is not just a studio, it’s a space that has allowed her to support D.C.’s art scene. A place where she can show people who have never been in a professional gallery and a space that can foster discussion about art. As she makes a pot of tea, we settle in and talk about how she found this gem of a studio, her personal art evolution and so much more.
How did you get this space?
I was booted out of my studio on Georgia Avenue and I was desperately look for a new studio space. This woman from ReCreative Studio Spaces, she works with developers in the interim time of what to do with spaces, so she was like, “I know of this former H&R Block,” and as soon as I saw it I was like, “Definitely.”
Has your art been influenced at all by the space?
Yes! I would say the biggest influence is the size. I think as artists we really occupy the space that we’re given and that’s why it’s such a gift to have a big space. I had a very small studio in Mount Pleasant for a while and I was making really little drawings and tiny prints and now, as you can see, I can just expand. It’s pretty awesome.
What is your schedule usually like? I know you mentioned earlier that you’d like to be here everyday if possible.
Yeah, I’d like to be here everyday. Usually… In the winter months, I was here a lot more. January and February I was here almost everyday. I’m really dedicated to a studio practice and I think that’s a pretty critical part to developing your skill as an artist. Even if I was just here pushing paint around on a canvas, I would just try to be here working on something. I would say as much time as possible, but my days and weeks are so different from one to the next.
Did you conceive of it being an event space when you saw it? Or did that come later?
That came later, that totally came later. Coming into the space I was like, this is so big, I don’t need this whole space for myself. The first few months, I was using it with a friend of mine to build… There’s the Duke Ellington mural on the side of Right Proper and we actually built and cutout and painted and staged everything here. One of the incentives for getting this space was that we really needed a big space to stage all of that. Then I did this other huge installation at Watkins Elementary School, which was also these big cut outs. For the first few months it was just me and this other artist using the whole space for that. Then that was over and in the beginning of November I decided I wanted to have shows here. I thought I would only have the space for four months, so I planned three shows in six weeks. Artist showcase one, two and three.
That’s an aggressive schedule.
It was a lot. It was totally self inflicted insanity.
In a good way.
In a great way. That was before I had sectioned off this space, so it was the whole space and the shows were amazing. I organized and brought the artists together and it was all artists that weren’t really on the D.C. art circuit and hadn’t had the opportunity to show in a professional gallery, or sometimes at all. I think that we showed five artists and then seven artists and then five artists, again. We had bands and DJs and they were really good vibes and curating what the space and what the energy of the space was going to be. That Fall / Winter of shows was amazing. When I knew I was going to have this space for longer, I converted this into my permanent studio and decided that this would be the flex space. The rest is history.
Are there any events in the future you’re especially looking forward to?
We have so many fun events coming up. There’s a zine workshop on Wednesday. There’s a yoga class next Tuesday that is a fundraiser for this really awesome organization in Mexico that supports women with scholarships for school and does a lot of other really cool things. There’s Operation Consent, which is a really cool art show that’s a part of a larger series of events about sexual assault, violence and speaking out against that and finding a place for art as healing in that trauma. Then we’re having an art build here for the March For Our Lives, next week is going to be really crazy. People are always hitting me up for stuff. It’s nice that I can say what can be in the space and what’s not. And also this is just an amazing set up. I can rent out this space and pay for my studio space. What more could you really want?
So you have something at least once a week in here? You’re always doing something.
Yeah, I have a regular collective that rents the space. There an awesome, cool cannabis collective that’s also really about using art as a way to bring people together. Which is ultimately what The Stew is all about. I think I could go on and on about D.C. and space and artist space, but I think that it is pretty critical that there are spaces for people to feel safe, create and meet each other. And ultimately build a community.
I think those sentiments are really noticeable in your art, especially in your public art, which draws from history and the neighborhood and the spaces that surround it. What’s the process like for working on those large scale murals?
It really depends on who the client is and where it is and all that kind of stuff. I love doing mural, street art, public art pieces that relate in some way to the neighborhood or the community. I can’t always do that, and I’m not really super hardline, every mural has to be that way. But I love that public art exists in the public sphere. It’s for everyone. So, how can you use that tool to amplify the voices of that neighborhood? For example, the Duke Ellington wall. We love Duke. Duke is great, but he grew up here, left when he was 18 and didn’t really look back and there’s a lot of Duke Ellington stuff in the city. So we were like, okay, the job is a Duke Ellington wall, but how can we make this more about D.C. jazz? We contacted different local jazz connoisseurs and chatted with them about the cool jazz spots and who really has made jazz what it is in D.C. today. I think it’s about doing that work. Then we came up with these seven amazing people out of long lists of many, many people, because jazz takes so many people to put on. That was a way that we could expand the narrative and make it more D.C. centric and celebrate the unsung heroes that you maybe wouldn’t know shaped D.C. jazz. It’s about connecting with the community and seeing what they want and you being the liaison between what they want and making something really beautiful.
