Interview with “Midpoint 2017” Artist Jessica van Brakle

This is the third installment of the Midpoint 2017 artist interview series.

Jessica van Brakle || Second Year M.F.A. Candidate || Exhibiting in MIDPOINT 2017 from March 29 through May 22, 2017 at The Stamp Gallery || University of Maryland, College Park || Interview by Yvette Yu


Jessica van Brakle, Don’t Trifle The Time, Ink, Acrylic, graphite, and cut paper collage on watercolor paper

To start with a little background: where are you from, where did you study as an undergrad, and why M.F.A program at Maryland?

I am actually from this area. Born in Bethesda, MD and grew up mostly in Rockville but also here in College Park since my grandmother lived down the street in University Park. I received my BFA from the Corcoran in 2007 and then worked as a practicing artist up until joining the program here. UMD appealed to me because I liked the idea of staying local and the studios are fairly spacious which really really helps. It’s also a good place to get a lot of teaching experience.


In your MIDPOINT works, you used a combination of collage, ink, and graphite. Do you always like to use these mediums together? How do they convey the meanings of your work in this exhibition, and your art in general?

I’ve always utilized multiple mediums in my work but added collage about 2 years ago. I think it adds another layer of complexity and depth. Varying the materials used helps me build that alternate strange world.


All the works include some elements from the Victorian era: the collage pieces, the framing… How are these elements helping you convey the meanings of your work?

Collage was actually a big thing in Victorian times- you had well to do women with idle time on their hands putting together their family albums, making scrap books and putting all sorts of imagery around and onto their photos. Five pieces in the show are what I call “Portal Portraits”- containing an image of these hybrid creatures that I’ve been creating (literally plants wearing Victorian clothing). I then cut an oval egg shaped hole in another paper and used that as a framing agent for the creatures. This relates to those albums but also to the developments of portraiture and photography during that era. For me the “Portal Portraits” become a time capsule into a future of the past.


Tell us a little bit about your artistic process. Do you plan ahead before you start a painting, or is it more spontaneous?

There is lots of planning beforehand, however it takes the shape of a lot of research, reading, and the writing of notes and ideas. The physical making of a piece might start from knowing I want there to be a mountain shape or a waterfall but each step thereafter is in response to the one before. I enjoy not knowing what a final piece will become.


With the common element of water, your three works: ‘Don’t Trifle the Time’, ‘Arrival of Venus, Salvation,’ and ‘Wholes, Liquidities, Grotesqueries,’ resemble greatly of ancient Chinese ink wash paintings from afar. Why do you choose to have water in all three of the work, and are you making references to the ink wash paintings?

The work I’ve been making in grad school has been primarily inspired by water; its ambiguity and fluidity, where land and water become one. A wellspring of resources, renewal, and of the life-source itself, water also embodies a place of danger, of possible contamination, and unfathomable depths. I’m definitely inspired by Asian Landscapes and their use of ink. Chinese ink wash paintings are often landscapes, mountains and tend to include a water element somewhere. They seek to capture a feeling or essence of something much more than just the representation of a place. My work explores fantastical dream-like spaces so layers of ink makes sense for this. Japanese painting influences can also be seen with the development of a narrative and more complex, crowded scenes.


Your contributions to the MIDPOINT exhibition exude a sense of mystery and fascination. What do you hope visitors take away from looking at your work?

Well, thank you. I actually tend to get bored easily and it’s hard to keep my attention. When I create artwork it’s for myself and I love when I can see or feel something new each time I look at it. If I can at the very least get a viewer to pay attention to the work and want to spend some time with them then I feel pretty good.


How do your pieces interact in conversation with Beki and Hugh’s? Do you think your work complements or questions them?

For MIDPOINT we actually did not pre-plan or make decisions on what we would show together as a group. Interestingly it ended up primarily black and white and everyone in their own way is utilizing hard and soft edges which helped give it a really nice flow.


What inspires you? Are there any other events, concepts, particular artists or art movements not yet mentioned here, that also inspire your work?

Nature mostly- botanical- are always in my artwork. I’m inspired by being outdoors, hiking, exploring. I also love reading science fiction- primarily older stuff and when I have time watching sci-fi movies. I’ve allowed this interest to have a pretty big effect on this body of work.


Can you tell me a little about what you are currently working on? 

Currently I’m working on finishing some more work for a show that opens May 12th at Centerfold Gallery in DC. The new pieces are similar in concept to my show at Stamp and I’m super excited to have an opportunity to show them.


More broadly, do you see your work heading in a particular direction over the remainder of your Masters, or beyond?

I feel fairly rooted in this recent body of work with lots of potential directions within to explore so I’ll continue working and essentially preparing for my thesis show next year.


Jessica van Brakle, In Memoriam – Garden Ghosts I, II, III, Ink, acrylic, graphite, and cut paper collage on watercolor paper


For more information on van Brakle, visit

For more information on MIDPOINT 2017 and related events, visit


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