Artist Jess Cochrane blends female identity, pop culture and a vibrant colour palette in her visceral practice. She delves into the social and cultural implications of the construct of beauty and how this impacts the mental and physical wellbeing of women of her generation. Her work is a celebration of imperfection and authentic beauty.
Could you tell me a little about your background, where did you grow up and how did that inform your creative work?
I was born and raised in Canberra, the capital of Australia. A quiet city surrounded by bushland. No beaches. It’s freezing in the winter, painfully hot in the summer. It lacked the exciting buzz of a big city and the creativity that comes along with that in a lot of ways.
I was a pretty self-conscious and nervous teenager so growing up I’d find myself choosing to stay in the art classroom over lunch instead of socialising. I’d spend all of my summer days at the local pool devouring fashion and culture magazines or walking around the section of the National Gallery where they have Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles and an extensive Warhol collection. I would copy and illustrate pages from magazines in a visual diary and attend life-drawing classes on weeknights.
The pop culture visuals I consumed as a teenager felt worlds away from my reality, yet they inspired me to start expressing myself through fashion and art. Magazines helped me see that fashion and pop culture can be this wonderful form of individuality. I would also have periods of feeling inadequate to the imagery because I didn’t look like the girls in the pages or have access to dress like the things I was idolising.
What drew you to painting/photography hybrid?
I came across the multidisciplinary process in my final year at university. I was lucky to have some great teachers who encouraged me to start my grad work process by doing nothing other than taking note of what your day-to-day involves. So for me, that was drawing and painting focusing on the natural feminine form, design and advertising.
I was reading Vogue on my lunch break, worrying about and comparing my appearance to others, being too self-critical and I found once I noted this down that there was this huge binary between the advertised and falsified imagery pushed at me through advertising and the reality of the natural feminine energy. It was a true ‘ah-ha!’ The moment where I became aware of how I’d created these insecurities of self over years of never really questioning what the psychological effects of my consumerism where doing to me.
The empowerment I found in dismantling and reworking an image to create a raw honest visual is what drew me to the hybrid. It made me feel strong, and I liked that feeling.
What informs your work?
While fashion and beauty trends within pop culture are informative, I find that my subjects are always at the centre of the work. They contribute to the broader dialogue in my practice, which explores imperfection and our natural humanity. I want to remind people to take the pressure off and leave perfectionism behind.
Your work explores female identity and maybe more specifically the construct of beauty itself. Can you talk a little about why that is so interesting for you?
As a woman, this is something I’m faced with everyday. The construct of beauty feels inescapable. We don’t question enough who is defining this construct and the motivations behind it. Society, culture and the Internet all fed into the ever-changing concept of beauty — our inability to keep up drives insecurity. Unless we are defining beauty on our terms, the word and what it carries can become a torture device for us.
Can you talk me through your creative process from taking the images to sketches and the final painting?
It always starts with coffee before the shoot. The photographic element of the process is always about connecting with the subject and is an intimate insight into each individual and the way they relate to the message within my work.
I then edit through the images and select the final portrait for printing. Once I pick it up from the printer, I sit with it for a bit. Drink more coffee, and then get to painting. Painting time always varies. Sometimes it takes a day; sometimes it takes a week to know when a portrait is complete. Occasionally I do preliminary digital sketches if I want to test different compositions, but I often find that the work can feel contrived if I overthink it rather than it coming from an emotional and intuitive response. Once it’s done, I switch from coffee to champagne because celebrating beauty on individual terms is essential. Cheers.
You have been honest about mental health, how that has informed and inspired your work and impact being a creative has on your mental wellbeing. What have you learnt and what motivated you to speak out about the subject?
I think it’s important to be open surrounding mental health as it helps to break down the stigma that we should ever feel embarrassed or ashamed over something that affects modern society and is in fact, a part of being human. I was lucky to find strength through art. I think sometimes verbalising mental struggle can be difficult so allowing my art to speak that became important to me.
You’ve spoken about self-portraiture is about self-acceptance and self-love and the journey getting there. Do you have advice for young creative’s working in this way?
I think self-portraiture carries a sense of resistance and defiance in a culture of the selfie’s and airbrushing. My advice is never to fear making a mess. Destroy, deface, be bold and if anything, fear perfection.