Reviews

Mixed Signals

Review of Visual Art Exhibition | Mixed Signals | Jess Cochrane | aMBUSH Gallery | Until 20 March 2022

Jess Cochrane is an Australian contemporary visual artist. Canberra is her hometown. She has been based in London for a few years now but has recently returned to Canberra for a brief time. She created new large-scale multidisciplinary pieces specifically for this solo exhibition, Mixed Signals. A well-known Canberra dairy product even features in one of the pieces.

Canberra Milk © Jess Cochrane (2022)

Cochrane’s work questions the relationship between society, consumerism and pop culture. Her focus is on feminine beauty, illustrated through the application of paint over photographic images. She paints highly gestural and expressive marks over the surface of glossy photographic portraits. This approach seeks to reflect our relationship to imagery and, particularly, to our own self-image.

The artist reflects upon insecurity and perfectionism in the modern age. Connecting the history of art, design and advertising, she plays on the idea of pop culture and its roots that are planted in both displaying and disguising parts of ourselves.

It is a body of work that explores themes around desire and semiotics through digital photography, which Cochrane styles in an editorial manner then embellishes with rough, gestural mark-making using acrylic paint to provide the element of subversion she has become known for. These are portraits featuring her friends, acquaintances and people she admires. By including recognisable elements and iconography that reference popular culture and identity, Cochrane reveals the reflective creative spirit that pervades her work.

Two artworks titled Carbs, and Guilt and Pleasure, feature the model cradling and holding substantial quantities of sweet pastries. Another with the title Gluten Free had me thinking “something for everyone” until I realised it includes even more of the same baker’s confectionery. Whether the goodies were gluten free or not, I’d be sure they were not sugar free.

Guilt And Pleasure © Jess Cochrane (2021-2022)
Gluten Free © Jess Cochrane (2021-2022)

Another work has cherries on a model’s ear, in her hands, against a breast obscuring the nipple, in the crotch area and on the fabric where she is seated. The boots she is wearing are painted over in red. The model has a dreamy, wistful look. What was she thinking whilst her photographic portrait was being taken?

Boots feature in various images. Indeed one work is titled Gucci Boots. They appear to be from that company’s latest collection, designed by Alessandro Michele, the Italian fashion designer who is its creative director.

Fresh figs feature in more than one work, opened to reveal the pink/red flesh inside – some held by the model, others scattered around her feet. And there are shucked oysters. Again, some being held by – and others scattered around – the model.

In one work, I’m the Pearl, a dark-skinned beauty wearing a beautiful necklace holds an opened oyster “containing” a pearl. A heart shape has been painted around the oyster. The model’s eyes, her full lips – indeed everything about her – shout to us that she is a pearl.

This use of cherries, figs and oysters is all very sensual. And the seductiveness is added to by Cochrane’s use of her paints – for example, by drawing attention to a breast and nipple by painting an enlarged outline of the same around them.

Of course, sensuality is also the condition of being pleasing or fulfilling to the senses. And that is very much what the artist is seeking to do – and achieving – with all her works. They dazzle with their sensuality, their colours.

Open © Jess Cochrane (2021-2022)

This exhibition is a powerful interrogation of our aspirational and perfection-seeking modern-day culture. It’s a collection of artworks unafraid to probe the historical conditioning of society, especially in the context of femininity, and ask the question ‘What do we perceive as beautiful and what is grotesque?’

This review was published in The Canberra Times on 5/3/22 here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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