Artist Jesse Kalisher passes away at 55

Artist Jesse Kalisher passed away peacefully on July 20 in Chapel Hill, N.C., after a battle with cancer. He was 55 years old.

Jesse was the founder and former president of art company Kalisher, which he established 15 years ago with his wife Helen Kalisher. The two formed their first business in 1999, and by 2005, they were expanding a mass merchandise line, partnering with big-box stores and hiring their first employee. 

The company expanded into the hospitality industry two years later. Together, they built Kalisher into one of the top art consulting firms in the industry.

Today, Kalisher has more than 100 employees, with offices in 11 cities worldwide.

A Life in Art (and Hospitality)

Jesse Kalisher shared his insights into his profession in several HOTEL MANAGEMENT articles. “We come to work every day and face a blank canvas,” he said of his job in a 2015 interview. “We may have elevations or a mood board, but every day our studio artists are creating new art and in multiple mediums. That’s both exciting and a challenge at the same time.” 

Kalisher was also keenly aware of the importance art has in creating a mood in hospitality. “Art has the potential to completely set the vibe for a hotel,” he said in an interview last year. “It ultimately is up to the interior designer and the owner and the brand to decide if that’s the role they want art to play, and then the art consultant can execute on that.” 

Kalisher sourced 3,000 selfies of Cleveland residents, turning the photos into a skyline mural at the Hilton Cleveland Downtown.
Kalisher sourced 3,000 selfies of Cleveland residents, turning the photos into a skyline mural at the Hilton Cleveland Downtown.

Finding the right kind of artwork for a hotel is a twofold process, he believed. “There’s creating art, and there’s curating and commissioning art.” The first step in determining artwork for a hotel is to meet with the interior designer and the owner and figure out what their design aesthetic, budget and timing are. Once the team understands the scope of what the client is looking for, they can start to pull together some recommendations. “One of the very first things we do is we give them some information that helps set their expectation for what they can afford with the budget they have,” Kalisher said. “Just like anything in life, we have things that we love and there are things that we can afford, and when those two things intersect things [it's] great, but that’s not always the case.” 

He also appreciated the philosophy behind sourcing and creating artwork for a hotel. When asked how a designer should balance originality and broad appeal in terms of hotel artwork, he argued that the two can be on the same end of the spectrum. “In fact, I’d argue that most things with broad appeal are original.” The opposite, of course, is not true, he added. “Most original work does not have broad appeal. Shakespeare, Picasso, the Beatles, Banksy—all original artists who, based on their originality, reached broad appeal.”

Remembering Jesse

In his final photo blog, Kalisher remarked on his life and career. “It’s been a journey filled with the expected ups and downs,” he wrote. “I’ve had an amazing life–and even now there are amazing moments to every day. Don’t feel sorry for me.”

Jesse Kalisher Teenage Self Portrait circa 1970s
Teenage Self Portrait circa 1970s

Over the past several years, Kalisher transitioned the majority of his roles and responsibilities to the Kalisher leadership team, including the promotion of Sarah Elder to COO, Jon Cochran to senior director of business development, and former creative director David Winton to president. 

“Everything he created was about and for other people,” Elder said in a statement. “Everything he created, he created to share. This spirit defined him, and we will grow with him in our DNA every day.” 

“Everything Jesse said or did inspired his colleagues, helped define an industry, and worked to make the world more beautiful and joyful,” Winton continued. “We have all been so lucky to know him, but I am most thankful for what he stood for. He lived life for the journey, rather than any end.” 

Jesse Kalisher is survived by his wife Helen, an artist and graphic designer, and their two children, Jordan and Tamar. 

Those wishing to commemorate his life can contribute to the scholarship fund, An Egg A Day, set up by Jesse and Helen. Stories can also be shared at [email protected].

Here’s to our humanity.
Here’s to our similarities.
Here’s to our strength.
Here’s to peace.

— Jesse Kalisher