Are there any local artists that really inspire you?
Oh my god I have so many local artists that inspire me. I don’t even know where to start. I love Cita, CHELOVE. I think that she’s a mentor for me, as for many people. She’s just been on the D.C. grind for so long and I not only think that her quality of work is pretty amazing, but where her head is at is pretty awesome. We painted in Pakistan together just a year ago. We did a public art project and I got to know her better and it was amazing.
That’s amazing. How long were you there for?
10 days and then I went to India by myself for a month.
Hell yeah. Did you do any art while you were in India or was it just a vacation?
I did a lot of art. I brought all my carving tools and I did a bunch of carvings. It was really fun… Lately my art… It’s so weird to see it move into abstract forms. I would have never guessed.
So there was no concerted effort to change your style?
I come from a very technical background. In college I was doing very tight, illustration pen line drawings. Only black and white ink, stuff like that. I think that my bodies and figures- I’ve always been obsessed with the face and figure. I will never tire of that. I think as it evolves it’s deconstructed, so there’s much more looseness. Once these bodies deconstruct more, that’s almost how I think about the form and color. I think that I’ve just evolved into what I like to look at and appreciate. For years, abstract art was just, whatever. I didn’t connect with it at all. I’ve just turned this corner and my god. I’m seeing this for the first time. The form and color theory and I just love color now. So these are all studies… I don’t know what they’re going to be, but I’m very much an artist that moves through a process as opposed to thinks a lot and then does it. For better or for worse, I’ve decided to lean into that and make through things.
Looking at your art I would never guess that you started predominantly in black and white. There is so much color. And you’re doing these woodblock sculptures now. How did you get into that?
That was also totally a new thing. With the Duke Ellington wall, that was when I started to do these big wood cutouts for the first time and I was like, “Wow, this is really fun.” I had been doing… Like that “Who You Callin’ Baby” is really old. It’s like 2013. So I had been doing these cutouts and working on no squares for a while. I think I was just so tired of working on squares. I just wanted my art to be on the wall and be different shapes. Again, I think I’m tired of working flat. I’m just bored. So I’ve been doing more ceramics. I just want my work to come off of the wall. I’ve started experimenting with these wood cut outs. I want them to stand. Just kind of making my art exist in space because I’m bored.
Are the ceramic vulvas that are for sale also yours?
Yes. So I lived in Berlin, not last fall, but the fall before that. I did a residency there and then just stuck around. I ended up interning with this ceramic artist and I learned how to cast mugs.
Oh yeah the boob mug, I love them deeply.
Yeah, those are great. I made maybe ten of them and then for years people were like, “Where are the boob mugs?” And now I feel like everybody is making boob mugs. So I brought tons of ceramics back from Berlin and so I’m leaning back into that stuff.
How do you pick up these different mediums? I know you were studying with a ceramic artist, but with these wood cuttings, do you go to someone and ask for tips? Or do you just go for it?
It’s kind of a mix. I’m so into community and I really love skill share and I feel like we all have things we can learn from each other. I’m super into being like, “I know how to carve and print and maybe you can show me the best way to use a chop saw?” But a lot of it is trial and error. I know how to use a jigsaw, so I was like, “Cool I can totally cut all of these out by myself.” And now I’m in a place where I’ve mastered the jigsaw and now I need to figure out these other saws. It is learning from other artists. I also taught art for almost three years. So I kind of re-explored a lot of these things. Teaching myself so I could teach the kids.
What grades did you teach?
Middle and high school. So we did lino block stuff and we did paper mache and beading. It was an independent education school, so I didn’t have to follow any curriculum. So, I’d be like, “Cool, let’s talk about queer black artists and how they influence the art world.”
That’s awesome. Why did you leave teaching?
Whenever I’m not making my own art, it seems like a distraction to what I really want to be doing. Sometimes that feels selfish, but I’m so privileged that if I can make that choice and if I can make that work for me, I’m going to do that. I love working with the kids, although I worked in a really tough school. I’m not trained to teach either. It was amazing and I learned a lot about everything, but It was tough. I’m in awe of teachers, but I just wanted to make my art.
So where are you looking for studio space when they kick you out of this joint?
I have no idea. I’m going to cross that bridge when I get there. I’m never going to find anything like this, and for the price, it’s really an amazing set up. It’s super affordable to rent this space and there’s all sorts of really cool things that people are doing here. There’s going to be a portrait series that someone is doing about the community here. So again, it’s like, ultimately people need space to do any number of things. There’s a shortage of affordable spaces to do things in D.C.