You just earned an MFA from Glasgow School of Art — congrats! And you’re based in the UK, currently in Glasgow. Can you tell me a bit more about yourself? Where are you from originally? What first interested you painting?
I grew up in Bedfordshire and at school I was always fascinated by painting. Every break time you could find me in the art department, playing with paint. I went to quite an academic school, where the arts weren’t greatly encouraged so studying art at university didn’t occur to me. When I left school at 18 I went to university to study architectural engineering, I very quickly realized this wasn’t the direction I wanted my life to go in so I dropped out and ran away to the mountains for a couple of years. After a lot of snow, skiing and partying I came back home, not knowing what to do with myself.
My Mum suggested I enrol onto the art foundation course at our local college. I hesitantly did so. It was here I started painting again. From there I went on to complete a BA at University College Falmouth, and then went on to become part of the first year of Turps Banana Painting Programme, an experimental art school in London, run by Marcus Harvey and Peter Ashton Jones. This year at Turps was transformational to my practice. I became a stronger painter and now have a firm network of artists around me which has been invaluable.
After a few years of working and painting in London I felt like I needed a change and wanted to challenge the work I had been previously making so I moved up to Glasgow to start a masters at Glasgow School of Art.
I noticed that you work primarily in abstraction, often quite minimally. Can you tell me a bit about your work?
I often get put in the abstract category but I don’t consider my paintings to be abstract. They all come from life. They’re translations, just like Ellsworth Kelly’s works are translations of things he’s seen in the world.
When making work I begin by making a series of line drawings. These drawings are an essence of something half remembered, a moment caught, an approximation. The inspiration is visual and generated from the world around me: from the negative space between two objects or the texture of a fabric to patterns in weather and the movement of traffic. I’m also often looking at other paintings when I’m making them. My aim is to inscribe my paintings with an art historical anamnesis, with subtle associations to works of other painters of the 20th century, that also triggers the viewers’ personal recollections. My thoughts about the works of other artists mingle with subjective motifs from my own biography. It is, so to speak, a dual memory that not only recounts the history of abstraction but also an autobiographical medium.
What is your process like? How do you get started on a piece, and how long does a typical painting take you to complete?
In the studio I work on many pieces at once and so my studio wall is always full of paintings. The works are constantly shifted around, being placed and reordered. I see this wall as an evolving story, a set of possibilities. My imagination bounces from one work to the next. The works are never viewed singularly; together they form an investigation into visual language and are an attempt at conversation.
I paint quickly and there is a layering of invention and reaction that can never entirely be predicted, but there is a sense that rules ‘are at work’, as if a game is being constructed but the rules have to be found as the painting develops and can only be known to myself as if the consciousness is found when the rules have been found. This approach bans any authorial control or knowledge and reinforces the work’s poetic and amiable atmosphere.
What is your studio like? Do you have any routines or rituals there, and how much time do you typically get to spend there?
This is an image of my studio I had for the last few months of my masters at GSA. It was a fantastic space to work in and allowed to make series of large paintings (I love working on a large scale). I’ve recently moved to a studio at an old ship building yard in an industrial area of Glasgow.
I work best in the mornings, so like to get into the studio early. When I first get in, I make a cup of tea and spend the first hour just looking at everything in my space. I think I probably spend about 80 percent of my time just staring at the walls.
What do you feel is the most challenging aspect of pursuing art? Have you made any sacrifices to get to where you are right now?
Pursuing art isn’t easy. It’s difficult and tricky to get the right balance of having enough time and money. You have to be determined and have a real love for what you do.
What have you learned along the way that you would tell yourself, if you could go back to when you were just beginning to pursue art as a student?
I would tell myself to just keep painting!
What do you consider to be the most rewarding or exciting part of pursuing your practice?
Pursuing my practice provides an openness to pleasure and the imagination – and at times the viewing is like listening to music. A good painting makes you really examine a moment, because the moment could go on forever. Music is what happens in the space between sounds. It can flow into paint.
If you could meet up for coffee or a drink with anyone, and talk about anything, who would it be and what would you chat about?
My most recent body of work is titled ‘Mary, Blinky, Jessica, Yay!’ and is a fantasy exhibition based upon the exhibition ‘Mary, Blinky, Yay!’ that took place at Kunstmuseum Bonn in 2013 and showed the work of Mary Heilmann and Blinky Palermo together. In this fantasy exhibition my work is shown beside Heilmann and Palermo. Both Heilmann and Palermo appropriate the work of other artists such as Barnett Newman and Ellsworth Kelly. I recently made a series of paintings that were appropriations of their appropriations. So the fantasy exhibition and appropriating the ideas behind the original exhibition seemed like a a playful way to provide a context for the paintings. The fantasy exhibition, like my paintings, bring together a certain sense of cheekiness, an intelligent comment and a painterly, often almost nostalgic history.
I made a catalogue to accompany the fantasy exhibition which ended up in the hands of Mary Heilmann herself! Mary has invited me out to visit her in New York – I don’t think there could be a better outcome for this body of work. I’m really excited to talk about painting with Mary!
Are you preparing for any exhibitions or projects currently?
2016 has been an extremely busy year, so right now I’m taking some time to reflect on everything. I’m looking forward to visiting Mary Heilmann early next year, and I’ve got a few ideas for projects up my sleeve so I’ll keep you posted!
Find more at jessicawilson.co.uk!
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