by LaDY MoHaWK

    Footscray Art Prize (FAP) is a national biennial visual art prize for contemporary artworks, held at Footscray Community Art Centre.

    This year the Local Acquisition Prize went to needlepoint artist Jessie Deane, whose cotton thread on canvas ‘The Big Build’ documents the West Gate Tunnel build. 

    I had the pleasure of asking Jessie about her art practice and about the importance of art in the inner west.

    What is your connection to the inner west?

    I live in Yarraville and have done for a number of years. I’m absorbed into the landscapes I recreate on a daily basis. The proximity to industry in the west actually really inspires me. 

    Your artwork is stunning. I have no idea how you can achieve all those tones using just thread. Quite a talent! Tell me about your art practice, how you make decisions on what and how to make your art, and the personal significance of the way you make art?

    My decisions are often impulsive. I’ll see something I’ve been surrounded by on a particular day in a particular light and decide to make a needlepoint of it. I could drive past something and I have to pull over to capture it. I capture images on my iPhone which are never particularly accurate replicas of the moment. That’s when the thread comes into play. 

    My visual memories are vivid so the images I capture hold the basic structure and then the rest is my imagination. I build the artworks from my memory and the experience of that moment. Using this process, I can play with my obsession with colour and my desire to mess with colour. I place colours that may be completely out of place. My favourite thing is to run fluorescent coloured lines up a telegraph post or along the line of a building. Often the most unlikely colour for that moment but it always seems to work and is often the very thing that people comment on when they look close up. From a distance it just becomes light and shade and blends into the image but close up it sticks out like a sore thumb!

    I certainly have a strong desire to express love for the unloved, to bring beauty to the mundane and draw attention to the unnoticed. My biggest joy is infusing beauty into what is often perceived as ugly, and bringing to life something that has been seen by so many but not really seen.

    I think the medium of thread, its softness and malleability, is a perfect way to represent the changing industrial and suburban landscape of Melbourne’s west. There is something joyful in representing hard, industrial, ‘man-made’ infrastructure by using soft, colourful thread.

    There is a resurgence into using ‘textiles’ in contemporary art, but you have been working with textiles for quite some time. Tell me about your process and why it’s important to you to work with this medium?

    I’ve been engaged in textiles my entire life.

    I also have family legacy with this. My great aunt Cecily made needlepoints from kits back in the 70’s and 80’s and I would have received a few kits throughout my childhood. I never loved the images in the kits all that much so I started making my own canvases. I just thought that when I went to the effort of spending 100’s of hours on a needlepoint project, I’d like to I end up with an artwork I want to live with rather than a ballet or floral scene, or The Last Supper!! It grew from there, I guess.

    My Great Great Aunt was a rug maker. She was relatively well known in 1920’s interior design circles. Her name was Evelyn Wyld, not to be confused with the Miles Franklin and Stella award winning author, Evie Wyld, who is my cousin and Evelyn Wyld’s namesake! Evelyn worked with the very influential designer and architect, Eileen Gray. They were best friends having been at school together and then they went on to collaborate. Initially Eileen designed the rugs and Evie made them, but Evie went on to design her own and had an atelier with her ‘friend’ named Eyre de Lanux. 

    My favourite Great Aunt Biddy (who I named my dog after!) told me the story of Evelyn when I was around 19 years old. I had just made a decision that I was going to specialise in woven textiles, at university. Biddy was my confidant and when I revealed my decision to study textiles, she told me I had an Aunt who was a weaver and who ‘enjoyed the companionship of women’. I later discovered Evie was part of the Sapphic Modernism movement in Paris. As someone who had recently discovered/admitted the same leanings, I took that moment as an opportunity to come out to Biddy. Her response was ‘Of course you are darling. I knew it from the day you were born!’

    All your pieces focus on inner west local buildings and architecture. What draws you to making art about the inner west?

    It’s a perfect playground for my creative interest. I use thread to hand stitch the often decaying industrial and urban landscapes of Melbourne’s West. 

    As an artist who is interested in subverting the medium of needlepoint to explore dichotomies between the heavy-duty and the hand-made; the cold, rigid industrial materials and the warm malleability of the thread; the ‘masculine’ world of industry, and the ‘feminine’ world of craft, Melbourne’s west is the ideal stomping ground for source material. 

    It’s also my home, and I’m obsessed with the west. I’m obsessed with paradox and drawn to oppositional forces, attracted to counterpoint. Melbourne’s west has a landscape that is entirely contradictory: ugly but beautiful, intimate but vast, mundane but really colourful. It’s my inspiration.

    In terms of art and creative events, what would you like to see more of in the inner west?

    I’d like to see more exhibition spaces available for local artists. It would be great if there was a commercial contemporary art space available.

    In 20 to 50 years, how would you like to look back and see your contribution (or legacy) in the western suburbs’ art scene of Melbourne? Is this important to you, or do you just want to make art?

    I want to at least leave a history of the right here and right now, but really, I just want to make art. 

    Footscray Art Prize is on at Footscray Community Art Centre, until 17 September. 

    Jessie Deane

    Lady Mohawk (aka Sally Walshe)

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