There is air of restless energy about artist Jessica Oliver, from Hadleigh
Just a year out of university, Jessica Oliver is already causing a stir in the art world.
She told Sheena Grant how she is making a career from her passion
When I arrive at her studio in the garden of her parents’ Hadleigh home on a bright March morning she’s already been at work for several hours, putting the finishing touches to one of her evocative canvases, through which she seeks to define and capture something of the peculiar quality of the panoramic landscapes that inspire her work.
“I was out here at 7am,” she says. “I wake up every day and can’t wait to get into the studio. I paint seven days a week. There is no off button - if I don’t paint I get a bit twitchy.”
Her studio is actually a self-contained garden annexe she has commandeered for her painting. The furnishings have been pushed to one side in favour of her easels, canvases and the sketchbooks that are always to hand, full of drawings she has made during ‘“research trips” to some of her favourite locations, such as Scotland, Ireland and Cornwall.
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There’s only one thing that Jessica loves almost as much as painting and that’s being outdoors; travelling, being on the move. But then, they’re so inextricably linked with her art as to be almost one and the same thing.
At just 24 years old and only a year after graduating with a BA in Fine Art Painting from City & Guilds of London Art School, Jessica is not only earning a living from her work but in January won Artistic Spaces’ ‘One to Watch’ Prize at the prestigious Mall Galleries’ FBA Futures exhibition - showcasing outstanding arts graduates of 2014. Judges said her painting, Skellig Isles, created after a summer spent in Ireland travelling from Dingle to Dublin, was compelling.
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She was one of just 18 artists hand-picked by the Federation of British Artists, who scoured degree shows up and down the land in the summer of 2014, to exhibit work at the show.
The prize is a dream come true for Jessica.
“It was the biggest shock,” she says. “I have never won anything in my life and the talent there was incredible. It gave me such a boost of confidence.”
The former Hadleigh High School pupil embarked on her chosen career after studying A Levels at Ipswich School and heading off to Italy, where she studied in Florence, before returning to the UK and completing her degree in London.
“At school, art felt like a hobby,” she says. “I never thought I could make an independent living from it. I have always painted and my parents have always been very supportive, which gave me the confidence to go for it. So many people say to me: ‘You’re an artist. Really? Are you going to get a real job?’. But this is my job and at the moment I am just so excited to have enough money to buy paints and new canvases. If it means I can afford to get further research trips in too that would be brilliant.”
Not only does she get a London studio to work in for a month as a result of the ‘One to Watch’ prize but Jessica’s distinctive art is also proving highly popular with buyers.
Despite the early success, she’s keeping her feet firmly on the ground.
“I am always shocked when someone wants to buy a painting,” she says. “I don’t think any artist will tell you anything else. I am always looking to the next painting so I’m not possessive about anything I do. When someone falls in love with a piece and wants it, I feel nothing but joy. It’s also great to have that feeling of financial independence and to be able to treat my parents to lunches and other things now and again.”
For Jessica, painting is evocative of memory, a fascination with the play of light and colour on landscape and how it feels to be out in the power of the elements.
“Landscape is the way I can access this intensive window where you lose yourself for a time,” she says. “I love that feeling of a precipice, where you are standing on the edge of something and can just fall into it. I love travelling, finding unoccupied places and sketching them to give a sense of the energy, the light and how it shifts.”
Her paintings show wild places, often by the sea, bathed in light and steeped in folklore. But they are no representations of perfection. Many of them bear characteristic paint run marks that add to the fluidity of the scene.
“The marks pull people in,” says Jessica. “It’s very easy to gloss over everything and make it look plastic. I love the imperfections of paint and the marks give character. In making them I am trying to recapture the landscape I was in. There is often wind and rain. Often, it isn’t a perfect sunny day. Leaving marks of paint is the closest I can get to representing the feeling of the landscape. At the moment there is a real feeling of possibility. I am hoping to see the Northern Lights, to paint them, in the next month or so. Landscape painting forces you to travel. I love that feeling of moving, in painting and in life. When I paint a landscape I begin to scratch the surface of how that place made me feel when I was there and when I look back on paintings I have done, they take me back to that time. I’m dealing with memory a lot in my work. Ultimately, I’m trying to pull myself back into the moment and reinvent it with paint.”
We’ve been talking for a while now and the paint on the canvas Jessica was working on before I arrived is starting to dry. It’s time for her to be getting back to work. There is, as she says, no ‘off’ button.
To find out more about Jessica’s work, visit www.jessoliver.co.uk.