Australian artist Jessie Nash almost never applied to the inaugural Tracey Emin residency in Margate. It was only after a "stern" conversation with her best friend's mum that she plucked up the courage to submit her application. Thank god she did. The 28-year-old painter is one of 10 artists from countries like Zimbabwe, Hungary, the US and Uganda who have packed up and relocated to the English coastal town.
Like a lot of artists, Nash's painting practice really shifted in lockdown. Surrounded by Bundjalung hinterland, pantry items and little else, Jessie Nash turned to still life, grouping quintessential Australian foodstuff like Jatz, Sirena tuna, Moccona instant coffee and Bundaberg rum, into semi-realistic portraits capturing the mundanity many of us were experiencing on the canvas.
Below, RUSSH caught up with Nash to discuss her sea change, that time she assisted Marco Fusinato at the Venice Biennale and how all her studio rituals lead back to instant coffee. Find our conversation, below.
What’s the first thing we should know about you?
I guess we could start with my name? Im Jessie!
Can you tell me about the process of applying to the Tracey Emin Artist Residency and what the experience was like for you?
I had seen the residency online, and admittedly (eye-roll) overlooked how appropriate I would be as a candidate. I had a few unrelated prods from a couple of friends who had urged me to apply, but it wasn’t until I had a somewhat stern, motherly conversation with a best friend’s mum (an admirable artist in her own right, Toni Wilkinson) that I actually committed to the application. It was due literally the next day, so I got home and popped my application in. A few weeks later I was invited to interview with Tracey for the residency – it was very early in the morning to accomodate for the time difference given I was in Australia, but it went well, apparently! Discussing my work with Tracey Emin was nothing short of a hallucination – she is attentive, careful, and immensely invested in this project. I feel very fortunate to find myself taking part in this entire experience and am in awe at her willingness to make such a contribution to the future generations of artists.
What does a typical day in the studio look like for you? Do you have any rituals?
Instant coffee, after instant coffee, after instant coffee. Aside from that, I paint with oils, in a pretty no-frills way, so my studio setup is nothing exciting to most. Brushes, linseed oil, oil paint. I tend to have multiple paintings going at once, incase I get bored of one (or feel I need a minute away from say, the Vegemite or the beans, so as to spend some time with the pickles and the Jatz). I would love to say I pack down my studio at the end of the day and clean my brushes and so on and so forth, but my routine really is limited to the Moccona.
On a serious note, the routine for me lies in being at the studio, regardless of what goes on inside of it. Some days I may paint in an immensely productive manner, while some days I struggle to get anything out so I end up spending hours priming canvas or just listening to music. No matter how I spend my time in the studio, so long as I am there I tend to feel like I am being productive.
When I’m not painting, you’ll find me…
At the moment, knitting. I have taken it up and I am so bad, I am a one stitch wonder. Purl, repeat. But it's cathartic!
How are you finding Margate? What was your first impression of the place?
I should admit, I applied for and accepted this residency placement having never been to Margate. BUT it's a new place, which is always exciting for me! It's by the sea, and the beaches have sand (as opposed to rocks or pebbles), so in some ways it's a nice little slice of home being able to put my feet in the (albeit very cold) sand. Ultimately anywhere in the universe that I have a studio and materials, I can make myself happy – and that place is Margate for at least the next 18 months.
During lockdown your practice revolved around mundane, everyday objects like those in your pantry. Has this changed?
Actually not really – I am having way too much fun. I am however definitely trying to push and pull it. I am really keen to ensure the work I am making connects not only with myself, but how it fits into a really long history of still life painting.
What are you hoping to gain from your time at TKE Studios?
The array of visiting tutors is mind-blowing to me, I really just can’t wait to learn – properly learn – from leaders in my field and people who I admire and respect. I feel really excited to make new work. I don’t know what this work will look like, but to spend 18 months in the same place, in the same studio, in such an intensive way, will be undoubtedly very stimulating.
What has been the most formative moment in your career as an artist so far?
I don’t know if it can be pinned down to moments, rather I find people I meet and the things I learn from them to be the most formative experiences.
Last year I was lucky enough to travel to Venice, Italy, to assist artist Marco Fusinato in his presentation at the Venice Biennale. I had never even been to Italy before, so to spend six weeks learning from one of Australia’s most significant artists, at what is essentially the largest, and the leading event of the art world calendar, was incredible. I felt myself being very aware and grateful for the small things I was learning from Marco, as his practice is so unique – his routines, his thought process, his experimentation. The work he presented (titled DESASTRES) was a million miles away from a painting, but really stimulated ideas and desires around painting for me, and when I got back into the studio after spending weeks with this work I was determined to take myself and my paint brushes much more intentionally. I really must also acknowledge Jenny Watson as an immensely formative relationship for my career – I admire and respect her like no other.
Have you gotten in touch with any of the other artists joining you on the residency?
Only loosely, to be honest! We have all engaged online, but I really can’t wait to all be in our studios side by side, taking each others work in and sharing space and conversations. We all have quite different practices from what I gather so far, so I think it’ll be varied and insightful.
What’s inspiring you and your world right now?
The change of pace and scenery, and the need to let go of the steering wheel! I think this experience will be so informative and unlike anything I have truly ever experienced before, so I am just ready to work hard, make a lot of work, and hope that audiences can gain even a small something from the work that I make.