Artist Jessy Nite Uses Paracord to Explore Themes of Survival

Jessy Nite at her home studio in Little Haiti.
Jessy Nite at her home studio in Little Haiti. Photo courtesy of Jessy Nite
The sounds of a dutiful guard dog can be heard from the other side of the door to artist Jessy Nite's home studio in Little Haiti. A cream-color canine, Jane circles Nite before sitting by her side.

The 34-year-old artist herself sits at her desk. Behind her hangs a newly completed tapestry: strands upon strands of paracord, woven, tied, and knotted to form a phrase that appears to float in midair. "I was as you are, you will be as I am," it reads.

Recognized internationally for her typography work, Nite recently took up paracord as a new, unexplored material.

Paracord is an insanely sturdy material. The name is an apt portmanteau of the words "parachute" and "cord" — it's the type of rope employed in parachute suspension lines and beloved by members of the military and hikers for its strength and durability. It's associated with survival, which makes it a suitable material for Nite, who began working on this project during the pandemic.

Like many artists, Nite saw many of her projects put on hold by COVID and found herself with an uncommon abundance of free time. The New Jersey native took the opportunity to pause, reconnect more with nature, and reset.

An avid hiker, she spent more time outdoors and playing with different survival knots and paracord. One day, while having a casual conversation with a friend, she knotted a keychain out of paracord. The discovery led to experiments with the material until the work evolved into the large-scale tapestries that now hang all around her studio.
click to enlarge Two are one, one is none - PHOTO COURTESY OF JESSY NITE
Two are one, one is none
Photo courtesy of Jessy Nite
"They're all referencing survival," Nite explains as she sips a chamomile tea. "Survival in social settings, in nature settings. They also reference climate change. Some of the sayings are also plays off of common survival phrases."

"Two are one, one is none," reads one. "Retreat," says another. "On and on." The pieces are colorful and beautiful, saying one thing literally but meaning so many others.

"If you look back at all my work, the common thread isn't really the medium; it's the narrative," Nite says. "Most of my text work has a lot of different layered meanings, so [the pieces] are going to have different meanings for different people. They're supposed to."
click to enlarge "If you look back at all my work, the common thread isn't really the medium; it's the narrative," Nite explains. - PHOTO COURTESY OF JESSY NITE
"If you look back at all my work, the common thread isn't really the medium; it's the narrative," Nite explains.
Photo courtesy of Jessy Nite
In 2015, Nite used pills to spell out certain words, such as "Serenity Now" and "Chill," each word or phrase connecting to the theme of addiction. Her widely photographed outdoor shadow pieces, like "Beneath your light, my paradise" in Allapattah or "Sun is high so am I" at Miami Beach's SoHo Beach House, all relate to the outdoors.

And now, survival.

Nite's surroundings and life phases heavily influence her work. Her earlier work centered on themes of partying and addiction, which reflected her life at the time. Now, as those around her struggle with survival, her work has become a self-study of the times, focused more on exploring the ideas of nature and community.

"In the last year, there was definitely the idea of surviving as in your life and health are being threatened, but then there's survival as it pertains to the climate crisis, and also social survival is something that hit hard last year," she says. "There's a deeper conversation to be had about what we humans need to survive these days."

The artist enjoys creating and getting lost in her work. She describes her process as meditative, reflective, and sometimes grueling. She adds that some pieces may take her a handful of hours over a few days to create, whereas others demand a monthlong commitment of nine- to 12-hour workdays.
click to enlarge Detail of Jessy Nite's work with paracord. - PHOTO COURTESY OF JESSY NITE
Detail of Jessy Nite's work with paracord.
Photo courtesy of Jessy Nite
Over the summer, Nite displayed one of her new paracord pieces at a group exhibition at Apollo Plants in the Design District. She's working to produce more works for a solo exhibition later this fall.

Despite taking some time to recharge, Nite remained steadfast in creating in 2020. She worked with local businesses, including Boia De, Boxelder, and Palm Film Lab. Earlier this year, she had a public art installation in her hometown of Jersey City, and she collaborated with spirits brand Diageo for an art deco-inspired work. The piece is part of an installation up now through December at the Showfields store on Lincoln Road.

In addition to the planned solo show, Nite is working with Miami-Dade Art in Public Places for a large-scale installation in 2022.

"I feel really strongly about these pieces," she says, "and I'm excited to put brand new work out that no one has ever seen."
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Carolina del Busto is a freelance writer for Miami New Times. She nurtured her love of words at Boston College before moving back home to Miami and has been covering arts and culture in the Magic City since 2013.