Jess Cochrane: The Artist Reclaiming Beauty In The Digital Age

The Notebook | 27th February 2020

The celebrated artist Jess Cochrane on her fascination with the female form and how naked vulnerability engenders strength of spirit

Jess Cochrane is a young Australian contemporary visual artist living in London and was recently a guest speaker on a panel presented by female-first style magazine The September Issues in The Living Room & Den of Mortimer House. Her work lies somewhere between the aesthetic of fashion editorial and fine art portraiture and questions the relationship between society, consumerism and pop culture. Her main focus as an artist is on feminine beauty, illustrated through the layered application of paint over photographic images, and, in a sense, the disruption or reclamation of a raw, honest depiction of the human form over highly stylized consumer objectification. In this way, Cochrane reflects upon insecurity and perfectionism in the modern age. Connecting the history of art, design and advertising, she plays on the idea of pop culture and its roots, which she believes are planted in both displaying and disguising parts of ourselves. In the spring, she will join us again at Mortimer House for our one-on-one Artist In Conversation series, so we thought it would be great to catch up with her in advance and introduce the ideas that underpin her practice. Here, she tells us how a childhood devoted to the study of anatomy melded with a teenage fascination with fashion and explains why it is often therapeutic for mental wealth to unveil your vulnerabilities.

What drew you to creative forms of expression as a child?
I've always been creatively inclined. Even as a child, I was enrolled in life during classes, so I was very used to looking at anatomy and figure in a very honest way, one that wasn't sexualized. Then, of course, as a teenager, I would go home and I would read Cosmopolitan and all the fashion magazines, and I would absolutely admire all these beautiful editorials. I was so in love with the way that fashion could be such a wonderful form of self-expression. But I found that there was a conflict with the way that, I guess, I compared myself to the women in the magazines and what I was seeing there, and what I was seeing in the reality of the female form. So, I started painting over magazine editorials in school and did this whole wall of ripped out pages of magazines that had paint all over them. I was trying to make them more realistic or the antithesis of Photoshop, if you will. That was kind of where the seed started to grow, I suppose. I also found a lot of solace in the process. It helped me figure out the things that made me feel insecure.

There is a strong design element to your work–where does that stem from?
I actually went into graphic design at university because I think my parents were very much like, you could do graphic design, because, you know, you'll get a job. I actually really loved graphic design. I really enjoyed what I learned and I think it taught me fundamentally how to think creatively and pull ideas in a creative way, but I got two years into my degree at one university and realized that I just really wanted to do art. I found a university on the south coast of Australia called Wollongong University, which is not a well-known art school, but was perfect for me because I could do a double major in visual art and graphic design. When it came to the graduating year, anyone doing a double major was asked to pick what they would like to graduate in. I was kind of having issues with my mental health at that point. It sounds so silly now, but I went through my first big breakup and I think  that for me was almost like ripping a Band-Aid off all this stuff that I just never really addressed. I had a bit of a breakdown to be honest, and then I just took a bit of a risk and chose art as my final because it had became so therapeutic.

Would you describe yourself as a mixed media artist?
Throughout school I had always studied photography, as well. So, I really do have just like this big creative ball of every aspect of design, photography and visual arts, and, in a way, they all come together in my work. It's like a jigsaw puzzle. I split up an image and then print out different sections and then puzzle piece them back together to create one big image, and then I begin to paint over that. I love working on glossy paper because it reminds me of a magazine so much, and I just love the way that the paint drips off it. I think that that says a lot about glossy paper and the way there is an underlying sort of mesh to a magazine layout and the structure that everything sits within.

What are you main concerns as an artist?
My work has just always tried to question how we perceive ourselves in the modern day, the things that we consume and whether or not we're really questioning what we're consuming. We’ve always been passive consumers, but I think now it's much more addictive. We just get so lost in the endless scroll, you know? Like most people, I've always sort of passively gone with new technology, but I do know for a fact that like I've had many days where I've just felt terrible, and it's because I've been staring at friends who are posting beautiful pictures, or doing these really cool things. It's so easy to compare yourself in overdrive with this tool, and it’s designed to be addictive. I'm just hoping that the next generation will have some weird adverse reaction to being online all the time, and maybe embrace the opposite.

How does art help you overcome the personal challenges presented by the digital age?
We're so aware of ourselves now, and aware of our presence or our persona online, maybe because we can curate everything. Everyone's is his or her own little art director these days. But it’s worth thinking about what would happen if you were to just sort of step back from the digital, and what that would look like, or how would you carry yourself differently. I love that I have art as an alternative to spending every day on the screen. For me, art is almost what you feel on the inside, expressed on the outside. So, if you were to unzip your body and flip it out, you would have all of your vulnerabilities on the outside. There’s a lot of women that have sort of come to me and been like, 'I feel this so much, and I feel this every other day, and want to thank you for expressing it in ways that I just can't exactly explain to my boyfriend or girlfriend, or my mum.' It makes me feel less alone in the world to get those reactions, because that's me speaking on my path.

Interview by John-Paul Pryor
Follow Jess Cochrane @ jesscochrane____