Jessica Ward‘s work isn’t for those who like to shy away from important issues dealt in unusual manner.
Working exclusively in the drawing medium, her art work is inspired by the hidden neuroses of eating disorders, which she herself has struggled with, since adolescence.
She explores the start and cause of eating disorders in childhood and its long lasting affects through the adult life, using her own personal experiences to flesh out stories in each drawing.
I’ve always been fascinate by some artists abilities to express their personal issues through their work, so I contacted Jessica for a little chat about her work and to dig in some more.
Your work deals with issues such as bulimia, anorexia and other body issues. How do people react to your work, do you feel they are uneasy around it or that they don’t understand the undercurrent behind it?
Actually, the reactions I get are very supportive and positive. I have had a lot of outreach from other people who have been afflicted with eating disorders. It seems even if people haven’t themselves suffered, they have at least known someone like a family member or significant other and relate to it that way. In general, eating disorders and body dissatisfaction is everywhere you look and all over the media, in that way people tend to understand it. However the way I interpret it visually I have been told is quite disturbing. If they feel uneasy that’s kinda what I am hoping for. It is what it is and it’s not always pretty. I want to wake people up with a negative aesthetic response and hopefully create some sort of awareness that things like this are going on and the affects it has on so many people.
You’ve suffered from body issues yourself, does painting under these themes feel like a cathartic experience for you, a way to cope with a difficult period?
Yes, it definitely fuels my inspiration. Visually, it is easy for me to put my emotions down on paper and for better or for worse has either magnified my obsessions or been a release. During the worst parts of it drawing keeps me sane and less numb. I am still learning allot about my self through my art.
You incorporate a lot of symbolism in your paintings such as hair, patterns, spirals, etc. How did you come up with the concepts behind your symbols?
I did allot of research in developing my thesis during art school. During that time, it was amidst my most difficult struggle with bulimia. I just took what I was going through and translated it into sketches, I started to see recurring themes. I started to research these symbols in both how they related to me personally and how they could relate to others on an unconscious/universal level and how it related to eating disorders as well. Visually, spirals and hair are very alluring and evocative to me. Hair became the visual representation of eating disorders for me, it is it’s own character. It’s like, at it’s rawest, trying to embody something that is all in the mind. What better way to characterize it than by choosing something so organic and so apart of you. Spirals just kept popping up everywhere, in the flush of the toilet, it’s hypnotic and once you’re in it you can’t get out.
How do you get started in one of your pieces? The “marriage” of the issues you comment and the symbolism you use must be hard to juggle. How do you tackle your ideas and turn them them into a painting?
Well, as of late I have had the opportunity to participate in many group themed shows. Admittedly, it is a little challenging to merge my theme with for example a bicycle themed show. Thankfully I love doing what I do so I find a way to make it work. Through research and a lot of introspection. Normally, when working on my own body of work, I usually get a feeling or an idea that works itself into an image in my head that I put into a sketch book. Then from there work out all the details, to me the symbols and issues go very much hand in hand, so I enjoy that part.
You usually work most with graphite and color pencils. Have you entertained or tried working with other materials?
Yes, I got a lot of exposure to all sorts media in art school, from photography, painting, printmaking, sculpture and even digital. My favorite was always drawing, so much so I went to grad school for a MFA in drawing. I do time to time work with water color and chalk pastels but mostly as mixed media with the graphite. I just love the immediacy and the complete control I get from drawing.
It’s interesting to see that despite some of the disturbing subject matter that you draw, the face of the girls portrayed a lot of the times look like they came out of a magazine, they’re really pretty and feminine. Is this a deliberate move on your part?
Yes, definitely, as we all know the fashion industry is infamous for it’s share of eating disorder debauchery. Either by triggering young girls or the models themselves dieing to be thin or just setting the standards of beauty for society. I try to reference these attractive qualities, lure the viewer in and get them thinking. They are idealized and at the same time abject figures, I like to attract and repulse the viewer.