Who are you and what do you do? Why art?
I’m Jacqi Russo, and I’m a painter and illustrator of beautiful, wonderful things. Stones, shells, animals, seaweed, botanica, and people from my imagination feature in my work, often in technicolour. I make artwork that invites you to be still, be quiet, look closer and see more. My work is an antidote to fast living and overstimulation.
Why do you do what you do?
I make art because I have to. Many years ago, I read a book which said along the lines of “…if you can do something other than art, then do that. If you can feel whole and fulfilled and stimulated doing something else, then do it. Art is a long tough road and it should only be pursued as a career by those for whom it is essential to their being.” I really related to this in a profound way because I’d spent many years sensibly and responsibly pursuing other creative type careers, but I’d always felt like it was a big old dirty band-aid plastered over what I really wanted to be doing. I realised that I can’t do anything else and still feel whole and honest and real. If I want to live my life in the biggest, truest way I can, then art is what I need to do.
What role does the artist have in society?
I think the artist can and does have many roles in society. Some artists are activists, drawing society’s attention to a cause visually, often more powerfully than words can. Artists can be storytellers of history or family or culture. Artists can be decorators, beautifiers, aestheticians. Artists can be teachers, showing their audience new ways to see. I think visual artists play an important role in society because with their work, they invite deeper thought, longer contemplation, personal interpretation. Artists show their audiences difference views of the same world we are all a part of, and artists make marks in history. Artists make things of beauty that make us smile and feel good. All this without any guarantee of payment for their hours.
Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?
The artistic life, for me, is solitary but I don’t find it lonely. My personality is well suited to being by myself so I actually enjoy it. There are certainly times when I wish there was a crowded water cooler or a tearoom I could go and procrastinate in; a board meeting I could go and feel important in, but for the most part I love working by myself. The Mornington Peninsula has a huge creative and entrepreneurial community so like-minded folks are all around when I do venture out. It’s a great place to be an artist.
What has been a seminal experience?
Jenny Riddle and I were at the Sydney Art Fair many years ago, and we happened upon a large work by Gloria Petyarre, an Aboriginal artist from the Utopia region. Gazing into (and maybe beyond) the painting we listened to the stories of Gloria’s family and the stories of her land and her work, we were both moved to tears and yet couldn’t really explain why. On that evening I really finally understood the importance and magnitude of bringing your OWN art to the world. Art that comes from a place that is pure and personal, even ancient, and ancestrally your own. This kind of purity is truly beautiful in art, in writing, in music, in people.
What superpower would you have and why?
Most of the time, I’m juggling an avalanche of ideas for new work, new methods, new areas to research, new ways of using colour, news ways to grow. If I could choose a superpower, it would be superspeed, like The Flash. I wish I could just shift gear and zoom through at lightning speed exploring every single idea in my head until the avalanche subsides, then return to normal speed. It would be quite handy for domestic duties too!
Favourite or most inspirational place?
The Daintree Rainforest is a place that I feel changed me, as an artist. I spent some time there 2 years ago, staying in the perfect tree house with incredible views and a sublime soundscape. I’m secretly plotting a creative’s retreat to get back there and immerse a little deeper, explore a little further. Anyone want to come?
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
The best piece of advice I’ve been given is to just get started, get working, get moving. Don’t wait for that perfect inspired moment, it could take months! Don’t wait for just the right conditions. You can’t wait until you’re feeling “creative”. You have to just get started and trust that “the muse will appear”. I find that it usually does.
What wouldn’t you do without?
A sketchbook and journal in my handbag. I don’t use them every single day, but I never go anywhere without it because….just in case. I pull them out when I’m having a sparklingly brilliant idea, when I have a few sketching minutes to spare(waiting to pick up the kids), and also when I’m a bit cranky. Essential equipment.