You wouldn’t necessarily equate needlepoint artwork with the industrial and urban landscapes of Melbourne’s west, but textile artist Jessie Deane does just that.
Her works are breathtaking in their photorealism, each stitch precise and perfect, popping with colour, one of many thousands that form a whole that explores the contradictions of a landscape that is beautiful and ugly, vast and intimate, urban and industrial.
From the towering stacks of shipping containers and leviathan cranes of the Port of Melbourne to a decaying shell of a disused factory; the squat expanse of the Yarraville fuel terminal to the grand sweep of the West Gate Bridge, spanning an azure sky. These are stories of the west lovingly told in thread.
The aesthetics of industry
“I find aesthetics of industry really vibrant and colourful. The way the light falls - particularly in this part of Melbourne. You can drive past a space and it’s grey and go past two hours later and it's purple or yellow or pink - it's constantly changing.”
“It's almost like we ignore what we think is ugly and what we think is ugly isn't always necessarily so.”
Industry and urban decay is an aesthetic she is drawn to, but woven beneath the literal representations of these landscapes, Jessie’s work also speaks to the challenges of an environment where community and industry coexist.
“The thing that drew me to it was aesthetic and then I started to think about it and I thought hold on a minute.
The thing I found really interesting was that I struggled with where I lived but I was also completely drawn to it in a way I can't explain.
Like I'd drive past the Yarraville terminal and I would actually feel myself being excited but also terrified. What happens if?"
The fabric of life
This is an artist who sees the complexities of her environment from a fresh perspective.
Jessie left the UK in her 30's to explore the world and pursue her dream to live a creative and authentic life.
“I struggled my whole life with the artist versus the sensible person who earns money and I always gravitated towards the sensible person.
But I always felt this emptiness. I can't explain it. It's like a void.
And it doesn't matter how happy I was, there was this void - a feeling I wasn't doing what I really wanted to do.
That combination of really wanting to be an artist and let go of my life and just be brave - leaving England and travelling was the start of that."
Jessie is disarmingly honest, warm and funny. This is a fearless soul who is constantly seeking truth in her art and her life.
She is currently working on a new large-scale piece that captures a moment in time at Melbourne’s port, the bold, primary colours of the docks contrasting against a cloud-strewn, mottled sky.
The front of the work stunning in its perfection, the back revealing a surrealist but equally beautiful twin.
“The back of the work is exposing - and that's kind of what you do when you are an artist - you expose yourself but with the front you kind of feel there's a safety - it's perfect in a way - and then you look at the back and go - oh god.”
“I think there's a part of me that has a perfectionist side and I think that's probably my insecure side, and I think there's a part that's more freeform and that's my less insecure side, which is kind of ironic in a way.”
Jessie’s work connects with a broad audience and she says she seeks to create work that is readable for lots of people, not just an elite few.
“I love the fact that everyday people love my work.
I love that it's not just highly educated arts people who are just interested in a discourse around the art. I love that.
I like being an artist that's taken seriously but I like the fact that a person down the street who's never been to an art gallery might be attracted to one of my artworks.”
Jessie’s work injects a wonder and beauty into the familiar and gives us the gift of fresh perspective.
It is also an archive of a landscape with a proud industrial heart that is re-shaping itself at an alarming rate, urban decay giving away to redevelopment and gentrification.
This is our home and hers, with all its gorgeous contradiction, lovingly captured in a million silken stitches.
words jessica dean + pictures samantha kuruvita