Interview with Jessie Rawcliffe


Our new production of The Marriage of Figaro has been created here in NZ by a huge team of professionals who work in the opera sector.  That includes designers, directors as well as musicians and creative technicians (such as costume makers, set builders, lighting technicians, stage managers).  We wanted to celebrate our new production,  grab people’s attention and get them to think about opera in a new way by recreating our poster image within a new context. We also wanted to find an artist who is confident in the space of large-scale wall installations, giving our campaign much more longevity than a short term street poster burst.

Another important objective of this project was to have a wider presence in Christchurch. As our offices are in Auckland, we look to create activities outside of Auckland when the opportunity arises. We talked about our vision with Reuben Woods from Christchurch organization Watchthisspace, and he helped us locate a wall, obtain permission to use it and connected us with local artist, Jessie Rawcliffe.

We are grateful to The Piano for allowing us to use their wall for this stunning piece. We also extend our gratitude to Rick Harvie of Belmont Productions for filming the entire process; capturing Jessie bring the art to life.

We sat with Jessie and asked her a few questions about her creative practice and how she prepared for this project. Enjoy reading the interview below!

At what stage in your life did you know you were an artist?

I’ve always made things and would describe the need I feel to do so as a kind of compulsion, however I’m not sure where the line is between just being someone who makes things and being an artist.

I was somewhat coerced into trying to work in a creative industry, (which turns out is extremely grueling!) and am still unsure of what role art will play in any future career; but I’ll keep producing work regardless of my title.

How long have you lived in Christchurch?

I moved from Wellington just over 5 years ago. It still feels like I’m settling in and figuring out my place here.

Describe your creative practice that has led you to be able to create large scale artworks like this (The Marriage of Figaro) wall.

By the time I’ve thought of an idea and drawn it properly, the rest feels like colouring in. The challenges of the larger scale are mostly logistical – what kind of paint to use, how to get the drawing on the wall, how to reach the high parts. I know enough people to help with any of those questions – the rest is just standing there for 6 days and getting it done!

That may sound like an oversimplification but I’m at the stage in my practice where if I can conceptualise and prepare for a painting then I’m confident I can produce it, no matter the size. There’s always improvisation along the way too. Every project has ‘I don’t know what I’m doing’ moments that have to be overcome – being experienced isn’t about no longer having those feelings, it’s about knowing they’ll happen but that you’ll be able to work through them. I’m constantly learning new things and allowing how I work to be influenced and improved, but when it comes down to it, it’s usually just me, a brush, and time.

How would you describe your style of art?

Figurative painting which explores and subverts the role of the viewer and the subject.

My inspiration ranges heavily, from renaissance portraiture to photography and lowbrow pop surrealism. These influences can be seen in how my works incorporate both traditional and contemporary techniques

Oil is my current medium of choice, often set against matte acrylic. Heavily detailed focal points are contrasted with blurred areas to give the illusion of a short depth of field, with other areas omitted altogether and replaced with negative space.

The subjects I paint are shown in transitional moments of self-reflection, which can be confronting for the viewer to find themselves witnessing.

What preparation did you have to do for this project?

Reuben from Watch This Space kindly recommended my services to NZO. We’d talked after I’d completed the Berlin Wall mural (on Manchester St in CHCH) as I was interested in doing more large scale works and he had some projects in mind.

To his credit, he did all of the liason involved with sussing the wall and the permissions involved – then I swanned in and threw some paint up.

NZO outlined wanting the two leading characters from the show as the main focus, encouraging me to employ as much artistic licence as I felt appropriate. All parties were on board with my wanting to keep the graffiti covered wall as a background, scrubbing back some of the newer pieces first. Our urban spaces change constantly and it seemed a shame to buff out the history of the wall for want of a blank canvas at no real gain.

We projected and then traced an outline of the artwork the night before commencing painting, then the 40+sqm mural took over 6 days to complete.

Name three of your favourite artists.

I’m too non-committal to have absolutes! The best artist I’ve recently been introduced to however, is painter Christian Rex Van Minnen. His humanesque figures are a surreal sensory journey, both lush and beautiful but also haunting. His ability to paint skin with such depth is completely mind blowing to me.

Are you looking forward to seeing The Marriage of Figaro?

The Marriage of Figaro will be the first opera I’ve attended and I’m excited that this will be my first proper opera experience. I know how much time goes into putting on a production like this and I don’t think you need to be deeply into a genre to appreciate the artistry.

Video made by Rick Harvie from Belmont Productions