People in Your La Jolla Neighborhood: Meet sculptor, artist Jean Wells

Editor’s Note: Welcome to La Jolla Light’s “People in Your Neighborhood” series, which shines a spotlight on notable locals we all wish we knew more about! Light staff is out on the town talking to familiar, friendly faces to bring you their stories. If you know someone you’d like us to profile, send the lead via e-mail to editor@lajollalight.com or call us at (858) 875-5950.

Jean Wells is an internationally known artist now living in La Jolla Shores. Her art chiefly consists of fast food mosaic sculptures, satirizing the idea of the unhealthy American diet, but she explores all the corners of pop culture. Many of her pieces are more than 5 feet tall.

Where are you from?

“Seattle, Washington. I grew up there, and I went to the University of Washington and majored in art. Then I became a graphic designer for a period of time, until I was able to do my sculptures, which is my passion.”

How did you end up in La Jolla?

“The sun! And also, I love the ocean, it’s very inspirational. I couldn’t be happier than here in La Jolla.

Originally, I came and had an advertising business here. And then I met my husband skiing in Sun Valley, and he was living in northern California back then, so I moved up there. But then I convinced him that we needed to come back down here. Originally, my grandparents where the ones that introduced me to La Jolla, because they wintered here from Michigan, and they would stay at the La Valencia Hotel until they built the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club. They were among the first people to stay there, and I would visit them. I thought, ‘this is where I want to live!’ and eventually it happened.”

Tell us about your art.

“I’m a third-generation mosaic artist. It’s in my blood. When I went to to University of Washington, I studied sculpture and I married the passion between my mosaics and my love of sculpture. My largest sculpture today is 18 feet tall! It has been a traveling exhibit, the last has been at the Oceanside Museum of Art. It’s a huge ‘Hershey Kiss’ — you can walk into it and inside it smells like chocolate. While it was showing at the Oceanside museum, four couples asked if they could get married in it!”

When do you do your work?

“It’s in my head all day long. My routine here in La Jolla is to walk down to the Shore Rider Restaurant where they feed me because I’m not a good cook. There’s interesting people there — inventors, rocket scientists and artists ... it’s a good social place for me. Then, I’ll either get in my truck and go to my studio, which is in Miramar, or I’ll do my conceptual pieces from home.”

How do you come up with ideas?

“My husband says in the middle of the night, sometimes I wake him up because I get so excited about something. With my ‘Urban Fruit Tree,’ I was frustrated with my children wanting so many sodas and fast food, sort of ‘the American diet,’ and I’m more of a health food nut, so I thought I’d do a parody of that ... ice cream cones and hot dogs growing on a tree. Who knows what apples and oranges are anymore (laughs).”

What materials do you use?

“Glass, and very rarely, I use square tiles. I carve the shapes out of polyurethane foam and then I cut the glass and glue it all together.”

What’s the price range of your sculptures?

“My ‘Kiss’ is the least expensive, $1,500, and the most expensive is my ‘Urban Fruit Tree,’ $125,000.”

What do you do for fun?

“I’m athletic, I love to hike Torrey Pines or walk into town. I used to ski a lot, but I’ve slowed down with the years. I just started learning canasta and I started teaching it to friends. It’s a very social game, and I met some of the most wonderful women around here, and we try to get together once a week.”

How long have you resided in La Jolla?

“A customer of mine lived here, and I delivered a piece to her. When I walked through her front door, I said, ‘I want to live here.’ Six or seven years after that, she called me and asked me if I still wanted the house.”

What inspires you?

“Art. I love going to museums, looking through art books. Wayne Thiebaud, Robert Townsend, Picasso and Andy Warhol are some of my favorites.”

How do you earn your living?

“Well, my sculptures contribute, but my husband and I were in the computer business for a while.”

Do you have kids?

“I have a 31-year old daughter, Carrie Hammer, and a 29-year-old son, Blake Hamerslag.”

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