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Art from afar: London-based Australian artist Jess Cochrane on forging a home away from home

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Art from afar: London-based Australian artist Jess Cochrane on forging a home away from home

When we first came across Jess Cochrane, it was somehow immediately, unpsokenly communicated that she was an Australian. Maybe it’s in the earthy, warm tones of her painterly works, or their always-jagged, rugged edges. Although the now London-based contemporary artist is yearning to return home in a vaccinated summer of border openings, she’s carved out a space for herself abroad. It’s one of discovery, romance, and connection.

Jess’s mind has this duality of limitless creativity and a very firmly anchored sense of self. While her nomadic inclinations saw a “life flip” from Sydney to London, the expatriate has made a name for herself in a parallel life. Her whimsical artworks feature fruits, fashion and a fervent use of colour, telling stories of womanhood and wilderness on the page.

It's empowering to use art as a tool to critically think about the human condition.

Here, we cast the net out wide to London, catching up with Jess on her city-frollicking, underrated spots to visit (when we can all be tourists again), and the trajectory of her craft from then to now. Jess moved for love, stayed for love, and will come home for love. As we preempt a future of planes and possibility, this is just the teaser of wanderlust needed right now…

Jess, tell us a little about the art you make and why it’s an integral part of your world…

The short-form answer to this question is that I paint over photographic portraits. Technically speaking, my designs are multidisciplinary works on paper. I paint what I know. And what I know is that to exist as a feminine energetic life force in this world is to be conditioned to feel and act in certain ways, based on an historically male lead system. It’s an integral part of my world, because it’s important to question things in life. I find it fascinating to question myself and how I act, how I feel, and to also recognise that I’m not ‘special’. Many people in the world have similar thoughts towards themselves, and similar feelings of fondness and also frustration towards pop culture. It’s empowering to use art as a tool to critically think about the human condition.

You’re an Aussie living in London — something we’re all deeply envious about. But what are you missing most about home right now?

I miss the sharp scent of eucalyptus in the air. It’s something I had never noticed until I came home from my first six-month stint here prior to moving permanently. The air in London is thick, almost greasy sometimes (especially on the tube — gross) and honestly it smells like weed and car exhaust. There is honestly nothing quite like the smell of home.

When did you make the trek across to the other hemisphere? What prompted the life flip and what has it meant for you since in the realms of work, love and creativity?

I was invited to be part of a group show in London in 2018, around the same time I met my partner (who is a London boy through and through). I fell in love with both him, and this city. It was hard and fast, and I guess the rest is now history.

There’s something so very wonderful about a city like London as it’s filled with a rich creative history across many industries. For me, it’s like the gateway to greater Europe, with all it has to offer to an artist. The access to both institutions, creative movements, interesting people, and what I guess could be called intense overstimulation, is everywhere in this city. It’s a fantastic place of access that makes a lot of sense to the topics that lay within my work and practice.

The life flip has, of course, come with many challenges. Specifically with the pandemic, it has been roughly three years since I’ve been home to see family and friends and that’s not by choice. There are many sacrifices that come with a hemispheric move, but I feel lucky to have love and support on my side.

Indulge us with a little escapism. What are some of your favourite London spots for:

A quick wine? Go to the mescal bar at KOL in Marylebone, ask for their house orange wine. (Although it may not end up being quick, and you may drink a whole bottle because it is literally nectar of the gods).

A long lunch? Any pub on a sunday. Or Forza wine rooftop bar in peckham. Amazing views, lush sharing plates.

An even longer dinner? Brasserie Zedel. Get off the tube at Piccadilly, walk up the stairs, walk down the stairs at zed into the dining hall. Eat all the oysters, steak and fries, drink all of the champagne etc.

A dance? My kitchen.

Jess Cochrane, ‘Two Left Shoes’

Jess Cochrane, ‘Two Left Shoes’

What artists are influencing you in London and abroad currently?

There are so many artists I love. I don’t think there is enough room in this interview for all of them. I’m really loving watching what Cece Phillips, Musonga Mbogo, and Kay Gasei are doing. I am an all-round fan and admirer of Chloe Wise, and adore the way Christina Ban Ban paints.

What’s on your Harrolds wishlist right now?

I’m always looking to add to my collection of Maison Margiela footwear. The black tabs loafers are the sort of shoe you know are timeless, but the split toe detail is like “tell me you went to art school without telling me you went to art school”, so obviously I love it. I’m also a fan of any bag you can fit your entire life into — very Mary Poppins of me. The PVC kraft paper logo tote by Comme des Garçons is the perfect bag for toting artworks to the post office or gallery, and filling with wine and groceries on my way home.

Who or what else dictates your art?

My self-criticism. Trends and “it” items, semiotics, art history, advertising. And the art of dressing as both a display and a disguise.

In a place where exhibitions and nightlife are rife, what are some of the best things/shows/galleries you’ve been to or seen lately?

Since lockdown restrictions were lifted in London, every single thing big and small have been the best things. But a visit to the summer exhibition at the RA is always a good time. Seeing the Ryoji Ikeda exhibition at 180 strand and swimming in the pool on the rooftop after while taking in the immense city views.

And any you’ve been part of?

My solo show at Rhodes Contemporary, A Woman By Any Other Name.

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