20 Questions with Jess & Keegan

Jess & Keegan


Jess & Keegan are an artist duo traveling the world,  who most recently spent some time here in Boulder, Colorado. madelife is thrilled to show a selection of their collaborative work, opening First Friday June 5th. We sat down to ask them about themselves, their work and their inspiration.

Name ­​Jess & Keegan (Jess Beethe and Keegan D. O’Keefe)

Current Residence ­​The United States (mostly)

Country of Origin ​­ United States

Describe Your Work ­
BOTH: For us, it is undeniable that human life is a collective effort of many parts and a
vast sum of time, energy and connections. As an art­duo, our work is a direct reflection
of a combined assimilation of these elements.
Through many hours of associated time and energy, our work is a direct reflection of
the combined assimilation of these elements, found objects and mixed­media.
Working together, we craft pieces that reflect the natural, social and cultural
environments of the locations we choose to immerse ourselves in. Ultimately giving
forth a tangible dialog in order to understand the multifaceted ways our lives are
connected to so much more than ourselves.

How did you get Started?​­
K: I was born into an artistic family.
J: Art was the one thing that was always available to me as a kid. It doesn’t need
much. Just a few tools and it happens.

What piece of work best represents you?​­
K: My life and lifestyle is my greatest work of art. The processes of making work is
what represents me not the work itself. Once a work is finished it must stand on its
J: The pieces I haven’t made yet. As a piece is finished, it’s no longer ‘me’ or ‘us’ but a
representation of what was.

How does material influence your designs?​­
K: Our work is about connections and associations. All our works are dependent on
found object and available space. So material, time, space and associations almost
always dictate the outcome.
J: What Keegan said sums it up pretty well. In addition, though, I’ll add that material
and processes are just the tools we use and different situations, places, times etc.
require different tools. So, if we were to say something influences our work, it would be
environment more than material.

Where do you go to get inspired?​­
K: I am inspired by change, movement, texture, and abstract connections. These
things are available everywhere if you train your eye and mind to pick them up.
J: Since we work so close together, we’ve grown to be inspired by similar things.
Yeah, change and movement are a big part of it for me too, but – specifically – for me
it’s the minutia and details that really get my juices to flow and my hands to work.
Often times, the harder I have to work to make something, the more I’m eager to
accomplish it. I thrive on being challenged.


What have you learned from making that has inspired you?​­
K: SLOW DOWN. It takes a lot of time and a lot of effort to make something really
beautiful and inspiring so that it holds your attention. Much of the American life is one
internment after another in a fleeting, fast­pace task list. There is nothing fast about
making something by hand.
J: You can accomplish so much more than you know, and it’s not about ‘belief’ or
‘knowledge’ but the decision to do it and the continuous action that follows in order to
reach the end.

Describe the setting that one of your designs will be in in the year 2050.​­
K: The Guggenheim
J: In a castle.

What is it like when you collaborate with other artists? ​­
K: Calibration is the most inspiring way to learn. Everyone thinks, feels and reacts
different to stimuli. Being open to all the variations on the same idea is what makes life
and working with others so interesting.
J: Ditto. But, the one thing that really helps us, is having learned through our dual
creations that change is where the real work gets done. We’ll spend hours on a piece
and then, in one movement with one decision, wipe it out with a single stroke and start
all over again. It’s insanely freeing. Watching things exist and not exist, continuously,
until suddenly, when you’re not expecting it, everything settles and just ‘is’.


How do you balance being an artist and an entrepreneur?​­
K: There is only so much time in a day, week, month, lifetime. Budgeting SPECIFIC
RITUALISTIC TIME for each and every task that needs to be done is the only way
anything can reach completion.
J: Prioritizing and constantly looking and reassessing what it is we want (individually
and collaboratively) and then setting goals to make those things a reality. It’s all fun
and games – most of the time – but there are also times that it’s work and you have to
just understand that. Without black how would we ever understand what white is?

What is your process of coming up with new designs? ​­
K: I do not come up with new designs. I observe available connections and work with
present material associations. With an open mind, ideas are everywhere and
abundant, it’s execution that is rare.
J: For me, it usually spawns from information I’m studying at the time, places where
we’re traveling or the things we’re bringing into our environment. Patterns, history,
methods – a chipped dinner plate – really, though, I don’t know. Just life and
constantly looking at things. I would have loved to have been able to ask Nikola Tesla
his process for coming up with new ideas or how Stanley Kubrick developed his style.

Why do you believe art has value?​­
K: I have no idea if art has value. I just know that it has always been a compulsive
thing for me to do. I let others make their own decisions about its purpose, worth,
message and value.
J: As much as anything else has value. Human beliefs are what give value to anything
but what validates our beliefs? Cyclical. Standards are different everywhere with
everyone. So, let art be valuable or not. I’m not trying to convince people of what they
should believe or value. That’s not the point. I do what I do because I find personal
value in the action of doing it. If someone else likes what I’m doing or making and sees
a ‘value’ in it, cool. If not, that’s cool too.

Sunset Gala

What is playing on your stereo?
K: Audible ­ You are now less Dumb by David McRaney, Einstein’s Cosmos by Michio
Kaku, and Podcasts ­ Stuff You Should Know and Radiolab.
J: The soundtrack to “Only Lovers Left Alive” and “The History of Doubt” by Jennifer
Michael Hecht.

What’s in your cup in the morning? ​­
K: Coffee
J: First cup? Raw protein and greens to get my ass through a 5 mile run before getting
to work.

Which artist inspire you the most?​­
K: John Baldessari, Marcel Duchamp, Joseph Cornell, Peter Beards, On Kawara,
Robert Macpherson and many more.
J: Off the top of my head: Christopher Wool, Kevin Cantrell, and Hayao Miyazaki.

What’s the best thing about your studio?​­
K: It’s portable!
J: It changes.

How do you stay motivated to create? ​­
K: I try to always be researching new ideas, reading strange books, exploring new
countries, and exercising/ playing in new ways. These activities feed my life, and my
life is my art.
J: Seeing other people do what they do and realizing that there’s so much out there.
The more I know, the more I understand how much I don’t know. THAT is my ultimate
of inspirations.

What is the best part about being an artist?​­
K: I am NEVER bored.
J: Being part of an idea that inherently neutralizes a lot of expectations and obligations
that people label others with. When I’m asked, “So, what do you do,” and I explain to
them that I’m an artist, the invisible curtain falls apart and a lot more fun things have
room to begin


Join us First Friday June 5th to view their work, 6-9pm, along with two other artists showing separate exhibitions in our multiple gallery spaces.

Find out more about Jess & Keegan at www.jessandkeegan.com


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