Open Letter From Artist Jessica Watts About Her Sydney Exhibition Sense Of Place

Jessica Watts – Simple Things
Our eclectic team of writers from around Australia – and a couple beyond – with decades of combined experience and interest in all fields.

Sydney Road Gallery will play host to sought-after Sydney artist Jessica Watts and her new collection of works titled Sense Of Place.

Sense Of Place is comprised of painting and sculptures that explore a feminine ecosystem. It will take gender clichés and re-appropriate them into positive and empowering pieces of art. This is Jessica's only solo show in Sydney of 2018.

To explain more about her exhibition and her idea for it, Jessica pens an open letter.

“My latest exhibition Sense Of Place showcases a collection of paintings and sculptures exploring ‘place’ and a feminine ecosystem. My work investigates gender clichés by turning them into something positive and empowering. The paintings, which I refer to as Wallflowers, are directly inspired by my collection of vintage wallpapers.

I revive charming old wallpapers and give them a new voice. We traditionally think of the wallflower as an awkward girl, desperate to be chosen. This series of work started with a question, ‘Is a wallflower one who shrinks into the background to become invisible, or is she emerging from the wall, opening, blossoming, divulging her secrets?’ Debutantes, wallflowers, clinging vines, china dolls… These are all outmoded ideas of women. But if you revisit a place with new ideas, it transforms into something unfamiliar, something new.

I have always loved wallpaper. My childhood bedroom was covered in Laura Ashley. In our bathroom was a wild metallic Florence Broadhurst. My own wallpaper collection started aimlessly, I started gathering old rolls from the 1940s, stuffing them in a cardboard box in the corner of my studio. For me there is an affection in the re-use and re-purposing of things that have been discarded.

Jessica Watts Portrait

The idea of re-appropriation isn’t new, but the process of repurposing a stereotype and turning negative ideas into positive parts of our own identity is powerful. The act of claiming an identity can be transformational. Perhaps this is why the wallflower series has been so well received. It reflects what we see in ourselves.

For this exhibition, I am also toying with the idea of ‘place’. It’s a crucial dimension of human meaning and relationships. Place is simultaneously very personal and collective. I have taken visual cues from a Sydney summer with women closely cropped and standing in shallow water, adorned with flowers and birds. Old wooden ferries point to nostalgia and longing. We all carry with us footprints of vanished places, places from our past.

I am focused on feminine power, not sexual power. I want to see what happens to feminine identity when you strip away the male gaze. Ultimately my work is about positivity and joy. The paintings are multilayered, brimming with detail and delight. My women are strong, solo, self-possessed and inextricably linked to nature. They are proof that pretty can be powerful.”
– Jessica Watts

Sense Of Place runs 22 November-16 December at Sydney Road Gallery.

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