For artist Jessica Wohl, going through fashion magazines is far more than a sunny pastime. It’s like research, as she uses the pages to create intricate collages that challenge our perceptions of women and the home. Using vintage publications, Jessica strategically cuts the pages and assembles the pieces into bizarre creations. In doing so, she draws compelling visual corollaries between lacquered red nails and the tines of a dinner fork, a stilettoed foot and a steak knife, luscious manes of hair and kitchen mops. Thus, symbols stereotypically associated with a kept home—dolls, pearls, spoons, crocheted blankets, an iced lemon cake—are transformed into powerful domestic weapons. From these objects, she has created an army of heroines who are animated and assertive.
In her series “Magazine Drawings,” Jessica applies ink in highly calculated strokes onto pictures of women in catalog pages. The lines are shaped like strands of hair or blades of grass, and move with an unsettling energy. They creep from the neckline and crown of the head, obscuring the faces of the subjects beneath. Again, Jessica is challenging her audience to question the purity of the presented image and to reconsider what might lie beneath a rosy façade.
She uses thread in a similar way on top of old photographs in her series “Sewn Drawings,” creating a tight network of stitches that obscures the subjects’ faces. Here, her marks are made carefully with thread and are arranged into an elaborate mask. Again, identity—and our perception of it—is called into question: “What’s more real? The masks we wear, or the people we are behind them?” asks Jessica. Photographs are a medium that people often constitute as a “truthful” or “real” form of representation. But as Jessica administers the thread, this authenticity is thwarted and the photograph becomes illusory.
This idea of skewed perception is emphasized in her series “Ghosts,” in which thin layers of gouache are applied to photographs, leaving only the eyes and, in several instances, a rather menacing grin. The photographs, which harken back to elementary school head shots, seem to blend into the wall behind them, as if being consumed by the house in which they reside. “I like to think that houses see everything, hear everything, offer protection, grow and evolve and age according to their residents.” Like childhood ghost costumes made from old sheets, these images reveal a sense of charade that is at once playful and chilling.
Jessica’s newest body of work, entitled “Letting Go,” which is currently on view at Zeitgeist in Nashville, TN, is a beautiful compilation of her previous investigations of domestic life. Created on the heels of her large, soft sculptural installation at the Knoxville Museum of Art, these new pieces translate those three-dimensional forms into intricate two-dimensional iterations that hang on the wall like large tapestries or decorative quilts. They are composed from the “detritus of the home” … old shirts and shorts, collected snaps and buttons, scraps of lace, a soiled napkin and even human hair. Jessica’s process of assemblage is in fact quite similar to collage. In this case, however, she is making marks by stitching thread, a deliberate commentary on our inherent need to patch things up or mend what is deemed broken.
Jessica is currently a professor of art at Sewanee: The University of the South, and exhibits work regionally and nationally. We’d like to thank her for taking the time to share her art with us today! To see more of Jessica’s work, click here.