This article is available in the July 2018 issue of PDXScene Magazine. It is an amazing collection of her favorite works, most of which is does not meet our content criteria for posting in this forum. We would highly recommend that you go view the July issue online (its free) to view her work and read her thoughts about each piece. You can find this article in its entirety in its original layout at this link
By L.A. “Larry” Iversen
Jessica R. Van Hulle is a formally trained artist specializing primarily in oil and acrylic portraiture and figure study. Although currently based in Southern California, Jessica’s work was a Portland-area staple during her time in the area from 2012-2016 at venues such as Catalyst Art & Cultural Space (now the Catalyst Sex Positive Place), Portland’s annual GEARCon steampunk convention, and Wells & Verne boutique; she’s had fashion designs shown at the Portland Art Museum; and in July she’ll have a piece in a group show at the Washington County Museum’s Steampunk Art Invitational. A little-known piece of local trivia is that—although she left Portland before having a chance to participate—the Catalyst’s original monthly figure drawing series is in no small part a direct result of her enthusiastic suggestion.
Through her online presence as The Lady Jessica (http://theladyjessica.com), Ms. Van Hulle showcases her original fine art as well as her work in fashion design and more. She can be found on Instagram @theladyjessicaart. Jessica offered the following insights about herself and her artwork via email interview:
Jessica, are there any personal details, social activism, causes or values you live by and/or would want our readers to know about?
JVH: I am working on new artwork with socio-political themes. As I have educated myself about how to contribute to positive change, my values as an artist/activist have become more clear. One of the most important values I want to promote is focusing on the bigger picture of justice and equality for all and resisting distraction, division, and in-fighting. In addition, I want to encourage people to take small actions, especially voting Progressive locally and especially in the upcoming Midterms. It’s crucial right now.
We’ll be focusing on your fine art, but I know that you have also been heavily involved in fashion design as well. Are you currently active in both, and if so, how do you find that they balance one another—and are there any other dimensions to your work you’d like our readers to know about?
JVH: Yes, I am currently involved in both, doing freelance fashion design and fine art gallery shows and commissions. The fashion design (mostly Halloween costumes, accessories, shoes and lingerie) keeps me up-to-date on social and cultural trends, and combined with my self-education about politics, it definitely informs my artwork. My fine art is a nice break from the commercial focus of fashion, so I think they complement each other well.
In addition to being immensely talented, your work clearly shows you are highly trained in your craft and well-versed in its historical context. Could you briefly recount the path by which you came to arrive at where you are in your artistic development?
JVH: First of all, thank you so much. Since childhood I’ve love of science fiction/fantasy art and Renaissance paintings and it has just grown over the years to include all kinds of entertainment arts (including concept art and costume design), and a wider variety of art movements (Art Nouveau, Romanticism, Realism, New Contemporary/Low Brow and more). About halfway through college, I began deeply considering how to combine styles and themes from Art History with more contemporary relevance and commentary. I created my Erotica series, looking at classical representation of nudes, but challenging people’s comfort level with seeing healthy sexuality unabashedly displayed sans titillation/pornography, exploitation or violence (which unfortunately is apparently more socially acceptable). Following that was my Steampunk series which deals with the representation of women in art, individuality, sexuality and power. I think that is a theme I will keep coming back to. Recently I’ve been looking more into Socio-Political Art and Propaganda Art… seeing how people have successfully used visual arts as a way of communicating about society and I am beginning to apply that knowledge into new works as well.
Has eroticism been an element of your creative drive from the beginning, or did your artistic interests evolve in that direction over time?
JVH: I think sensuality and appreciation of the beauty of the human form have been there from the beginning. Once I started becoming more serious about my fine art painting, sexuality emerged more as a topic I wanted to explore, particularly the representation of it in the arts.
For a time you were a resident of the greater Portland area— What did you find most appealing about living here? Things you’d improve if you had the chance?
JVH: I think the most appealing thing about living there for 4 years was the lush natural landscape. I really miss moss, fog, and rain living down in here LA. If I could wave a magic wand, I would improve the real career opportunities for all kinds of artists in the PNW. There are some good, new galleries popping up and a few more opportunities, but it is still very limited. Poverty in the PNW is a huge issue especially for people in creative fields, or those who desperately wish to be.
I know that your work is frequently—and rightly!—praised and celebrated… Do you ever experience any push-back concerning your more explicit depictions of intimate subjects and couples? If so, how do you handle it? What are your observations in this regard with respect to the current cultural climate overall and trends in the art world in particular, and how do you see your work within that perspective?
JVH: Not so much right now, but I was rejected from 38 galleries in San Francisco (of all places!) when I initially presented my erotically themed works. I had a studio visit from a gallery director who proceeded to tell me to change my work to feature just a sexy woman alone, an object of desire for the viewer’s gaze. I dealt with it by thanking him politely and then completely ignoring him! I think that there is plenty of room in the art world now to explore edgier topics, especially with the rise of alternative, “new contemporary” galleries… and that is great! I feel like the receptivity is inspiring me to push myself further and to branch out more.
Where would you like to see your artwork evolving in the future?
JVH: My new artwork is evolving to combine my previous bodies of work and my personal passions into one larger, cohesive body that is more and more telling oh my full truth.
You clearly put a lot of hard work into the business side of your work as well as the creative side. What lessons might you pass along to other creatives struggling with this particular aspect of being an artist?
JVH: I’d say the number one thing is PERSEVERANCE! This is a long marathon, not a sprint. One of the most important things is to compare yourself only to you, don’t waste time and energy comparing yourself to others. Also if someone wants you to do a bunch of free work for “exposure”, I would investigate if it is worth it.