Photo credit: Byron Dauncey
Jessica Bell is a Vancouver-based artist whose very grounded, human work in a variety of media (paper collage, fabric collage, painting and knitting) is a personal favorite of BSDA founder, Kate Singleton. This is Jessica's second show on Buy Some Damn Art.
Your BSDA show last year featured your textile work, specifically sewn textile assemblage or (in my own words) "fabric collages". Has that practice developed since? Are your knitted pieces an extension of the assemblage practice or something new in and of themselves?
I like that you think of those as ‘fabric collages’; that is the way that I think about those pieces too. I have come to think of all of the work I make as collage, actually. Since making those textile pieces, I made more in the same manner, and then made a few detours to do things like make these pieces on wood, some more collage work on paper and then came around to the knitting. I have been a recreational knitter for a while and at the end of last year I was asked by a fellow artist and friend to work on a window display he designed that involved knitting enormous Christmas stockings. I spent about 8 weeks knitting in his production studio nonstop using this beautiful cotton cord that was almost an inch in diameter. This material flicked a switch in me; I had wanted to make some ‘big’ knitting for a while, so big that it both obscures and trumps what the medium actually is; this cotton cord material was what made it possible for me to follow through an idea that had been floating around in me for a long time. I don’t think of the knitting as new exactly. All of the things I make I think of as being the same; I go through the same processes over and over again but just with different components. Each medium inevitably informs and participates in another.
What does "Vessel" mean to you as it pertains to this series?
I made 21 of these ‘Vessels’ in total and they are related to a bigger series of work that I made at the same time, all in a similar vein. I live in an apartment now but I grew up in many different houses and a lot them were in suburbs. I had gone to visit my brother and his family at their house in a suburb and it made me think a lot about the houses I grew up living in and the houses of the people who lived around my family, specifically as containers for not only the people and items that live inside but also of events and items and ideas. The shape of a house is pretty ubiquitous, and I wanted it to be that way, in the sense that it’s stock character would contrast with the contents which could be messy, or stark, or uncommon. When I was making these my husband asked ‘Are these house shapes you’ve made containers or are they windows?’ which is an excellent question to ask and I think that the answer is actually both. The name ‘Vessel’ is indicative of that; it suggests the frameworks that distinguish individuals from broader communities, the separation between an interior and an exterior life.
As an artist you are really into materials which is something that stands out in your work. Tell us about the materials used in this series.
This series is the closest I get to a ‘painting’ series in that it is on a traditional painting surface (birch cradled panel), and contains a fair amount of paint. It also is made up of a lot of accessory painting which I do on rice paper. I created palettes of colours using acrylic paint and some acrylic media and applied them to rice paper with a brush, because it allowed for a significant amount of mark-making to be retained as well as the translucency that is such a beautiful quality of rice paper. Once painted, I line-dried the rice paper and used it as a collage element along with other drawing media like soft pastel and coloured pencil and graphite which is my favourite. I like it when people see something I made and don’t actually know what the medium is; they see textile as painting or paintings as pure collage or the knitting as straight knitting when they are actually collages of sorts as well. Part of the piece becomes an undoing of the meaning we think is associated with a material.
"Vessels" has a darker, warmer color palette than your earlier work. Are you still as influenced by "Vancouver colors"?
That’s a good question. I’m not sure exactly. I will say that I am more aware of my aesthetic tendencies than I used to be. While I was making all of these pieces, and the broader series they are apart of I deliberately chose to make different colours that I naturally gravitate toward. It stems from a heightened awareness of not just wanting to make things I like, but rather responding to a series of ‘incidents’ that occur in a creative process, whether that be reacting to colour or form, or material imperfections.
What is most exciting in your art practice right now?
At this moment I am excited about making more painting-based work because I recently watched the documentary Gerhard Richter Painting and it reminded me why painting is so majestic. With all of the jumping around I do with my materials I sometimes think I won’t even need to paint again and then painting comes back and bites me until I itch to do it. I was just gifted the use of an exceptional painting studio for three weeks starting in March which is very well-timed. I am also very excited about continuing these knitting explorations; I am making some that are white on white right now and I also have plans to explore some dyeing processes to incorporate in future textile pieces.