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Although I live in the country, I remain passionate about the city. I think that the city screams at you, not so much by the typical noise of traffic and people, but it screams at you visually, through signs, advertisement, logo’s, text, graffiti, window displays, neon lights and other images designed to attract our attention. Travelling the world I always bring my camera with me to capture the ‘noise’ visually. I then use these images to create artistic statements about urban life and what it evokes in me.

Today, I find myself influenced and enamoured by Pop Art, in particular artists such as Richard Hamilton, Robert Rauschenberg and Richard Prince. I visited New York twice in 2007 simply to absorb the atmosphere, walking the streets day and night taking photographs and filming. My camera is constantly trained at what is often overlooked by others: the wonderful graffiti that graces the rough brick walls around the back streets of the Meatpacking district, the street market stalls in Chinatown and Little Italy, the peeling posters and the water towers atop buildings in Tribeca and the many construction sites that reflect the ever changing cityscape.

In places like New York, or any urban metropolis really, you are constantly bombarded by noise and information. It is possible to be advertised at, sold to, harassed, propositioned, detained, honked at, lectured, policed or abused on every street corner, every day. For a person who adores the wide open spaces of the country, I find it a little baffling that I am so passionate about cities, New York in particular. The truth is, I find the noise of the city soothing and comforting, even road works that continue all through the night. When I am standing on a busy street corner watching a police car muscle its way through traffic, lights flashing and siren blazing, I feel completely happy. I can’t explain it.

jools bland

I find that when I am walking the city streets, it is the ‘visual noise’ rather than sound that impacts on me the most. I want to explore the concept of ‘visual noise’ and how it can be intrusive, ugly and in some cases down right belligerent, and yet when presented in a different way, it is possible to become soothing, aesthetically pleasing, definitely sexy and maybe even beautiful. In my art I reflect aspects of cities that I have chosen to embrace such as the subway graffiti, back alleys, freeway arterials as seen from above and used car lots for example. For me, every street is a different visual feast and the combinations, interpretations and possibilities for them are simply endless.

I am currently using painting, collage, photography, film, music and neon light installations to create exhibitions that merge with the space they are held in. I have an Exhibition May 7th - May 27th at the Agora Gallery in New York City. The aim of this show is to invite people inside my private world, my headspace, in a very transparent and honest way.

I think that most people would be able to relate to my work on some level, both men and women alike, because of this honesty and also the humour. I also think my paintings are both masculine and feminine simultaneously. The visual language often comes across quite raw and industrial, in a masculine sort of way. However, there is definitely a female ‘slant’ to my work. This is in no way contrived. I guess it is a reflection of where I am in my life at present and what I am aspiring to be. I have never felt more womanly which to be honest, makes me feel very powerful. Because I feel this is the very essence of my existence, my art refers to this celebration of femininity.

jools bland

The women that grace my paintings, or the Sheila sculptures that I do, are witty, feminine and confident. Herein lays their strength. (Sheila is part of the Australian vernacular and is slang for woman. I find it incredibly fun and satisfying to bring sexy mannequins to vibrant life through paint and collage and then simply call them Sheila.)

I am fascinated by how a painting or a sculpture evolves. Everything I create has been borne of a simple starting point, usually female in origin: with my paintings it could be a postcard of a smirking, fifties housewife saying something that would make even Germaine Greer blush, or perhaps a Wonder Woman comic strip or an image of a sexy woman being lifted up by a crane on a Mirabelle chocolate block wrapper. Or else something from my own wardrobe might inspire me; my favourite old jeans, a torn shirt, a fishnet stocking. I then build on this starting point by adding paint, digital images, neon lights, corrugated iron, barbed wire or any other type or combination of mixed media material.

My Sheilas are a natural extension of the female theme. They evolved because I want to focus on, and breathe even more life into, the women on the canvases. Make them three dimensional and interactive in the gallery space. When I plaster a Sheila sculpture in silk printed with contrasting ‘masculine’ images of graffiti, rusty door frames covered in peeling posters or industrial landscapes for example, I am challenging the ‘normal’ interpretation of such images and demonstrating that it is possible to see such ‘cityscapes’ as sexy, dynamic and even beautiful.

jools bland

This desire to balance the masculine and feminine spills over into my current video installation. Using colour, black and white, slow motion and high speed, the footage is an honest, visual reflection of ‘the noise in my head’. The harsh industrial, urban, rural and masculine landscapes featured are punctuated by a beautiful, blond girl in a silver dress. This anonymous woman sashays her way, unfazed, past busy Middle Eastern construction sites, through a drought ravaged field strewn with animal carcasses, and along streets littered with Mardi Gras debris, the debauched participants limping home at dawn. You even catch a glimpse of her in an Antarctic snow storm. Or is it a mirage?

I adore the concept of escapism. For me, it is the mental journey that transports a person out of their own reality and into someone else’s headspace momentarily. To forget about your own thoughts and step into another world for a limited time, appeals to most people. My camera is trained at what captures my attention, what intrigues me, and my subsequent interpretation of it is the basis of all my work. These images and how I can potentially use them becomes all I think about. This ‘visual noise’ consumes both my waking and sleeping hours. But for someone else, it can be a chance to escape their own noisy, restless minds.

Jools Bland – April 2008

   
 
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