the wretched WHY by jessica kirkpatrick

art practice as inquiry

The human mind demands certainty; panic strikes when we don't know where we are--the first thing we ask a new acquaintance is what they 'do'.    We classify and name  everything, and when there are no words our brains go numb.   Artist statements, bio's and gallery talks--art college and the art market demand that an artist communicate with focus and clarity; and granted, conviction puts you on a creative straight and narrow.   But just for the sake of this blog...I want to honor that state of not knowing what the fuck you are doing, why or for what purpose, with no prospect of discovering such any time soon.    Because I believe uncertainty is the life blood of the creative act. Questions compel your research and nourish your innate curiosity,  so maybe the asking is more important than the answer.  This combination of simple questioning and allowing the answer to evolve as you do assists you in verbalizing your work, keeps you on track artistically,  all while nourishing a vibrant creative circulatory system. 

  • your why develops over the course of your career 
  • creativity is contingent upon uncertainty
  • your line of inquiry is your mission

At the retrospective of one of my favorite British Painters, Paul Nash, at Laing Gallery in New Castle, it was fascinating to see his work change during his lifetime.   As an official WWII artist, the young Nash depicted vast battle scenes in blasted landscapes, forecasting his sensibility for the surreal,  his use of  blocky shape and chalky color.  After the war, recovering from PTSD he settled into the Dorset countryside,  creating psychologically intense images, inserting what he called "imaginative events" into sparse scenes of fields or seashores. By the end of his life he made romantic and beckoning dreamscapes.  As I strolled the exhibit, I loved witnessing his expression move from political outrage, to psychic angst, to longing. Though his work always remained recognizable as his own, Nash's ideas and imagery changed as he did.  Artist's who's work show evolution and growth are the artist's our culture cherishes.  Living inside of inquiry is the key to that growth.  

Making great work lies within the limitations of transforming thought into materiality.  You  learn to direct  the chaotic forces of imperfect tools, imperfect studios and imperfect moods--frayed brushes, cheap paints, dull blades and hangovers  then work towards your artistic intentions.  The art making process is somatic; our emotion and thought packed bodies act upon elements and objects.    But this is the magic of art making; within the surrender of our minds to the circumstances and perimeters of stuff and life, our work reveals us to ourselves.  Once we are clear on a certain process, creativity craves new unknowns.  Being an artist is equally about receptivity and trust, as it is control and power.

I've realized that if I fully apprehended my motives and purpose, I would probably walk out of the studio and shut the door forever.  Its the pondering, and ever deepening mystery of creating art objects that keeps me engaged. When I  take my idea into form, maybe only 100% of the time is my project different from its original conception.  Detaching from a specific outcome delimits possibility, which when used towards a larger question, funnels creativity into a coherent project without it becoming predictable or conceptually one dimensional.   By continuing to ask why you make the work you do and asking what is the next step? what now? Your work will tell you.  You just need to know what follows what, and the ultimate answer is your North Star. 





Becoming Incomplete by jessica kirkpatrick

I feel the urge to run.  I am in a stand off with these tired pictures--colors need tweaking, elements added or taken away, areas masked off or sanded.   Avoidance. Eating, emailing, caffeinating--knowing i need to stand, put on my painting jeans, pick up a brush and work. But that threshold of discomfort must be traversed. I get it-- this unease, the not knowing whats next makes the creative process interesting, the pulse of fear and excitement to compel a life's work.  I start tentatively with a few misfires, color too dark, too saturated--I sift through a tray of pulverized discolored tubes  for a selection of paints to mix and mix and mix.  A little Mars black to desaturate, some indigo to cool, and some Napthol to punch it up.  The pigments dance at their molecular levels to speak my color poetry.  In the past, I strove for a dark neutral palette, and then there was the phase of beiges and creams, right now I am into my pastels and pinks.  My current interest in pink  is probably some childhood regression, (recovering my inner princess--its pure cliched beauty a balm to middle age disillusionment).  I love oil paint's  heavy inkiness, like clay from the earth; like minerals and insect blood and flower tincture smeared across fabric.    As I begin to make panicky strokes, regret them, rub them out, try again, thats better, I feel my hips loosen, my breathing take pace.  I am getting into it--finally-- and I have a few hours before its time to pick up baby (whoops don't mention babies--this is the professional realm here!)  I would love to say this is where the fun starts, but its more of a frantic, semi-possessed frenzy, of dripping, splattering, scrubbing and blurring.  Then the pause: Like?   Not like?  Am I ok in my not liking it?  Is there something interesting happening, or is it just...crap? The deeply humble place of non-judgement where you don't know if your a fucking badass, or just another person who went to art college ages ago.   


Have you ever had a creative block and what did you do to get over it?  How did you get your work back on track when you saw it going awry?  How do you cope when you were at the studio and werent sure what to do?

Nurking by jessica kirkpatrick

Nursing while Working

 photos from photobooth on my macbook, taken when i am doin stuff  

photos from photobooth on my macbook, taken when i am doin stuff  

In summer 2016, three weeks post-partum, I walked to my painting studio down the road from my flat in Edinburgh—pushing a gleaming new pram, disoriented yet proud of my recently aquired status. Mother. I still had jelly belly, was wearing maternity pads and healing from an episiotomy, yet with hormones swirling I felt intoxicated by my fresh peach of a baby. For about twenty minutes, I sat in the chair of my work space, nursing, staring at unfinished paintings.  My creative control center was no longer hermetically sealed; myself and my activities were now in service to and prioritized around my son’s needs.  However, ‘maternity leave’—this break from the 9-5—provides the artistic mind with its most vital nutrient: time to space out. Mothering is a doing, but contains a quality of being—simply laying, nursing, cradling, playing is not so much an action but an exisitance.   I’ve found I could give my body (and love) to my baby and keep my mind to myself.  In this way, motherhood and art making can be quite complementary (on the days I get some sleep).

