The passionate advocate. An interview with Jessica Hazell

Jessica Hazell is a painter from Queensland, Australia. Currently based in London, she is the author of a passionate and energic study of the female figure. Through her iconic painting language, Jess is able to research and show the feminine universal beauty. Overturning the standards typical of pictorial female nudes, she offers the viewer a raw glimpse of the purest intimacy of her subjects. Emphasizing the beauty of “imperfections”, the artist brings on the stage the uniqueness through which Nature, in its broadest sense, expresses its charm, grace and power. The vulnerability manifested by her faceless women is nothing more than a reflection of human fragility and it is necessary to understand and appreciate the real beauty, which comprises a multitude of details, emotions and, of course, imperfections that make every being special.

Jessica Hazell in her studio.

In the following interview, Jess tells us about her creative process and how is important to use art as a bridge to bring the public closer to topical issues, such as women empowerment.

Let’s start with your relationship with art. Your art is characterized by an intimate expressive language, your female nudes are immediately recognizable. How have you developed this iconic style?

I definitely did not think I would end up painting what I do now. I started seriously painting about 6 years ago and mainly did landscapes and nature, I felt really connected to that and felt there was a lot of emotion to explore. Eventually it evolved into incorporating figures and portraits, but still coming from a strong place of natural and environmental influences. I tended to initiate a painting with a narrative and build it from there, so all my paintings acted like a visual story, and I kept painting on from there. It wasn’t until I really moved to London out of mental health necessity that my style evolved to what is now, which is heavily representative of feminine power and energy.

I found a really strong sense by being completely independent and starting my life from square one, and I guess that found its way into my art. I was approaching it from a new angle now, one where I had a message instead of a story to tell. And that message was one I wish I had learned years earlier (but better late than never). I have a recurring colour palette, and this was also completely unintentional and it’s become a fun style for me now where I paint women of every shape size and colour in a palette that propels a vibrant and ferocious energy to the forefront of my work. Development for me just comes from living and growing as a person. I don’t like to put pressure on myself by constantly working and looking for new styles, because that will always come organically and naturally depending on what I’m doing or where I am.

What about your influences? Who or what inspires you?

ALL WOMEN ARE MY INSPIRATION. I love meeting new people, taking part in important events that support women and networking online. I see women every day fighting stereotypes, stepping up to challenges, putting their creativity out there to say something, taking risks, speaking up, not giving a fuck and it is so powerful and inspiring. These are the women I paint! It gives me strength and creates a circle of support where I can then pass that onto someone else. Women need to support each other and depart from the idea that we are natural enemies fighting in a war of patriarchal power and beauty standards. Each time I see that notion die, I do a little happy dance and usually paint something.

I’m inspired by so many talented and incredible artists. I have my little Instagram community that is jam packed full of creative geniuses. My favorite artists/women/people are Chloe Wise, Elly Smallwood, Ivan Alifan, Frida, Dali, Egon Schiele, Jenny Saville, Tracey Emin, Sari Shryack (super obsessed with her right now), Florence Given, Elisa Valenti, Wanda Comrie, Stevie Nicks, Patti Smith, Maxine Saunders just to name a few and the list goes on for days!

Let’s talk about a main theme in your artistic production, the female figure. Do you think that art is still able to help people to understand and support an important topic such as women empowerment and body-positive activism?

YES! I think art is the biggest influence for this. Not only does it depict such a raw nature of female beauty but it creates a safe space that allows for insightful storytelling, images that perhaps aren’t allowed or NSFW because society has sexualised them, more inclusivity of all body types, ages, colours, disabilities etc. Art is very powerful in the sense that someone is always listening, and as crazy as it sounds, the people who don’t understand are still looking and listening and are subconsciously opening themselves up to expanding their mind and abolishing outdated views of women. Women in paintings for thousands of years have been painted as sexual figures, and usually by men. It’s so important that as women we reclaim that, take back that power, and turn the female nude into something that is not sexualised or deemed inferior.

It is important and always will be that art be a strong advocate in fighting for female empowerment, equality and body-positivity because as long as the patriarchy still exists, the media exists, toxic masculinity exists, we have to keep educating people about why it doesn’t work and why it assaults our basic human rights. Art is such a great outlet to send this message because it’s coming from so many different people with different perspectives and different ways of depicting it and illustrating it with their creativity. It’s not black or white, this or that, it’s an insane number of powerful artists that each have something to say that fights for equality and body-positivity. I never thought I would get into politics, but now I realize as a woman who cares about equality and the right to have power over our own bodies, it’s my duty and pleasure to use my work as a megaphone for feminism.

As we said, your art is committed to important themes, such as the support of gender equality and, even more, the celebration of women’s sexuality, body positivity and self-love. But what is the hardest part of creating a painting?

The fear it won’t be very good or work the way you want it to or convey the right message. I always have an idea of how I want a painting to look and when it doesn’t work it really dampens my creativity. I’m a very annoying perfectionist and when something doesn’t turn out right or it feels off, I usually just leave my studio space for a while until I’m brave enough to come back and try it again. The easiest way to get over this is to just not overthink it too much, which is easier said than done, but usually works when I create a safe space and have a clear head.

I used to struggle with finding things and people to actually paint but I thwarted that by throwing myself into social circles and be unapologetic about asking people to model for me.

But by far the hardest thing about creating a painting is being in the right space. I can’t put brush to canvas if I know my space is not filled with positive energy, sunshine, calmness and inspiration. I’ve had too many studio spaces now where it feels dark with all energy sucked out of it and my work really suffers from that. I’m finally in a new space that is mine and feels so right.

And how do you know when a painting is done? Is it a sensation or a mechanical result?

A painting is never done. You can keep going and going until you die, it’s impossible to lay a final brush stroke down and know that’s the last one. I usually call it quits when I can take a step back and feel like I’m being pulled towards the painting with the colour vibrancy, energy, level of detail and depth and of course does it make me feel powerful and send the right message? I have to tick all of these before I’m finished otherwise it just feels rushed and incomplete. Any artist will probably agree with me when I say that we all have such strong and profound connections to our work that you can sort of just feel it when enough and you’re done. It’s such an amazing feeling that makes me want to cry of happiness whenever I finish a piece, so I try not to rush but also try to be strict with myself and walk away at the right time.