Hope can be hard to find in the dark- but a morning with Jessica Holliday teaches me that hope is more about the way in which we make conscious choices to move our feet towards the light, than about the dark place in which we stand. An artist who uniquely paints with pastels, a dry medium crafted from pure pigment and gum binder, Jessica brings the West Aussie landscape to life on canvas- capturing the vivid and the muted, the grand and the intricate. She invites the viewer to engage with a sense of place, to cultivate a love for the richness and diversity it offers, and to recognise its power to guide our footsteps into a more hopeful existence.

Jessica associates the feeling of home with her family- her husband and three sons- as well as with her art practice. Situationally, she associates Western Australia with a deeper feeling of home, even though she spent many years growing up in other parts of Australia. The impression that the landscapes of WA have left upon Jessica is powerful, as evidenced by her work, which “invites the viewer in”, as a visitor to one of her exhibitions said recently. “I love trying to capture the impression a place has on me,” she says. “A place like Fern Pool [Karijini National Park]- I don’t believe anyone can visit there and not walk away with it as a striking memory, and therefore a part of what forms their identity”. She invites us to acknowledge the profound power that the natural world can have upon our senses, if we let it: “I like to portray the pristine, remote wilderness areas, but I want my work to encourage the viewer to realise that there is beauty everywhere, if you look hard enough”.

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“A theme that has continued to develop in my work, which wasn’t a conscious thought to start with, is a movement towards the preservation and protection of landscapes- especially in WA, as it’s my home,” Jessica shares. More than just engaging with a sense of place and how it shapes our singular identities, Jessica’s work more and more seeks to play a part in building a connection between viewer and landscape, with the intention and the wish that, collectively, we would feel a desire to see it protected and preserved. Jessica laments the fact that parts of the Kimberly are amongst a dwindling number of places globally that are considered truly pristine. However, she says, “Statistically speaking, the preservation of our natural world can feel like a hopeless situation. While statistics alone can be overwhelming, a depiction of something natural, beautiful and pristine can elicit an emotional response and connection. We protect what we value, and we value what we’re connected to”. She adds, “I’m trying to achieve a connection and dialogue between the viewer and the natural world, because I think we’re more and more disconnected from it. When we take the time to reconnect, we can really find out more about ourselves, and cultivate a deeper love and appreciation for the place in which we find ourselves”.

 

Jessica and I share a wide-ranging and nourishing conversation, and my final question to her is this: I’ve been thinking a lot recently about hope. There’s so much in our world and in our lives that could see us losing our grip on hope, and even slipping into despair. What things are keeping you hopeful? Jessica doesn’t need to think long before responding. “Humanity, our lives here today, are a speck compared to the infinity of nature. Building a connection to nature, and perhaps inspiring and cultivating it within others, keeps me hopeful”. She also shares about having been raised in a Christian home, but how stepping away from the religious element of Christianity has helped her grow in her own personal faith, which keeps her hopeful. “I believe in God, just not in religion,” she says. “Going for a hike is my church, and I feel fellowship with God in nature.” For Jessica, her art practice is also a way in which she manages to cultivate and nurture a sense of hope. “Art, and the observing and capturing of beauty, can be very uplifting for people. Personally, art pulled me out of a dark place and brought me a sense of identity. I was able to rediscover who I was through art. I’m hopeful that art can do the same for others”.

This article was written by Laura Koens

Images are the artwork of Jessica Holliday

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