Artist Profile: Jessica Bartlett

Experiencing each piece of Jessica Bartlett’s work is a process of discovery. What can first appear to be a blank canvas reveals its subject on closer inspection and as the light hits it the scored ridges of the image. Jessica uses a technique which involved prepping the canvas with paint and then scorching the image on to it with a thinly-tipped craft soldering iron. Her process of mark making is therefore one of both creation and destruction.


When you encounter on of Jessica’s pieces you are persuaded to slow down, carefully look at the work from every angle and attempt to take it all in. This, however, is impossible as the piece deliberately eludes you. You are never able to see all of it at one time; there is no place where you can stand to get a complete picture. Jessica’s pieces work against the presumption that you are ever able to wholly understand something. This is also intimated in the titles of her works for example ‘Fragment’ or ‘This is a thin dream’ as well as in her choice of subject matter. Her pieces depict ephemeral, natural objects such as leaves and feathers or memories of places she has visited. Whilst studying for her BA in fine art at Bath, Jessica came across the Japanese aesthetic wabi-sabi which seemed to encompass a lot of the ways she was thinking about her practice at the time. She has used it as a core principal in her work ever since. According to the wikipedia entry which Jessica sent me, ‘Wabi-sabi represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”. Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, asperity (roughness or irregularity), simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes.’ This goes some way to explaining this approach to the world around her and how that manifests itself in her artworks.


Another influence on her practice is Virginia Woolf’s short story ‘Solid Objects’. ‘Solid Objects’ tells the story of a man named John who, after finding a particularly intriguing piece of glass on the beach, becomes obsessed with small discarded objects that he finds on the street. He begins to devote his life to searching for and collecting these objects to horror of his friends and the detriment of his promising parliamentary career. This obsession with the small or overlooked items and the lengthy examination of shape and form are clear parallels to Jessica’s work. However, in the story there is this sense that John is, in searching for these objects, attempting to recapture that feeling he experienced when he found the first piece of glass on the beach. When Jessica makes a work she does not try and produce an image which is an imitation or even a visually faithful representation of her initial stimuli. Her aim is rather to create a piece which, on looking at it, makes the viewer feel the same way that she herself did when first experienced the subject. That is what she considers to be a successful piece. This then becomes another kind of searching because, as an artist, once you know what it feels like to make this kind of piece you become more acutely aware of when you haven’t.

The Return


In terms of other visual artist who have had an impact of Jessica, she cites the 19th Century Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershøi. His paintings depict moments of silence and of solitary reflection which in turn encourage these moments of introspection in the viewer. Jessica’s works similarly have this effect. Through examining these external images or objects the viewer becomes turned in on themselves in a kind of meditative or mesmeric way. This is deliberate as Jessica wants to halt you and make you take your time over the piece. The result of this is a kind of quietness felt in the viewer when faced with the works, and a quietness in the gallery space itself. Jessica has also taken the idea of these moments of silence and interpreted them visually in her pieces with her use of negative space. In her feather and leaf pieces there is this interesting interplay between the subject which has been blown up from its original source material and the blank space around which almost manages to dwarf it. The subject is aggrandised and still reduced to almost nothing on the canvas.

These Ornamental Feelings

If you are intrigued by the idea of these works and would like to see them for yourself, Jessica will be showing in the upcoming Antlers exhibition Kindred at the Curious Duke Gallery in East London which opens on Friday 1st November.


For more of Jessica’s work please see her artist page