Womenfolk Series: Jenny Jessop on Painting, Motherhood and the Creative Life

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Jenny Jessop – adding final touches to one of her pieces in the ‘Grounded’ exhibition.

Through exploring imagination, place, distance, and transience Jenny Jessop has created a body of work that will be exhibited in Melbourne’s bayside suburb of Parkdale. I spoke to Jenny about her artistic career, her creative process and her current exhibition ‘Grounded’.  

Jenny is a painter from Ireland, living in Melbourne with her Australian husband and three children. In anticipation of her first Australian solo exhibition she takes us through where she has come from creatively, her creative process, and what underpins this. 

Jenny has a degree in Fine Art, with a major in Ceramics and Sculpture and she came in to painting long after she had finished her degree, when she found her grandfather’s oil paints after he died. She is self-taught, with some guidance from her father, who is a water colour painter. She has had several exhibitions in her home town, in Boyle, Ireland.

She sold her first piece of art to an collector when she was just 14, which was instrumental in her decision to pursue her art. Selling this piece gave Jenny the validation that her teenage self needed to feel that perhaps there was something worthwhile within her.

Her paintings have always reflected a representation of her own imagination. When she looked at someone else’s paintings, she tried to conjure what the artist was thinking and hopes her own work evokes the same curiosity and imagination.

“When someone is looking at my paintings I want them to find a place…use their own imagination. With the exhibition now, the places I’ve painted don’t exist but I’ve found somewhere for me, and the viewer, I’d like them to find somewhere for them.”

Pink painting Jenny

A sneak peak from ‘Grounded’.

Amongst the business of living – being young, travelling, getting married her art got lost amongst it. It was only after she had her first child did she return to painting. It was through those very intense years of being a mother, that her creativity re-emerged. It came with an intensity that she had not experienced before.

“After each child I became really creative…three of my most popular exhibitions were paintings that I had done just after the birth of each child. It was the only opportunity I had to really empty my head – you’re so caught up in feed times, nappies, bath time – just the chaos of small babies.” 

Jenny sitting

Jenny with more of her work.

For many creative women, the arrival of children often translates to a slowing of or interruption to creative inspiration, for precisely the reason that spurred Jenny on to paint. Painting provided an escape from the grind, without the physical removal of herself. Painting provides a meditative emptiness.

For Jenny, through the act of painting, things dissolve. So while the children were the catalyst for the renewed creativity, they were also the beneficiaries of it. Because the act of painting calmed her as a parent. This unyielding creativity that emerged when she became a mother is what led her to paint more landscapes and to capture the emotion and connection in a ‘place’.

Whilst her 14 year old self got the validation that she needed to move on to the next phase of her creative life, she no longer seeks that validation. Her own satisfaction with a piece of work is validation enough. The result of this has been much deeper experimentation and ultimately better pieces of work. The more she explores her creativity, the more it grows and she describes it as a Pandora’s Box; it feeds off itself. She acknowledges that every person struggles with an element of self-doubt, but she chooses not to give it a voice.

When starting a painting, she follows a theme, sketches to that theme but will never draw on the canvas. She finds those lines too restrictive and doesn’t want to limit what the work will become. There is usually a number of layers underneath the finished piece, what the viewer eventually sees as the finished piece. She views this process as important; in a physical sense these layers add depth to the work, but metaphorically they are a reflection of the layers within the artist, and what they bring to the piece, emotionally. Bronze painting

Her current exhibition, Grounded, is about how escapism actually works to ground us, as humans. So through that escapism, we become grounded within ourselves. This element has been present in all her previous exhibitions, in that she represents her local environment, and what emerges is a series of abstract landscapes that are a combination of the ‘inside’ and the ‘outside’.  For Jenny, ‘Grounded’ is about what is already there, but through the creative process, it has been reborn into something else. And the viewer will turn it into something else, again.

One of Jenny’s favourite quotes by Patrick Kavanagh, Irish poet and novelist, informs her artistic life and inspires much of what has come and is still to come:

‘On the stem of memory, imaginations blossom’.

It’s about what’s already there, a memory, a feeling … then you expand on it – you make it what it will become. Jenny sees this as true in life, as it is in art.

‘Grounded’ opens on February 26th, 2016 at G3 Artspace, Shirley Burke Theatre, Parkdale
64 Parkers Rd, Parkdale

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