Woman Crush Wednesday: Jessica Wohl
Interview by Lucy Farrell
Jessica Wohl is a 37-year old trained illustrator from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Using many artistic fields including drawing, painting, collage and installation, her work discusses misconceptions of family life and shows that everything is not what it seems. Featured here is work from Sewn Drawings, Magazine Drawings and Collages.
You can check out more of Wohl’s work here.
You work with found photographs in both Sewn Drawings and Magazine Drawings. What was your process in choosing the specific images to work with?
In Sewn Drawings, I first sought out images with more formal issues in mind. I needed images that were as large as possible, that had subjects who were making eye contact with the camera or that had a striking pose, that also that tended to have an air of nostalgia or humour. With Magazine Drawings I looked for images through a more conceptual lens. I needed images of women that when combined with the drawn line, would look like they were being controlled or possessed by a force outside of their body. This might include the physical presence of another (often male) figure, or a blank stare that might indicate a vacancy on the part of the woman herself, as if something had put a spell on her. I also wanted the images from Magazine Drawings to come from the 60s and 70s, when women’s civil rights issues and the role of the woman in the home was evolving.
You've said that you use sewing as a metaphor of the human need to prevent life from "ripping at the seams." Did you initially begin Sewn Drawings as a way to preserve these old photographs and illustrate that idea?
Not really. I actually began the series in response to a failed experiment where I covered a found photograph with correction fluid, leaving only the eyes and mouths of the people in them visible. I did this thinking about what it might be like if we could “correct” the troubling environments we live (and therefore took photographs) in, whiting it out, starting with a blank slate to create a fresh, perhaps less troubling story. But the white out cracked and peeled off the image, and I had to find another solution. I wanted the solution to address our need and ability to fix or mend something on our own, at home, like using scotch tape, string or staples. Doing these tasks is a physical manifestation of preventing something from “ripping apart at the seams” or “holding it together.” That’s how I decided to use thread, and the embroidery floss worked even better than the white out. By sewing on the photographs, I could white out an area, and simultaneously hold it together.
You're a dynamic artist. You really have a way of successfully incorporating a variety of media throughout your work. How did you shift from sewing and drawing on found photographs to creating original collages?
Between both Sewn and Magazine drawings and the collages I made a large-scale soft-sculptural installation for the Knoxville Museum of Art that took about 9 months to complete. After working on a three-dimensional project that took so long, I wanted to shift gears and work on something small that I could complete in a matter of hours. The collages are quite derivative of the installation, which combined domestic textiles like clothes and quilts with synthetic hair. The collages did the same thing, only with images culled from magazines, so it was just another version of that process, scaled down significantly. The collages relate to the Magazine Drawings, in particular, in that they come from the same stack of magazines I keep in my studio.
With your Collages, each piece is comprised of many individual images. Do you have a specific vision of what you want from the outset? Or do you just play around with the images until your happy with the final piece?
Each collage is real puzzle, and I don’t know what I’m going to get when I begin. I might find a killer image of an afghan that I know I want to use, and then I’ll cut out or find images in response to it, but part of what keeps those exciting for me is the mystery. I’ll arrange the same group of pieces in multiple ways, and take snapshots on my phone of all the iterations, and then suddenly I just know it’s done. That intangible moment when I just know, “This is it,” keeps me going. I have no idea why certain images work the way they do, but it’s somehow clear to me when it all comes together. Not fully understanding that magic moment compels me to keep making them.
Your work is constantly challenging the superficial and uncovering the dark side of suburban life. How has your art influenced your view of the American Dream? What has your art taught you about our society?
Interesting…I’ve always thought about the inverse of this question, how the American Dream influences my work, or how society teaches me things that I explore in my work, but I haven’t thought about how my work influences my understanding of the American Dream. Initially, I’d say I’m quite cynical about the American Dream, and my work responds to that inclination by exposing the dark underbelly of what we’re supposed to strive for. But I actually think through the creation of my work, I feel more optimistic about our society and the American Dream. I feel like my work allows me to bring up issues that trouble me, so that I can engage in a dialogue with an audience about how we can mutually understand our problems in society and strive to make them better by calling them out with ingenuity, honesty and integrity. My work has taught me that society is full of surprises. That I can never assume I understand someone, or how they see the world, because people inevitably interpret my work in ways I’ve never considered. What I might see as obvious, others may never understand, and isn’t that exactly what so many of us are feeling in and about our country right now? That we are so divided, and that neither side can possibly understand how the other can think the way they do? So, I suppose my work is just a microcosm of that phenomenon.
How would you describe your creative process in one word?
If you could teach one, one-hour class on anything, what would it be?
How to communicate effectively with someone whom you strongly disagree with
What was the last book you read or movie you saw that inspired you?
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
What is the most played song in your music library?
Right now, Sweet Baby James, because I use it to get my son to sleep
How do you take your coffee?
Decaffeinated, with lots of flavored syrups