We have been talking to artist Jessica Harrison about some of her past projects; understanding and probing the ideologies surrounding the iconic ‘Painted Ladies’….
I was looking at your participation in The Stone project, a body of work you completed in 2009; it seemed to be a challenging project to work on. Did it inspire or perhaps set in motion any of your future works?
The work I did as part of my PhD research (which was an affiliate studentship to the Stone Project) was a key period of change within my practice, where slow but dramatic shifts were taking place in how I worked, how I thought about sculpture and where I saw value within sculptural practice.
It was a very difficult time as I struggled to unpack my research question and unpick my practice from what felt like an impossible complex tangle of ideas, however it proved to be probably the most useful thing I’ve undertaken so far. Definitely the most challenging task, but it has changed the course of my work and thinking processes irrevocably (for the better hopefully).
Working with the Stone Project brought me quite far outside my comfort zone, which I found to be a place where I make much more interesting work.
The tattoos on the painted ladies hint so strongly to the idea of subcultures. I was wondering if you identify with the theme of anarchy, or the anarchist, in this series of work?
Anarchy is not really something I’ve considered in my work, although I’m sure it is there in this series for a lot of viewers. I have described my work with figurines as a ‘quiet rebellion’ in the past, however this is more of a small protest against a specific portrayal of women in these mass produced ornaments that litter the homes of so many people around the world. The repetition between bland faces, purposeless poses and impossibly thin arms and waists are one of the things that inspire the one-off modifications to the found ceramics. I feel like they have a little more purpose to their pose after my modifications – showing off their new ink perhaps.
The tattoos I work with are mostly from the American Traditional genre specifically because there is a certain rawness to the imagery, a crudeness and immediacy in the designs, before tattooing became a much more refined (and desirable) art form. It is this immediacy in the tattoo that I’m interested in, and this is why I’ve also worked with Russian criminal tattoos in this series – most of the Russian criminal tattoos are done quickly, with basic tools, often forcibly – it’s a very interesting genre of drawing.
I read an article on your painted ladies that said you are ‘rewriting art history’. Were you surprised by the reaction they got?
I have been surprised by the breadth of their audience – they seem to be popular across a huge variety of people, from tattoo enthusiasts to those with unmodified collections of figurines already homed on their mantelpieces. In an ideal world I would like to modify all of the figurines that exist in the world, but I suspect that might take quite a while.
Could you tell me which one of your artworks you have most enjoyed creating?
I’m really excited to have the opportunity to be experimenting more with ceramics on a larger scale – it is surprisingly physically gruelling work, but I love the challenge and the unpredictability of it as a process. That moment of opening up the kiln and not really knowing what’s going to be inside will never get old I suspect.
Lauren Hawkins, Talbot Rice Gallery Intern