2018 portraits of the artists the penwith society of artists
text michael carter
The vast bay of Penzance lay grey and flat under low heavy cloud, and a hard iron band seemed to score the horizon. This distinct line between sky and sea might have been appreciated from the high ground above Newlyn where Jess has her studio, for her eye seems adapted to such things.
Sorting out what essentially belongs to things – stripping them of the properties superfluous to their abiding identities – and leaving their spare forms transformed but somehow intact, seems to be basic to her aesthetic, and her work is characteristically marked with a kind of voluptuous purity close to severity. Featureless spaces often exist between objects, showing relationships between things, but also presenting what the things are in themselves in isolation. Thus a tension between solitude and society is revealed. There are spaces everywhere between things, but the spaces appear to also attach, and some sort of reciprocity is formed. Each aspect holds the other in check but somehow also defines it. You can’t pick up one of the objects from the canvas without bringing the rest with it. Thus the simplicities seen are in a web of dependence. There is a calm balanced atmosphere, the temperature both warm and cool, never dropping to icy, or rising to hot. It is poised and exclusive.
Her studio, being an old school room, is almost as high as long, with those typically tall windows which tip open at the tops by tugging cords. White is everywhere. There is almost no finished artwork, and no standing easel. She presses so hard in making her pictures that she has had adjustable frames screwed to the walls into which her canvasses are wedged. This and the high windows create an appropriate sense of sectioning, for Jess is aware that artists – women artists who are also mothers – have to plan with care what activity belongs to which time and what place. And this means thinking compartmentally and assuming control. It means having an adequate defence system to deflect the distractions which puncture the bubbles of concentration necessary for sustained concentration.
Her face as I watch has sudden transitions. It seems to pass from a rather grave, analytical gaze to one that is glad and open, but neither extreme is what I’m after. It’s the phase in between that interests me – when the interior life is simultaneously present and engaging the things beyond. That particular look is perhaps a little like the pictures, a blend of what’s within and what’s without, her profile cutting the air like her sparse linear forms. And so in looking at her in the frame of the lens I seem also to be encountering her pictures. It’s like seeing the sea in the sky, and the sky in the sea. You just need to have that line of separation to know which is which.