Up until my baby began walking, he accompanied me to the studio. I made art,  but not without instances of a guilt-laden cycle of frustration, snapping then crying (both of us).  Amid my fractured attention—one eye on my work and the other on my ink splattered son—I’d apprehend, brush in hand, the precarious moment to catch a fall, or the scissors with in hand’s reach. I made it work for myself; I painted in ink which I could set down quickly; I made video art, filming at home, editing footage after bedtime.  Looking back now I wonder if I proposed that exhibit at Patriot Hall Gallery just to prove something to myself?  That I was still an artist, that I was not going to succumb to this one dimensional identity of mum.   My son has certainly injected me with renewed ambition; I just hope its for the right reasons. 

Nowadays, I am back to painting in oil, going to my studio on his nursery day, bewildered by the silence and space of an 8 hour stretch to work.   Somehow in  cognitive dissonance, I feel like I want to paint more, even though I am there doing it.   That being said,  family living is seeping into my imagery, as I flip through holiday photos farming painting sources, conveying a surreal version of mid-life angst.

JK Rowling famously said she didn't do housework for four years in order to write Harry Potter.  I don't want to live in squalor, but I get it.  I am ok with putting my 20 month old in front of CBeebies while I mess around on Photoshop in another room.  I will let him walk to me, sit on my lap, pull down my shirt, and drink from the breast—all while I am typing away on grant proposals, blogging, or working on my website.  I will raise eyebrows at his using a bottle to create milk art on our dark blue carpet, or sit amongst a heap of gaudy toys, all underneath the contents of his wardrobe and nappy cupboard he’s determinedly strewn across the flat.

I believe being an artist prepares you for the lack of control that children wreak on our lives.  In making art, things rarely work according to plan.  Similarly, children have a way of obstructing your day’s scheme. You want to go to the shop?  Baby falls asleep.  You want to make a sandwhich?  Baby bumped their head.  As maddening as it is, both art and motherhood teach one to live with acceptance, connection and flow of circmstances, which can only make you a better person. These days I have settled into some systems and routines, and as long as I am physically proximal, emotionally semi-present, with low standards of tidyness, a willingness to tickle or soothe every ten minutes, I can get some projects slightly closer to completion alongside my magical son.  I aim to structure my life so that I can be less of a multi-tasker, however, right now I love our dance— the blending of maternal and creative passion. 


Closet abstract painter coming out by jessica kirkpatrick


Most recently I have given up figurative narration in preference for abstracted landscapes.  The past few months I have desired to build a new relationship to paint, color and process that affords me opportunity to develop my own sense, for lack of a better term, of  non-representational painting.  I crave a wide spectrum of color and organic open shapes, in addition to a variety of marks speaking the language of paint.    However, an abstract/figuration dichotomy is ultimately false and so working from an initial image  propels a process.  I take great pleasure in painting observationally-- you are excused from making choices and can  mindlessly copy your perception, especially if using a  photo reference.  However, knowing i will paint over my little landscape study allows me to work with a measure of abandonment and levity.   Using gradients, scumbles, dry brush, quick or slow strokes i compose colors and shapes,  attempting to retain  the underneath landscape as a negative space. Here is one before and after shot.

Something significant has happened when land can be perceived as landscape
— Landscape and western art, by Malcolm Andrews

We are already divorced from nature when we begin to represent it through art.  A landscape occurs when art happens to land, we make aesthetic choices which positions nature as an object of pleasure, or too reflect  our human drama.  In making 'abstracted landscapes'  I aim to show the landscape painting genre as already artifice, a pure cultural product rather than a reaction to nature.   However,  nature is the ultimate sublime and genius of life, which I think produces that artistic impulse to make and play with form.  

I have a series of dramatic landscape photographs I shot on film that have been filed away for a decade.  My photos were kept in storage in a friends basement for four years and were damaged by moisture, which fortuitously created some interesting painterly effects.  To further emphasize an image/material contrast I have been painting Richter style directly onto these film photos, or over the glazing. 

DAILY TREK by jessica kirkpatrick

My third trimester exercise regime has been my daily walk to my studio at the Art's Complex--an old government building converted into 6 levels of studios, small business offices, non-profit arts groups and gallery space.  Sometimes I bring Dee and have set up a little bed for her (and also me).   

Segway into Sequential Art by jessica kirkpatrick

I have just completed a graphic art piece for my friend, a local art collector in the bay area.  He is a doctor and also an artist himself, casting the female torso in plaster to create modern twist on an ancient form.  I posed as his model and had my body replicated in plaster.  As a model, this experience contributed to research I was doing for my own artwork about the female nude.  With inspiration from comic books and graphic novels, we decided I would create a graphic artwork depicted my experience being casted.  In my research into comic booking--I discovered a fascination with sequential imaging, leading me to incorporate concepts of sequential art into my current painting endeavors.  

 The Stone Woman

The Stone Woman