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Jessica Lees: Artist of the Week

This week we will be talking to artist Jessica Lees, taking a closer look at her practice as well as the recent sculptures and paintings she has been making exploring the concept of dreams and surreal spaces.

Image description: a landscape image. On the left is a collection of colourful paper and fabrics. on the right is a 3D collage with a green background and a red laced pattern obscuring the view. The centre reads Jessica Lees, underneath in smaller white text reads at art things by jess.

Can you briefly describe your art practice?

My practice currently aims to draw on themes such as escapism, alternative environments, and the phenomena of dreaming. I especially wish to relate this to current everyday life in lockdown, contrasting the monotonous day to day with fantastical dream worlds. My body of work is centred around how I can create immersive dream-like environments for the viewer to experience and interact with through a slightly surreal lens. This safe space or retreat is often comprised of surreal imagery, exploring unreal and otherworldly ideas.

You have described that your work is centred around the phenomena of dreaming. How does this interest and inspire you?

I am interested in the unknown element which comes hand-in-hand with the concept of dreaming. Rooting a practice or body of work in an intangible, non-physical idea was very interesting to me from the beginning, there is so much to learn, and it is such an open concept.

Exploring this in Lockdown offered me the opportunity to look inwards slightly and reflect on these complex dream sequences we experience most nights that are so often disregarded. There is something untouchable about them that I desperately want to get across, materialize in the real world, making them physical and accessible in some way. There is no right or wrong way to read into them, they are so uncommunicable and enigmatic.

What themes and concepts do you hope to portray in your work?

Although my work is often highly personal, self-referential, and interconnected, I still want any viewer to be able to engage and bring their own interpretation, so immersion is a big theme throughout all my work.

I think viewer interactivity is what really animates the work, whatever the medium. I hope to elicit some sort of dialogue that allows the viewer to interpret, participate and escape into something totally consuming and imaginative. Much of these ideas were realised when I read a text on how important a narrative is, particularly in installation art, it carries so much of the meaning that viewers experience and take away.

Jessica Lees, The Abundance Dream, 2021, Oil paint on Canvas, Expanding Foam.

Image description: a landscape painting depicting the interior of a home, with table, chair, TV, bookcases, painted in vibrant blue and yellow. Around the edges, yellow expanding foam creates an obscured 3D border.

Much of your work makes use of surrealist imagery. What is it that interests you about the surreal?

I find the surreal to be exciting as it's always new and unpredictable. The surrealist world initially interested me, just because of its use of slightly odd imagery and off-centred compositions. I love the fact that everything seems slightly wrong, but it seems to work. There are even less rules. I think surreal works challenge my perception, therefore have a greater impact upon me, it always fits in with my interests. I read somewhere that surrealism appeals to all of us and is universal, we are all somewhat enticed by things that confuse us.

Your work often combines different methods and materials. Why do you choose to work in this way?

Materiality was my sole focus and starting point when beginning to explore dreaming. How I can physically construct a dream or evoke a sense of dreaming through material alone was the main question that kept appearing. I think I learnt quite quickly that experimentation was the way to go as there was no one formula I could ever pinpoint that would allow me to effectively portray my intentions. Materials such as paint, paper, clay, plaster and expanding foam are loose and malleable, allowing me to manipulate and convey such fluid and fragmented ideas.

What is your process for creating your artwork?

The topic I have chosen to research is so dynamic and constantly evolving that I don’t think define a set way of working. I have attempted the procedural way of recording my ideas through dream journaling, sketching, then producing a more resolved work. I have also adopted more intuitive methods. I feel as though the latter encapsulates the essence of my work more so, as dreams are notoriously difficult to remember, record or capture in any single way. Any process enables me to create something new and evoke an environment or space is one I want to explore.

Jessica Lees, Inside out, 2020, Mixed media sculpture - Fabric, Thread, Rope, Clay, Newspaper, Acrylic Paint, Beads, Glitter.

Image description: a floor sculpture made up of layered fabrics, strange tendrils of painted newspaper, all piled in a cluttered and busy heap.

Are there any artists or research that underpins your practice?

I am constantly inspired by probably every artist I come across in some shape of form! Most recently Inka Essenhigh’s painting Kitchen 2623 C.E (2018) completely entranced me due to it’s odd familiarity. Her work really helped me explore the figurative side of dreaming that I would have never of otherwise devoted so much attention to.

My research has mainly focused on Carl Jung and his influential texts on interpreting dreams. I find that his ideas often underpin my practice. Specifically, his idea that we could possibly ‘Always be dreaming’ after all, it is such a natural state that we return to each night.

What one thing would you like to change about the art industry today?

Great Question! I think I would change the art world's accessibility. Even now with such progression and more opportunities (like this!) for artists, art still seems to hold somewhat of an elitist status in general. I would like everyone to feel they can be a part of the art world in some way because it offers so much that is so quickly suppressed due to its less academic status. I do not think a career in art is something you should feel you have to excessively justify or prove.

With the sudden impact of COVID-19 has your practice had to adapt or change to the new circumstances?

I am incredibly lucky in the sense that COVID has not had too much of an impact on my work and ability to access materials. It has certainly influenced the type of work I make. Regarding escapism, I think COVID gave me somewhat of an opportunity to fully explore this in a domestic home environment. Some of the pieces I have created, I think have only been made possible due to working in this space, in some ways progressing my practice. I think for everyone, there is a need to continue and find new ways to combat the monotony, but it is hard to navigate.

Jessica Lees, How to Inhabit Your Dreams, 2021, A4 Cardboard Box, Oil Paint, Paper.

Image description: a 3D collage set inside a cardboard box with a green background and a red laced pattern obscuring the view.

What projects have you been recently working on?

The main projects I am developing are these dream sculptures and paintings. Very recently I am considering creating more installation-based works like my piece Escape Room or perhaps making some accompanying sound works in the near future. I just feel they most effectively convey my ideas surrounding escapism and viewer interactivity and will push my practice. Anything non-physical I am interested in depicting in my work.

You have discussed themes of escapism within your works. Can you explain more about this idea and how you present it in your work?

Escapism and dreaming were two ideas I always felt from the start of this project, and were linked. Interpreting dreaming or sleeping as an escape, a defence mechanism or just a distraction seemed an interesting line of enquiry for my work to naturally follow.

I aim to present escapism mainly through the initial reception of my work, through recurring imagery, symbols, colour and scale. Conveying a sense of escapism or immersion further encourages experimentation with technique and keeps interpretation open. I think my work is quite figurative, it doesn’t seem to discuss dreaming on its first impression, it is a theme that has to be deciphered willingly by the viewer as they explore this new dream-world.

If you would like to see more of Jessica's artwork you can view her work on Instagram @artthingsbyjess.

If you are interested in being featured as an Artist of the Week you can fill out a short application form here.

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