I went to a party once. I knew Jess. From circles and such. We have some history. Port Elizabeth is like that. But on this particular evening, almost touching the stars, there she sat atop in a tree, legs dangling like a little woodland creature, like something straight out of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. (Note to the Reader: I’m still not entirely sure if she is of this world. It could turn out she’s nothing but a beautiful figment of our imagination. Anything is possible…)
Playing Fairy: Puck & Pan Onstage by Kristen McDermott
From that day forth, she’s been my Moon-Face, a force that envelops me snugly in my dreamier self… That child I still am today, who loved The Magic Faraway Tree series by Enid Blyton and spent years captivated by magical folklore, obsessed as I was with a book called Faeries by Brian Froud and illustrated by Alan Lee. Watercolours at hand, I would paint Alan Lee’s faeries, wild and ethereal and so very unlike the ‘Flower Fairies’ I’d first encountered by Cicely Mary Barker.
Illustration from Faeries by Brian Froud and Alan Lee
And so my own Moon-Face remains, in my tender heart…
Wild… Ethereal…This sprite, this Puck, perhaps even a siren (sailors be warned!)… All my favourite childhood memories and characters rolled into one young woman and artist rendered flesh. Jessica Hansen. A rare breed, that she is. Perchance I’ve been granted my inner child’s longing, after all these years. A first hand faery sighting. Maybe, just maybe, all those precious pennies that found their way into the bottom of that wishing well weren’t all in vain.
The art my Moon-Face makes is no different. I can hold her seductive creations in my hands, maybe take a step back to admire a piece, or closer, magnifying glass in hand, to inspect each and every detail, and feel so many things all at once, and yet, her art remains so very far from my reach, but tugging all the while like a deep yearning, perhaps at the wild and ethereal within myself. I cannot say for certain.
All I know is her art bewitches me. I speak truly when I tell you I find myself altogether under her spell. Of that, there is no doubt. Some say beware of dancing faery rings for you may find yourself but a naive youth, drawn into the unknown, and emerge an old wo/man when it feels like no time has passed at all. But I, like so many others, simply cannot resist her charms. And so it is.
The Fairy Ring by Alan Lee
And yet, could I, the humble scribe, find a way into the maze of this incandescent mind (and hopefully emerge on the other side)? Somehow unravel its inner workings? Should such a mind even be unravelled? I had my reservations. But heck, it seemed worth a try. Live dangerously. Risking the perilous maze, I requested the pleasure of her sole company in the hopes of digging deeper, in my search for truth and meaning, my curiosity piqued like the little wagtail that I am.
The morning had arrived. Seated comfortably across from each other. My pen at the ready. The legibility of my handwriting would have to be a concern for another day….
Be it pitt pastels, charcoal, watercolour, oil, acrylic… Jess is no stranger to any medium, making art of whatever is at hand.
81 Middle Street, North End, Port Elizabeth (watercolour)
She’ll even turn to Microsoft Paint. (“If I have to go digital,” she admits with a hint of reluctance, the semblance of a pout on her mouth. )
Microsofty to the Touch
Our conversation unfolds comfortably beyond the realm of stuffy walls, in her father’s garden. The setting seems close enough to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon so filled as it is with nature in all its infinitely glorious guises. And so there we sit, sipping on coffee, discussing art and life and God only knows, sun streaming in and catching the swirls of smoke as she takes a drag of her cigarette and delights in exhaling through pursed lips. Denim dungarees, a black polar neck and leather suede boots are the order of the day. I notice a silver locket hanging from a thin chain.
“Anything hidden inside?” I can’t help but ask. I love lockets and hidden treasures.
“Not right now. It used to have a picture of a vagina on one side and a penis on the other but then I showered with it on and the ink ran.”
There’s a playfulness in her big, brown eyes and the perpetually bemused expression on her lips. When she’s not taking a drag or lighting up, she’s toying with her crowning glory, a lustrous mop of curls. Those curls… Yet another artist’s plaything she bends to her will with the way of the one who transforms all things. The alchemist. Before I know it, she has them in two little buns atop her head. ‘Enchanting’ is the word that comes to my mind as I find myself drifting off into this otherly world. I’m slowly being drawn into her rabbit-hole.
“Adulthood is super scary,” she confesses, without a hint of shame. I detect even a smack of rebellion to her words.
For all that she exudes the magic of someone who has evaded the jadedness of growing up, I know she’s not to be trifled with… Nor underestimated. It’s all too prevalent in her art. Mischievous. Provocative. Her art is uncompromisingly raw and organic and almost counterculture in this world of ours that so unabashedly worships the Facade.
Natural Rage (ceramic plate)
“My art is down to earth, I guess you could say. I love ceramics most ’cause I’m basically playing with dirt. It’s messy and fun.” She knows, and I know, it’s so much more than that. But we let the moment pass as our little secret.
Verhoudings is vir groot mense wat kinders soek
“So where does the magic truly begin? What spaces beckon you to them?” I beg the question, for artists the world over are famous for their studios and the methods behind their brilliant madness.
“I like to tidy up and start with a clean space that I can mess up. But I don’t find it challenging to work in just about any space. I’m pretty easy like that. I mainly just sit down and do something.” Just sit down and do something. With every question, my pen poised, her off-the-cuff retort confirms one thing: art is effortless to her. It’s as natural as breathing.
Further intrigued, I ask after her muses, what inspires her, how she keeps that little tick tock of the creative clock ticking over…
“Art is really about communicating. And I love surroundings and people and the way we inhabit them.”
But it’s not simply about the image for my Moon-Face. Her social commentary often sets up a dialogue between the image and the written word. And of course, again, it’s in the kind of unpredictable, guileless fashion I’ve come to love her for… In my mind’s eye, listening to her talk, I can just see her, mop-top and lanky limbs and delicate fingers, building sandcastles adorned with broken seashells and mermaid’s purses, leaving messages etched on the very cusp of iridescent, salty foam for the waves to carry away to the depths of the ocean’s bosom.
R5, Koop twee loosies (medium ceramic plate)
“I write a lot in my art. But I can’t spell so somehow it changes the meaning which is pretty cool.” Her grin widens. And there’s that irresistible twinkle to those two dancing brown butterflies fluttering on either side of her little pixie nose. “Once I meant to write ‘Smarter than you look,’ but it came out as ‘Smatter than you look.’ Thought of a guy friend when I did that one. Just gave him a pair of tits.”
Of course she did, I smile inwardly. And we both pull on our ciggies sending puffs of smoke out into the space between like dandelion wishes.
Illustration from The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton