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Jess Tabby Shaps

Jess is a printmaker specializing in monotypes, screen prints, cyanotypes and mixed media. She has a background in dance and comedy. She joined RWS in October 2020. Jess’s journey to printmaking is a collage that started in Ballet. The daughter of an Iraqi Jewish Canadian immigrant forced to leave Iraq to avoid religious persecution, Jess used dance as a way to move through the intergenerational trauma that is stored in the body. “Ballet was a way to express the complicated emotions that were not easily communicated in words,” dance had a calming and grounding effect on Jess. Traditional ballet aesthetics can be traumatic in their own way, “Ballet is about the lines of the body and being light on your feet, but if your body doesn’t naturally move that way it’s easy to feel inadequate by comparing yourself to dated aesthetics.” Ballet led Jess to Modern dance and socially conscious choreography, using humor to expose the far right news media. Through that, Jess found Improv comedy and performed in her own show in NYC for four years. “Improv is always scary,” says Jess, “It exposes how you feel and think; but when that goes well, it can be very cathartic.” When Jess suffered a dance injury while completing her MA in Choreography, she found rehabilitative Pilates. As she healed her injury through the practice, she also healed more of her past trauma. She has taught body centering movement to private clients for over a decade now. In March of 2020, Jess was craving an art form that she could practice on her own without other actors, dancers or an audience. She rediscovered a love of design and drawing in her printmaking. Jess describes her printmaking as unpredictable, much like comedy. Jess stays present with her work from the initial idea to the transformation on the paper (t-shirts or lately birch wood) and allows it to inform the next iteration. “My background in comedy lends itself well to printmaking because I can’t fully control – nor want to – the final image, which keeps it exciting."

And then she found RWS, which was huge for her. Access to the presses, dark room, and screen printing exposure units allows her evolving process to keep growing. Through the act of creating, Jess seeks to be present, “Being present with what is arising informs a piece I make and I hope viewers can feel that awareness in it.” She adds, “Someday they’ll be funny.” You can find Jess at the next First Friday in Portland, Maine on Congress Street. Follow her on Instagram @jessprintpress. Watch the fun film she made with Nuts and Gum below!

Nuts and Gum and Jess Tabby Shaps. (2021) Cyanotype Fun. [Digital cinematography and cyanotype].


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