Insights into the purpose of Jess's practice


Three-part sequel interview: Part 1

Introduction to the conversation

Oliver is the founder of Origin Art, a new online platform for emerging and established artists. He gained experience working at esteemed galleries such as Goodman Gallery. Jess was approached by the gallery in 2020 and now showcases both online and at exhibitions organised by Origin art around South Africa.

Both parties understand the importance of remembering that some of the most revered artistic work always plays a deeper role in the transformation of societies. Art practices that do not consider how the artwork relates to the current socio-political landscape miss out on the vital role artists play in being the change makers within society and joining a broader conversation in the art world. In this article, we will discuss how Jess deepens her practice in exploring substantial issues and how she approaches her work.


Details of an installation piece in which soils gathered from South African provinces created the foundations.




What’s your background and did your upbringing prompt a specific reference point within your work?

If I had to summarise into three overall influences within my lived experience I would say:

  1. Connection to natural world being raised in rural settings

  2. Connection to the supernatural world / spiritual realm

  3. Being a part of the socio-political landscape in the post-apartheid era, bridging understanding and identity in the aftermath of colonialism as the consequence of the geographical place I identity with as home.


My work is most certainly influenced by a connection to the natural world in South Africa and the people in a manner that I can’t really explain, yet is deeply felt. My descent is of French and British, with my father’s family wanting to escape the catholic regime, and my mother’s sent out as scouts for land. My great grandmother used to tell us stories about a life spent mostly at sea. My mother’s father decided to settle in South Africa, saved up for a trade-in plumbing and bought a farm on loan which the family is still paying off. I have experienced life mostly in rural South Africa, with my family being farmers on my mother’s side and my father being a conservationist for the state. My father was killed when my brother and I were children and thereafter, we relocated to Limpopo from the Cape. The socio-political landscape, my upbringing and the reformation in recent South African history most certainly infiltrates my work.






Is your work informed by certain concepts or themes from your childhood, background, socio-economic status, where you lived or were raised?


I strongly believe that one’s worldview is greatly shaped and influenced by the land in which you are raised. Your understanding of a place and a people and your role within society is informed by the teachings and experiences one learns and feels as a child. Being raised in rural landscapes in SA most certainly instilled a strong connection to the natural world and provided much space to think and reflect as a young adult. Being raised middle class and by single parent most definitely influenced my worldview and the values which were instilled in us as children.

 

How does this impact how you see the world and create art?


These questions are quite in-depth, and in order for me to visualise and explain the manner in which my influences come across in my practice, it makes sense to me to provide overall categories in a manner of sorts within the most overall influencing impacts.


  1. My practice works towards embedding preservation within others through arts as a channel

  2. Being raised in rural locations definitely enabled much mind space, reflection, observation & thought patterns to develop within the budding of my worldview.

  3. Being an artist is a way of communicating with others, bridging understanding and opening up broader conversations with strangers. This for me is one of the most beautiful and most important facets of art and the responsibility of being an artist is wanting to communicate ideas and conversations for a greater cause.


From a young age, I was fascinated by the manner in which art as a channel holds the ability to open up conversations between strangers – on topics that are both beautiful and at times, uncomfortable, yet needs to be aired within society and global communities to spark often much-needed change and reflection. Through evoking our senses and interconnected wiring of our brains and thoughts, art has the ability to connect us to greater ideas, purpose, emotional and spiritual growth and understanding. Art challenges thought patterns and initiates reformation within society, artists have held the dependability of transformation in history and will continue to do so. The space in which I was raised geographically and in the era of the social-political landscape has shaped the manner in which I understand the world. In many ways, being an artist is a calling in wanting to bridge further understanding, harmony and instil an awareness of the individual’s purpose within broader conversations.


 


Let’s discuss your educational background and any experiences that may have contributed to your evolution as an artist.


I obtained my degree in Fine and Applied arts in 2010 at Tshwane University of Technology, majoring in printed image and sculpture. I was honoured to be mentored by a number of acclaimed, inspiring lecturers, many of whom retired in my final year, unfortunately. TUT had a rule that lecturers must be practising artists which makes all the difference in the world in my opinion. They were responsible for the great understanding and appreciation of art theory, history and applied media practice that I apply within my art practice today. I have so many quirky memories and mantras that were repeated during training that still sit with me in my studio and pop up in memory every now and again.


The influence of gaining experience in the employed working realm most certainly enabled my focus on my practice in later years in being able to set up the studio equipment required as well as the dedicated focus a career in the arts requires. After graduating, I taught art, went on to manage commercial galleries and then consulted for corporate art collections. I needed the time to build the studio and enable to time I needed to be an artist which has most certainly provided further insights into my art career.



 

What does your work aim to say introspectively as opposed to simply what inspires you?

Once again, as a visual person – it’s best for me to sum this into a list of influencing factors.


  1. Broadening understanding in order to bridge disconnection for the greater good of earth and humanity.

  2. Promoting the preservation of the natural world in utilising art as an educational media

  3. Challenge thought patterns and habits built up over generations through passed on worldviews and set in stone notions.

  4. Gaining greater insights into the worldviews and perspectives of others in staying open-minded and evolving as a person

  5. Growing the appreciation of art as a means of expression for greater causes and communication

How does your practice form a cohesive narrative that sparks a dialogue about your work?


