Now Featuring Jessica Bell

Vancouver artist Jessica Bell works across a number of media: paper collage and prints, pieces fabric and photography, but what all the work has in common is a sense of careful juxtaposition. Sometimes stark and formal, sometimes painstaking and subtle, her photographer’s eye shows through across her work in the way she captures and accumulates tiny gestures, building toward a a sense of observation and place.

All prints can be found:

Exclusive Print, Matriarch 1

Exclusive Print, Matriarch 5

Exclusive Print, Under It 1

Exclusive Print, Under It 2

Exclusive Print, Bridge Form 1

Exclusive Print, Bridge Form 2

Exclusive Print, Bridge Form 3

MH: I love how deceptively simple your work is… what appears to be a white ground is revealed to be carefully pieced fabric, or the screen printing and collaging in your work for LPP.  Can you talk a little bit about your process?

JB: This question made me think about where my process actually starts, what the point is when I actually start working on something. Typically it is some combination of photo taking (which is something I do constantly) and collecting of materials. Materials are really what tweaks my brain; I’ll find something, a piece of paper or fabric that resonates with me and I have to use it. The things I make are a response to the materials first and then I think the visual catalogue of my environment that I have developed in my photo making is what helps form subject in my work. An artist friend made the comment to me: she thinks all of the white space I have built into my work is a buffer or bubble that I make to both observe the city from distance and also protect myself from it. I liked that and I think there might be some truth in it.

Weather System, 2011, Cloud D

Weather System, 2011, Cloud A

MH: What’s your background?  You work with paper and fabric in ways that could suggest you’re partial to each of them… But it’s interesting to see quilting and collage processes come together into a third thing that feels like something else entirely, like painting perhaps.

JB: I am a hodgepodge. I went to university fully intending on majoring in painting, but I was distracted by photography and printmaking and art history. I ended up graduating with a BA in Art History with an emphasis in architecture.

The textile and collage thing comes from some place entirely different. I am originally from Montréal, Quebec and my extended family still lives there. The last time I went to see them a couple of years ago, I saw so much of myself in my maternal grandmother. She has always sewed all of her own clothing and all of her children’s clothing in addition to household goods. When I was in her house I noticed for the first time that she is as crazy about pattern and texture and how they work in tandem as I am. I love that you see painting in the textile pieces; I think of those works like the paintings I couldn’t make in paint. The change of material has really satisfied the painting process for me, in a roundabout way.

onesee project

onesee project

MH: I appreciate how playful (and colorful) your onesee photo project is, especially compared to the restraint and detail of some of your other work.  Can you talk about it and how it started?

JB: onesee was entirely self-serving to begin with. I started it on my 33rd birthday, which appeared out of nowhere, and I started imagining ways that I could make time go slower. My thought was that if I did something every day, I would never not notice a day going by. The premise of the project was to create one composite image each day from a collection of photographs I had made that same day. You know how each of our eyes in fact record a scene entirely in pieces but our brain stitches it together into a united image? onesee was my photographic attempt at manufacturing that kind of image about a single day. I did that daily for a year without missing a single day or borrowing photographs from other days for each composite. I was actually really broken up in the last couple of weeks of the project when I knew it was going to end because I got to know my eye and my practice and my city so much more through it. It was 100% worth it.

Cold Snap

MH: Can you talk about color in your work?  It’s very restrained and considered, and now knowing your photographic practice I can’t help but relate it to light experiments and optical experience as much as starting with pattern, materials or referential objects.

JB: Color is as much a ‘deal breaker’ for me in the success of a piece as the other elements you have suggested, almost so much so that I am unconscious of making decisions about it. It is probably the most instinctual aspect of my practice. I have heard it said quite often about my work that it very referential to the muted, grayed out environment that I live in, Vancouver, which I think is completely true but even that is so familiar to me that I include it subconsciously. It feels like a given to me.

I like what you suggested about photographic practice and its connection to light experiments; I think of it also as an experiment in time. Last week I was in the park in front of my apartment/studio; we had an uncommon fall of snow last week after which we had equally uncommon clear, bright winter skies. The light cast this amazing shadow on the snow of a tree and it was so striking that I grabbed my iPhone to snap a photo. It wasn’t quite right so I adjusted and took another photo a mere 15 seconds later, and the light had already completely changed. The effect I had marveled at was almost completely gone. It was like an impromptu experiment in the encapsulation of light and time, and how brief or lingering each can be given the right catastrophe of circumstance. That space in between the fleeting and the infinite is pretty intoxicating.

City Parks

MH: Now that onesee is complete, do you have any new projects coming up?

JB: A few weeks ago I finally completed building a blog-based site to house the photographs I keep making. I have a studio blog and I had been posting the photographs there every so often but they have come to be a legitimate body of work for me that could benefit from their own environment. The site is called That phrase is something I wrote down about a year and half ago and for whatever reason, it says literally what I want my pieces to say visually about landscape. I have been posting to it as much as I feel like, but it doesn’t have the same regimented structure that onesee did. In this sense, I think I will just continue it for as long as it feels appropriate.

What it is to be in it project

MH: What’s your sketching process like?  How do you start out when you’re making something that requires a lot of preparation, like a collage or a fabric piece?

JB: I don’t sketch at all. On rare occasions I do the odd drawing, but rarely does it serve as the basis for a work. I’m pretty reckless in the collage and fabric pieces. I have had some spectacular failures but most of them can be cut up again to include as part of something new.

What does often guide a series or idea for me is note-taking in reading and also phrases. Whenever I build a significant body of work I almost always know the title first, and the work comes later. For example, the LPP editions include two selections from a series called ‘Matriarch’ which began when I started noticing that this enormous tree that grows in the city park in front of my apartment was ‘the’ definable marker by which I knew I was close to home. I walk almost everywhere and no matter which direction I approach home from, I always know I am close when I glimpse this tree. On one walk home I consciously assigned the identity of a matriarch to it and the pieces came after. This is the way I have produced most of the work I have made in the past several years.

What it is to be in it project

MH: Who are some the artists who inspired you growing up… and those who inspire and influence you now?

JB: I was really keen on Byzantine and medieval art and architecture when I was growing up; the reduction of form to simple shapes really appealed to me, these floating subjects in masses of segmented space. There is an ethereal quality to reduction that makes an ordinary subject seem transcendent. In the present, I just recently discovered the work of Sergej Jensen, which has lit a fire under me and simultaneously made me feel like giving up; his work is that good. More and more I am finding myself really interested in work where there is a dance over the line between art and craft. Roanna Wells is someone who comes to mind right away. And I keep coming back to painters because I really do suspect that even in this other work I am trying to make paintings and just circumventing it. Vancouver painter Jeff Depner, for example, constantly impresses me. The last time I was in Montréal I saw a large show of Francine Savard’s work that continues to elate me.

What it is to be in it project


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