“Flowers and love are both timeless and fleeting,” says Jesse Ceraldi. “A flower is an emblem of nature’s continuity, yet a beautiful bouquet dies in front of your eyes. In the same way, true love is both eternal and a reminder that our walk on Earth is temporary, that we cannot be together in this mortal form forever. That duality is something that I love to explore.”
Ceraldi began to work on a series of large-scale flower paintings during the early days of the pandemic. As a mother of three small children — she and her husband, Michael, an innovative chef, own the restaurant Ceraldi in Wellfleet — she longed to fill her home with beauty and joy to help her family get through this frightening time.
“I am in love with growing flowers, and, as most farmers know, the best flowers grow out of shit,” she says, and laughs. “When we went into the lockdown, living flowers were harder to come by, so I started painting them.”
The canvases she created became Ceraldi’s way of expressing her unwavering belief that, in spite of this unpredictable moment in time, everything would turn out all right.
“There is a lot of suffering in our human experience, and I’ve certainly done my fair share of tortured artist work when I was younger,” she says. “But I’ve ultimately realized that this is not where I want to dedicate my time. I’m interested in how we can elevate these experiences, because a lot of good can come of that.”
Later last spring, Ceraldi’s husband gave her a gift subscription to products from the Blue Lobster Flower Farm in Brewster. “Their weekly delivery of inspiration, coupled with the blooms bursting forth in our own gardens, provided a balance to the global struggle and pain,” she says. “In a small way, flowers acted as a symbol that we as a society can grow beauty from our circumstances with nurture and light.”
Ceraldi named her painting series “Love,” and she gives each artwork a whimsical title, inspired by rock ’n’ roll, that expresses a different form of loving: Gentle Petal Love, Luscious Deep Water Love, and You Can Take a Turn & Then I Get It Back Love are a few examples. “The varieties of how we love and give love are so vast,” she says. “I just have fun with it.”
Ceraldi considers the immediate and universal appeal of blossoms to be a point of entry into the more complex aspects of her work. “Flowers stand as a greeting,” she says, “a mediator to jump into the subtleties of abstract interplay between color, texture, material, and space. My hope is that floating in the interior of the painting is a space to recalibrate, much like a meditation.” Her work is on view at jesseceraldi.love.
Raised in Chicago, Ceraldi attended high school at the Chicago Academy for the Arts, then went to the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. “Weaving between the disciplines of science and art,” she says she studied astronomy, environmental science, and forestry at Johns Hopkins University, with which MICA is affiliated, while pursuing her studio training in painting. She ended up graduating from Syracuse University. The highlights of her education were, she says, meeting her husband — the “creative love of her life” — and studying in Florence, Italy.
The Ceraldis moved their young family to Cape Cod in 2010. At first, they lived above the Italian restaurant Dalla Cucina in Provincetown, where Michael worked, while Jesse took a position as a science teacher in the Provincetown Schools. Arriving at the Outer Cape, she says, “was like landing in a fairy tale.” As an artist, she was in awe of a place saturated in beauty, light, and culture. As a teacher, she felt embraced by the warmth of the community.
Ceraldi, the restaurant, was born as a pop-up on Commercial Street in Provincetown in 2013. “I was teaching, running the restaurant with Michael, and we had two children — Hugo, age five, and Violette, three,” Jesse says. “It was an around-the-clock hustle. I don’t think I slept during that entire time. I was running on love and determination. I am a big believer in working hard to achieve dreams.”
The following year, the couple moved the restaurant to its current location on Kendrick Avenue, near Wellfleet Harbor, sharing a building with the Harbor Stage Company. Ceraldi quit her job at the school to devote her time to her family, her art, and the restaurant. In 2015, when their third child, Arielle, was born, the family moved to Brewster, where they now live.
As she paints in her atrium studio at the center of the family’s home, Ceraldi exudes the air of a Renaissance woman. She is surrounded by her children as she creates, and all three love to paint as much as their mother does.
“They are so prolific that we’re going to need a whole room for their archives,” Ceraldi says. “As far as artists go, I’m nothing compared to them.”