In essence, my practice aims to broaden understanding within society, challenging thought patterns, consumer habits, and our daily actions for the greater good of living with purpose and in harmony in the preservation of the natural world. I enjoy the appreciation of art, and, at its core, my work is created to be enjoyed in hope that its purpose sparks broader conversations.


This connection between ideas, the ‘invisible’ – a space is driven by transparent thoughts and ideas which stem from emotional urges transpires into an expression via the media of art. I often make use of text as the entry point within the artwork. The spiritual world and the still space of our thoughts are the intangible starting points, which stem the consequences of our actions in the tangible world.



 

How does your work comment on current social or political issues?


  1. The local lack of preservation & future planning is a driving factor in my work

  2. State of corruption affects each layer within communities in different manners which I am aware of within my work.

  3. A facet of my practice is on South African socio-political commentary. My main effort is on creating work that comments on the role of the individual, where we can make a difference in the socio-political landscape.


I never set out to define myself as a political artist, but, now and then a headline, observation or reflection on the current state of affairs gets to me and comes through in my work. Overall, I aim to create artwork that invokes a mindful existence within a global community. Work that triggers reflection on our worldviews and the impact of our daily existence which I find vital as we currently live in a capitalist, consumer-driven society. The catch 22 comes in the fact that our socio-political landscape directly dictates, influences and manipulates the individuals’ lived experience.


In framing your response to the aforementioned question, which materials or aspects of your work make a comment on current events or societal issues and how is this portrayed in your work?

My work involves an interdisciplinary approach by merging many layers of different media, and, in most pieces – the process involves documentation and digital manipulations in the final layers with limited edition prints created in small runs. In select bodies of work, working digitally in the layering and manipulation of elements speaks to the infiltration of the digital world in which we also exist, where much of our influences, information and varied knowledge bases inform our understandings layers our lens of perceptions. As mentioned above, text often acts as an entry point in my work, either through virtual layers, the title of the artwork, text embedded in the work or, accompanied in an installation. Through the mass of information, consumer forced agenda around every corner and rat race hustle and bustle in the cost of living our day and age demands, it’s as though society needs a subtle constant message to actively instil mindfulness, live in the present, and, understand their footprints on the planet. My practice is a warning, a message for the greater good.


Let me expand and discuss the faculties in which I practice more specifically, and how each media further enables key messaging within my practice:


The three-dimensional aspects of sculptural works hold a presence in our space, as opposed to a two-dimensional piece that neatly sits on a wall. Sculpture that steps into our space as an installation I find very impactful. To bring this train of thought back to the question; there is a strength within the nature of the South African nation that endures, exudes optimism and fosters strength above all the corrupt blows. Through the media of bronze, I find my work has the ability to create great suspension and movement which reads into the conceptual framework and commentary in my work.


Clay holds a beautiful fragility in the nature of the material. In the body of work, Satire – for instance, I depicted the emotional rendering that is left in the aftermath of corruption within the individuals’ existence. I looked into the number of state departments and the rate of systems failing and created a body of work that depicts the contortions that individuals have to go through to live these days. Clay and soil are often utilised within my work to connect the existence of the lived experience to a particular geographical place which is a great part of my practice.

In practicing as an interdisciplinary artist, I have found the media to be more environmentally friendly. I also don’t have limitations on the elements I would like to develop within each work as there are not as many boundaries in working in a variety of layered materials if one is creating a work to be documented and the original is not the main objective. Working digitally in the final layers brings visuals and ideas into the work that would not have been obtainable physically. In these ways, the integration of the human experience within a particular socio-political landscape, spiritual connection, emotional understanding, physical existence and a digital presence is fused together in the post-modern world in which we exist. I see the parallel in the media in seeing some of these worlds and feeling most of the rest.


Details of process work setting during the reactions in the creative process



Would you like to share some of your trade secrets in your creative process and studio practice?

Happily so, I live and practice by these ideas and principles:


1. Experimental process work is key in developing an artists’ professional practice

2. Concept dictates media

3. Research, research and more research

4. Leave work, and return in a different state of mind

5. Layers, reflection and time make for a good piece of art that moves others

6. Understand how one’s creations can be interpreted visually, conceptually and through research and

observation - understand connotations across diverse audiences to make work inclusive.

7. Always engage with your audience, I’ve met the most amazing people through art

8. How is AI reading your visuals?

9. Take your practice seriously in all facets. Being a professional artist is a career, not a hobby.

10. Observational practice and studies are key facets of a healthy studio practice.


My creative process is always very experimental, it begins with research into the theoretical framework, sourcing of multiple reference materials and then sketched concept work in which I try to capture the vivid ideas which run through my mind as quickly as possible which is in an impression based on a culmination of the build-up towards the concept. As I sketch - ideas, composition, the artwork’s intent and key messaging evolves into something of its own. From there, I experiment with a variety of media. As an interdisciplinary artist – the layers within each artwork come together through different materials. Often, the creative process, the method of layering and chemical reactions of materials guide challenge or slightly alter the initial artworks concept, elements or principles. An artworks media is greatly linked to the purpose of the work.



 


The process of creating is available on my instagram handle, where studio insights are shared sporadically.


@jmlr_art

http://instagram.com/jmlr_art



 


Satire series behind the scenes during the creative process