Thursday, October 27, 2011

Kath interviews Jessica

I feel like you are an observer. You are either microscopic or a long way off – you are rarely at ground level. Why observe rather than interact?

I feel that by observing, I am interacting – there is no way to separate myself or my preconceptions from what I am looking at. I am the type of person who sits at home and thinks about stuff on either a very intense level or a very grand level … I don’t particularly care for expressing the mundane every day event as a mundane every day event. I like to either to get in very close and observe what life is like from there, or step back and look at things and observe things on a grand scale. Up close is very intense and personal, while far away is more dreamlike and removed, and I’m interested in how those feelings work.

Why does the comic book venue work for you?

It’s only been in the past couple of years that I’ve started working in comic form, but really I’ve always been very interested in sequencing. When I want to get something across I don’t want to limit myself to one image. Seeing images change from one thing to the next is really interesting to me, and the comic medium is perfect for telling a story that progresses from one thing to another. It also allows for words, which I love; I’m really interested in how words and images can affect and influence one another.

Comic books have become quite sophisticated from their original form it seems…

Comic books have a reputation for being something that can’t enter the world of high art, that can’t compete with fine painting or installation, so that’s why I tend to call them ‘graphic novels’ – that phrase has more gravity to it. They’ve earned this reputation of being lowbrow. I think comics are high art!

You have returned to the physicality of carving out this new work in lino for a handmade book- how does this best work toward your theme and content?

When I am working on something very process based, like carving out a lino plate, I get into the flow very easily with those repetitive movements. It lets me think about the concept of what I am doing; that’s important, that there is a process element to it. I enjoy it because it is something that I have always done; I enjoy the feel of these things as I am making them. Process clears my head so I can think about what’s going on in the work.

You are doing a lot of layering in this book- how is that going to inform the story more?

Layering is a really interesting concept because it speaks to what I am trying to do in all of my work, which is to get at those layers, that tension, between what the real world is like and what you perceive it to be like. There is so much that happens between the real world and you observing it. There is this cloudy layering process that is constantly happening: by the time you actually understand what you are looking at, it has already gone through so many filters and preconceived notions in your head that it’s something else now. There is no way to purely look at something.

Currently you are letting the images guide the narrative- explain!

I very specifically wanted to start this project without a goal in mind because I do definitely over think and over plan the narrative aspect of storytelling, which can trap you. That can lock you in and prevent you from going in directions that could be more successful. Also, stylistically I am trying to break out of the really rigid, cross-hatched, very tightly defined style that I tend to use; that feels like a crutch, or like a safety blanket. It looks good, but if there is something that isn’t working and I can’t figure out what’s wrong, my first reaction is to go back in and do more of those little lines. That’s not fixing the problem, that’s just making it look a certain way. I’m trying to attack that idea of having everything pre-planned. Know what the problems are and figure out a way to address them.

Where is this particular story going…?

The symbolic imagery, a lot of the umbrella heads, gives it a base in something anxious. A lot of holes that I have used pretty regularly for the past few years, hands coming out of the holes, rain coming down, flooding the place. Flooding being another aspect of anxiety - being overwhelmed. Hooks come down, pick up the people, drop them on dry land and one of them looks down and there is a mass of worms. I had not used worms much before which surprises me because I have a lot invested in them as an image.

I have an idea of the overall story concept, but half of the decisions come about while actually printing the stuff, which has not happened yet; once printed, I can communicate more about it.

Why do you think umbrella man is still with us- you mentioned he has been around since 2007?

It was an image that came to me from watching people in the rain in the city. Seeing how all these people were turned in on themselves, walking and passing each other with these protective barriers, not interacting with each other. All going their separate ways, hunched. I replaced the head with the umbrella. It represents anxiety and that feeling of isolation and being closed off from other people, even when you are in a big crowd. Anxiety and isolation are feelings that I tend to explore a lot because they feel like baseless, overpowering emotions. A lot of us experience that; it’s a prevalent feeling in modern culture. The work that I do tends to address the way that individuals create these states of mind for themselves, and what the effects are, how these feelings can color everything you look at.

Is umbrella person a version of you?

Umbrella person is a version of anybody who has felt anxious, so I would be included in that, but it’s not specifically me.

Do you think the person will be around for a while?

I think that it will persist for a while until I really flesh out why it keeps popping back up; I have a lot of repeated images that I can’t stop working with until I understand them, or why I’m using them. It could be around for a bit.

Your narratives then seem to be the fleshing out of potential emotions rather than a story line that goes from A to B. There does not seem to be a plot…or is there?

With this particular project it is a fleshing out of a sequence that overall will give you and understanding of an emotion. Previously I have done story work with a plot and dialogue, a sequencing of events that’s meant to be read in a line. With this project, I think you can open it to any page, read it in any order, and still get the right sense. My emotional story telling goes in a spiral. You can enter at any point.

Why are your figures asexual? You can’t put a gender to them.

That’s very intentional: it’s supposed to represent anyone who has been in this situation, which applies to both men and women. I’m working with these genderless figures because I want it to be applicable to anyone who looks at it. If I’m talking about an experience which is specific to women or men, or needs that sense of a gender divide, then I will absolutely create male and female figures. Genderless figures apply universally, and I want this story to apply universally.


I have used color! But I am very, very picky about when and why I use color. There is something about black and white that is much more powerful and direct for me. Since my work enters subjective points of view or more intimate perspective on things, it doesn’t need to look the way that the real world does. If I’m going to use color, it had better be for a reason; it needs to create an atmosphere, or give meaning to an object, rather than color for color’s sake. A colorless world fleshed out in little hatch marks feels right to me. And then there is always that formal choice which is - god, I love black and white!

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