When I was a teenager I would go to life drawing classes and draw completely honest forms—then go home and read Vogue.
I always found a huge disconnect between the two yet a love for both. That was the original issue that I keep coming back to at the start of my artistic process.
In my earlier works I was painting over pages straight out of magazines. For my later undergraduate work I got to photograph all of my model friends, so I got to talk to the women in the images. I remember, one of the girls smoked so much, and I wondered if it was a simple habit or if there was something else.
A lot of what these beautiful women are consuming—green tea, chili flakes, smoke—it all turns out to have some purpose, something that suppresses appetite or boosted metabolism. So I’ve experimented with adding these things to the paint: ash, spices, leaves. For some images I paint directly over the photographic images; in others I’ve removed parts of the photo, destroyed parts of them, and then painted in these spaces.
I’m using my brush to interrogate the construct of beauty in of itself and the boundaries that it creates for womanhood as well as questioning the culture of women interacting with beauty in a narcissistic and self-deprecating way.
I started developing this style just over a year ago while studying visual art at the University Of Wollongong. I’m very lucky to have some brilliant and supportive teachers that encouraged me to push myself in a direction that initially felt very uncomfortable for me, as I would have never dared to manipulate or vandalize something I idolize so much.
It’s interesting being a woman and doing this, loving these images—being overwhelmed by them—for such a long time.
Consume enough advertising and at some point you’re being conditioned to feel like shit about yourself.
Beauty pop culture is deliberately unattainable: you want to be a part of it, but you’ll never quite reach it—it’s so fast paced that you never catch up.
It’s a conscious effort on my part to tear down a hegemonic culture of one form of beauty and creating one that leaves space for beauty to be honest and soft and powerful and raw and violent, all whilst being all inclusive.
Full credit to the teachers here, they’re all pretty amazing artists in their own right. Throughout my time here I had all sorts of setbacks, but they’ve helped me so much: taught me a lot and been very supportive of me.
I swear I knew nothing before I met Madeleine.
"If you want to be an artist you need to know what the art world is," she’d tell us, and then arrange excursions and amazing artist talks, meeting artists whose work I’d followed for years.
In my own work, women will come up to me and say: ‘this is how I feel all the time’. It was never my intention to have this deep dark thing behind all my work, but people see it. I suppose I have a love-hate relationship with myself—every girl does, it seems—and I’m trying to figure out where that could stem from. I’ve struggled to embrace the grotesque nature of my work and life, including my own anxiety and depression: the rougher parts of life, how things are and not how they’re ‘supposed to be’.
So if it’s been successful, it’s because I’m not alone in all this.
Jess Cochrane is a visual artist and Bachelor of Creative Arts student at UOW.
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Cover photo credit: James Frost