Written by Montana O’Neil
After stumbling over a cow skull on her commute to university in Wagga, Jennifer Hesketh became fascinated with anatomy, a passion that would later inspire Quirky Bones. With an eye for technical accuracy and an interest in what lies beneath the skin, Jennifer’s creativity flourished in ways she never had expected.
What do you do in your down time?
I guess for me, as a full-time worker, most of my downtime is spent doing what I do for Quirky Bones; it’s the only time I get to do it. So, most of the time when I get home, I’m working on something like that, even if it's replying to emails or painting something or sketching ideas; it is a lot of my free time.
For example, most of the work for my solo show was completed on the train - that’s when I had the time. Forty-five minutes goes a long way to being able to finish something like that off. Just using all the time I can spare to finish works off or to develop them further.
Have you always seen yourself as an artist?
No. It was never something I really thought about, at all. I knew it was a possibility that it could be achievable or that it could still be a part of my life but I didn’t know what why it would.
I guess, my Mum and Dad are creative, so that’s come from them, I’ve sort of followed suit. My Mum makes clothes, she’s also a good cook, Dad’s a civil engineer and he draws a lot of bridges, things like that. But they have more of a practicality rather than being a more fun/ passion project.
When I was going to uni, I’d always thought I’d end up in animation and animation only. I never thought I’d ever go in this sort of direction. Instead, being creative is something on the side, a project I work towards in my spare time whilst also having a full-time job. It’s funny how it’s all worked out. At this point I’m looking for that creative job that I can make money from. I’d like to shift the balance, rather than working in retail and being creative on the side, having a full-time job in which I can be creative in.
Many of your artworks are inspired by the anatomy of both humans and animals, what drew you to this subject matter?
I was very big into the gothic subculture in high-school, so I guess that’s when the iconography started. You always see skulls in that subculture world. So, the initial interest was brewing there.
Living in Wagga turned it into something that was conceptually interesting to me. I’ve never been surrounded by death, I’ve never been to a funeral, never had that exposure to see it as something that’s dead and I never had that sort of concept of it. But moving to Wagga, and coming into contact with the actual thing, being able to physically hold it and think, ‘we’re not really permanent at all, but these bones are, they live a little bit longer than you’d originally expect.’
That’s your immortality and that’s what will outlive you, making that connection that these are the things we leave behind, so what can I leave behind other than my bones? I haven’t quite reached the stage where I look at a person and think about what their bones look like, so that’s a good sign.
When you have a creative block, how do you get past it?
I often sleep, it’s so lazy, but I sleep. I think, for me, if I feel overwhelmed, I can’t do anything. I just go completely blank; I don’t think sleeping is a bad way to deal with it. If you don’t want to think about something then why think about it? Why push yourself to the max, and pressure yourself to finish something off, when it’s not making you happy? I think, if you’re making a piece and you’re not feeling it, taking that large step back and coming back to it later, or even brewing on an idea. On many occasions, I’ve brewed on an idea for days and then thought, I should have done this or used the object in this way, rather than how I originally intended. And it’s only after allowing yourself that space that you can really consider other ideas.
Going to museums is another way to get past it, seeing how other people have done things, how they’ve created the idea you’ve been brewing on in a different way. A lot of ideas I have come from things I see, I ask myself, ‘how can I do that but make it more of something I’d like to see?” And I think it’s only after seeing your idea being done beforehand, that’s how you can change the idea and develop it further.
I also spend a lot of time online, I binge watch Netflix or I go for a walk. I take myself out of the environment and the stress of the project I’m working on to give myself space and time to reconsider my ideas and generally have a break from it.
How has your history in photography affected your art practice?
I wasn’t sure how to think about this question because I’m not sure that it has affected me or not. However, one thing that does come to mind is composition.
When I work on a project I look at the pieces as individual objects: it’s not whole until after I put it all into the frame. I more or less see it as two separate pieces, the hand and the skull, and that’s how I think of it in the beginning. But by working on the composition, putting two and two together and working out where the hand sits and where the skull sits, and if it sits underneath the chin of something or the beak of something that’s kind of the way my eye works.
And that’s the same within a photographic image, you’re thinking about the person and then the object, or you’re thinking about where the apple is and where the vase is. It’s not a whole in the beginning but when you’re taking it back and putting it within the frame, that’s when you see the composition.
Can you walk us through your art practice? How do you come up with ideas, imagery and compositions?
Wagga turned me into a hoarder, everything is cheaper there and you have an abundance of everything, all sorts of objects. There’re lots of vintage objects, odd bits and pieces that people have just left behind or gotten rid of. Finding a use for odd objects, I think, stemmed from collection days at home in Sydney where people would leave all sorts of stuff on the side of the road. Seeing the potential in the objects was an early brewing thing. When I see something I ask myself, ‘how can I use this? Does it have another practical use than what it’s already had?’
Part of the few pieces I have at Art Pharmacy are the crutches and the badminton bats, putting the anatomy of the human leg into the crutches, because that makes sense. How would the crutches have a different practical use? How can I turn them into something different that would be appealing and extend its lifetime? Those crutches will now still be used, but not for their original intention.
Another material I use is cardboard, in a way, like the abandoned objects, I’m extending its life; but for me cardboard also resonates with the fact that it can change over time. Skulls can discolour, or break, or decompose over time and so will cardboard if you put it in the elements, it will change over time. That decomposition of the imagery itself as well as the decomposition of the subject matter, the change will come. Those changes of the subject matter as well as the canvas it's painted on are a big part of the practice.
You can see all of Quirky Bones' works for sale here.