Friday, August 24, 2012

On Creativity: Jessica Bell

Multiplication 2, 2012

I adored working creatively with Jessica Bell a while back--you may remember this piece she created in response to my poem, “Apparent Magnitude.”  I love following her work, and hearing her thoughts about making.

What continues to amaze me about Jessica’s artwork is the certainty within her pieces. When I look at her collages, paintings, and photos, I feel, “Yes, everything is in its place. Everything is where it should be. Including me.” In her collages and paintings, we can see houses, neighborhoods, skies, oceans, landscapes, horizons, fields. I often see reflections of Vancouver, a city I love and miss. She puts us, the viewer, in a safe, specific place for looking. Though she is always working with fragments and layers, there is nothing disorienting about her art. Here it is, and here we are, witnessing it. Her art impacts the way I see....often, I am walking around town, and grabbed by a specific image (usually a building or interesting set of textures)....I think, “Here’s a Jessica Bell photo op.”


Q: Many of your pieces rely on layers (of paint, fabric, or paper) or edges (the edges of a cutout or the seams between colors and textures in your photos). How do you decide what to cover up and what to reveal? What do the concepts of borders, layers, and being exposed mean to you?

A: Well, the truth is, the way I decide what to hide and what to reveal isn't always the same. On rare occasions, I have a clear vision for what I want a piece to be about; I am very intentional in building the layers and history from the materials before I edit it into completion by committing to a set form. A successful piece of work for me needs to have the right balance of design and idea. For me, the one always proceeds the other. When I am layering on paint, or collage, or drawing media, or cutting up fabric, I work mostly on instinct: if a fabric piece is not quite right, I cut it up. If a painting is awkward in one area, (often for reasons I can't articulate, but just know in my gut), I will take my painters tape, mask off that section and lay down a new layer. What is always interesting to me in deliberately removing elements from my work is that while it appears I am taking something away, I am always, in fact, creating something new. What was done before is always there, percolating below or reincarnated as a fragment. When I am working on my layers, I am very conscious of creating material history; this has become really important to me.

There Goes the Neighbourhood 2, 2012
There is inevitably a point in all of my pieces now when I know I have added as much material as I can; the history is written, as it were. It would be unusual for me to leave a work as it is at this stage because, for me, it is really important that the material history be framed. I don't want my work to be viewed as pure abstractions; I actually never think of them that way. I always have a strong idea of subject and I will sit on a piece at this stage until I can search within what has already been made for what the subject is compositionally. The concepts come from a persistent thought; a good example would be the dozens of 'house paintings' I have made in the past 4 months or so. I spent a lot of my growing up in a city that is essentially one giant suburb; it is one architecturally controlled neighbourhood after another. When I last visited it, I noticed these regular house forms jammed together across the landscape and started thinking about how funny it is that these boxes of material contain the lives of people. These boxes are containers for people's lives and also the window from which they see the world. While I now live in a city where it is fiscally impossible for someone like me to own a proper 'house', the form was still one that I chose to utilize because it feels very truthful, as a structure, but also as a metaphor for being alive and on this planet. When I organized many of the house paintings together as a suburb, it was both a nod to my own physical and personal history but also an observation about the place where I live where we are all tight together but like to look at things from our own windows. I called these paintings 'Vessels' because these house shapes are containers with active contents.

Suburb (Vessels 1-21), 2012

Note: All images are courtesy of the artist.

1 comment

  1. It's interesting to read about the "why" of craft. I think the process of removal as creation can apply to basically any medium.


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