Jessye Wdowin-McGregor: an Australian artist in East London
I stumbled across artist Jessye Wdowin-McGregor as she was taking photographs on Hackney Marshes, East London. Jessye explained that she was visiting London as part of a residency programme and I was keen to know her story.
Growing up in Australia
I asked Jessye where she grew up in Australia and how her passion for photography emerged.
"I’ve always loved making things. I was drawing from a young age and haven’t really stopped. When I finished high school it didn’t occur to me to pursue something other than a place in a tertiary visual arts program, and I was incredibly lucky to have the support and encouragement of my parents, both creative people and artists in their own right. Once I started my undergraduate studies in visual art I felt like I’d found a place I belonged, and I think I’m happiest when I’m practising or thinking about art."
Life as an artist
I asked Jessye how she defined herself as an artist and what mediums she used.
"Primarily I work across the mediums of moving image, performance, photography and collage. Although my practice is largely lens-based, my background is in drawing (my first degree was a Bachelor Fine Art in Drawing) and a graphic sensibility come through in my collage-work, which reflect traces of the hand and mark making.”
I have always felt that London presents huge opportunities for Australian creatives. I asked Jessye to explained how she made the journey to London.
"Last year I applied to undertake a three-month Associate Artist Residency with Acme Studios in London, a program I was particularly drawn to because of the opportunity to be paired with professional mentors as part of the residency. I have visited London several times in the past few years and each time have had ideas for artworks that I wanted to make, but not quite the resources to do so. The residency seemed like a wonderful means to realise a body of new work and to receive feedback during the residency period, from both practising artists and representatives from various cultural organisations in London.”
Jessye has exhibited across many Australian galleries including Trocadero Art Space and the George Paton Gallery. In addition to this, she has also published and worked in academia. I wondered how these experiences shaped her.
"In addition to my creative practice I have an interest in research and writing. I have completed both a Master of Fine Art (by Research) and a Master of Cultural Material Conservation. I have very much enjoyed the opportunity to work in the conservation field and to present my research at a number of local and international conferences, but the artist residency project I am undertaking here in London is part of a concerted effort to reconnect with and provide dedicated time for my art practice after a period without exhibiting.”
“Life somehow always brings me back to art, even with the inevitable interruptions that occur along the way. I’m looking forward being able to share some of the new work I have made in London, with the possibility of an exhibition or screening in both the UK and Australia next year.”
Cultural offering in London
Melbourne is often touted as the cultural centre of Australia and a city most like a European city. I asked Jessye how Melbourne art scene compared to London.
"While Melbourne has a rich art scene, what I really love about London is the ease of access to such a diverse array of exhibitions, events, screenings… It can be difficult to bring international artists and major projects to Australia with the same kind of frequency because of the significant cost that comes about through distance.”
“When I’m in Melbourne, I find myself reading about so many interesting and inspiring creative projects and events taking place in the UK that I’d otherwise love to see or be a part of - it’s a kind of second-hand experience. Having said that, I do very much enjoy the cultural and creative space that is unique to Australia and the wonderful community of artists that contribute to it."
Advice for artists visiting London
I asked Jessye what advice she had for other Australian artists considering about travelling abroad to place like London and the UK.
"This is the first time I’ve undertaken an international residency program so I don’t necessarily have other experiences to compare it to, but it was helpful for me to have a project in mind that I wanted to explore, prior to arriving in London.
"Otherwise, I think simply explore as much as you can, get to know the city on foot, catch buses, enjoy the multitude of exhibitions and events available to you and if there is the opportunity, reside in one area for a period of time, to gain a sense of the place and the community around you.”
I was pleased to learn that Jessye’s passion for East London included some of my own favourite locations.
"I really enjoy the area I’m currently residing in, Stoke Newington in Hackney, which has changed dramatically over the last few decades."
"I was born in Hackney, and although I don’t have strong memories of the place as a child (my parents returned to Australia when I was three), I grew up with a sense of the area through the photos my mum took at the time - largely black and white photos she developed and printed herself.
“I love the green spaces that are within walking distance from where I’m staying, including Abney Park Cemetery, Springfield Park and Walthamstow and Hackney Marshes. They provide a space to think and a sense of reprieve from the density of a city like London. Part of my research and filming during my residency has taken place around Hackney Marshes and the River Lea - they are special sites for me."
You can read more about Jessye:
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