Building Stitches

6th May 2020

First published in Inspirations issue #104, written by Ansie van der Walt

Private commission- All images Copyright © Jessie Deane

“When I chose to do woven textiles as
the major in my fashion and textile
design degree, I was drawn to the
prospect of building from the ground
up. So, I would dye the yarn, plot the
design, thread the loom and build
the fabric. I loved watching a piece
of fabric being created by my own
hand. I found it thrilling.”

Even as a child jessie deane asked for craft kits, model aeroplanes, Lego, and Meccano sets–anything that meant she had to use her hands to make something, attracted her. Which explains why she was fascinated by the needlepoint kits stitched by the older women in her family. They chose to depict birds, flowers, cats and other traditionally feminine designs–the only things available at the time. These did not interest Jessie and prompted her to create her own designs.

Stolt–Tanker, view from Warmies 950mm x 1350mm 

Today, as a textile artist based in Yarraville, in Melbourne’s west, Jessie is still fascinated by objects that are constructed and built. Her art practice is heavily influenced by her obsession with capturing the surrounding decaying industrial landscapes. This juxtaposition and what it means to use a traditionally feminine medium to create a more masculine landscape is an important concept for her.

Drill Hall, West Footscray 310mm x 440mm

“My interest is in subverting the medium of needlepoint to explore dichotomies–the heavy-duty versus the handmade, the cold, rigid industrial materials versus the warm malleability of the thread, the masculine world of industry versus the feminine world of craft. I’m also drawn to oppositional forces and attracted to counterpoint. I love to explore the contradictions of a landscape that is both beautiful and ugly, vast and intimate, urban and industrial, and I find contradictions throughout the work I do and the place I live.”

Maersk Containers 435mm x 910mm

Jessie’s work looks photorealistic when viewed from a distance, but on closer inspection it becomes pixelated and a riot of colourful individual stitches. In real life, the objects she depicts are drab, rusty, industrial, decaying and what is generally thought of as ugly, yet, they become beautiful when viewed through Jessie’s eyes.

Red and White Stripes, Yarraville 440mm x 310mm

“It’s intuitive. I rarely know how it is going to look when I start. I’m driven by colour and will often get carried away and use colours that would not be associated with the image. It can be confusing when you look up close, but when seen from a distance it has an amazing effect and melds in really well. It is where the creativity of my needlepoint takes its space. It is the part that is unique to what I do.”

Car at the Westgate Golf Club, Spotswood 310mm x 440mm

This way of working means that Jessie often unpicks. “With needlepoint I’m a perfectionist and sometimes the slightest tone will impact the whole piece in my eye. On one quite large commission, I was really struggling with the look of the sky after it was completed. My eye kept going back to one small section of about five square inches. In the end, I just had to unpick and redo it. The colour change was minimal but tonally it changed everything.”

Left – Yes Bins, Yarraville Hockey Club 310mm x 440mm; Right – Yang Ming Containers, Footscray 305mm x 430mm

Although Jessie’s exhibitions are all her own work and mostly sell out, she does take commissions. “I approach commissions in a very particular way and don’t ever work from people’s images or to their instructions. I get information about the building, space or whatever it is they want to be depicted. I ask questions about favourite colours or what sticks out about a building, then I go away and make the work. I don’t let a client see the work until it’s complete and I don’t take any upfront payment or deposit. Once the work is done, if the client is not happy, they don’t have to buy it. This is the only way for me to maintain complete artistic integrity. I never do the same image more than once and I don’t stitch family portraits or baby pictures. I do make pet-points, but that is really just a bit of fun.”

Swim School, West Footscray 310mm x 440mm

Although Jessie has a full-time job and only works on her needlepoint after hours, she considers herself a professional artist, devoting up to 45 hours a week on her stitching. “Because my work sits in an ambiguous space between art and craft it is often undervalued. I feel that people need to understand not just the work that goes into each piece but also the intellectual property, creative ideas, and more. It is hard enough to value yourself as an artist and putting a price on art is tough. I often second guess myself but believe it is important that artists hold the same value in the world as other professionals.”

Left – Glassworks, Spotswood 310mm x 440mm Right- Servac, Spotswood 310mm x 440mm

Jessie Deane is an artist who has built her career in the same way she built those woven fabrics while studying. Stitch by stitch, thread by thread, colour by colour. With her own hands. And it is thrilling.

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