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Jessica Bosworth Smith’s paintings depict sumptuous interiors, exotic exteriors, verdant jungles, cosy kitchens and cats, cats and more cats as she explores her interest in spaces both familiar and fantastical.

She opens up about topics from creative discipline to creative block and answers the Safari & Living Proust(ish) Questionnaire. 

On her choice of subject matter 

Working primarily in gouache, her work allows her to re-visit places she has travelled to, or destinations she has thoroughly researched. The images weave together in extravagant scenes which are almost always unfeasible or impractical, yet tickle the viewer’s sense of delight. Hers is a maximalist lens revealing riotous patterns, multitudes of textures, and quirky details like cats under tables…oh yes, all the cats. Bosworth Smith’s love of cats, and the trope of the “cat lady”, stakes out larger themes such as being alone without being lonely, covetousness without jealousy, and the passionate collecting of things without obsession. 

“Much of my subject matter is rooted in covetousness, flights of fancy, and wishful thinking. When I look for references, I look for the kind of house I’d love to have one day, spaces that are impossibly impractical, and vacations I would love to go on if money were no object and would probably never live up to the pristine and people-less images online.”

On cats 

Getting back to the cats. Cats of various sizes and species appear in her work. A lot. 

“I’ve always been a cat person. As a small child whenever someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up my prompt response was always, “A cat.” Cats are not only my favourite animal but they’re fun to draw and have so many great poses to work with. When I go anywhere, especially abroad, I always love photographing local cats.” 

Her most recent exhibition titled, A Very Grand Tour, began under the working title Cat Person.  

“However, the more I painted, the more I felt the work speaking to my love of travel, experiencing beautiful spaces, and the joy of feeling out of place. I'd recently watched A Room With A View and it mentioned the grand tour (a practice during the 17th - 19th century, of traveling as a way of finishing off your education and was a traditional rite of passage for those of rank and means, with Italy being a key destination). The phrase stuck with me as it resonated with my own experiences. I worked as an au pair shortly after completing my undergraduate degree in Fine Art, and it was in Italy that I made the decision to pursue a career as an artist. The naming of my show after the practice of going on a grand tour felt like the perfect homage to where I’d been and where I’m going.”

On inspiration

Her days are not spent daydreaming and drawing cats for her own pleasure. Instead, “I have a very strict routine and I lean on it when I’m feeling uninspired. My practice is entirely based on perspiration. It is amazing when you feel inspired and have the drive to create, but this feeling is so fickle that waiting for the mood to strike means you might be waiting around for a long time. I’ve also found that if you can force yourself to just get going and stick with what you’re working on for even just ten minutes, the process takes over. In many ways, I think ‘inspiration’ is a skill that needs to be developed. Doing research, reading books, making boards on Pinterest, following other artists on social media, sketching, taking reference pictures, and exploring the world around you are all ways I develop resources to ‘inspire’ my creativity. I’m inspired by seeing the amazing way other creatives around me are working on their practice. I am continually fascinated by how others experience and express their creativity.”

On creative block 

“I experienced the most terrible creative block for four years. I just couldn’t seem to find my path and I felt completely incapable of sitting in front of a blank sheet of paper with a pencil in my hand. A major part of resolving it was going to therapy, being diagnosed with ADHD, getting onto the right medication, and working through my issues around self-doubt, perfectionism, and the immense pressure to “feel inspired”. In practical terms, I received some amazing advice when I went back to study my post-grad degree in Illustration. Firstly, a work doesn't have to be perfect; imperfection is evidence of the artist’s hand in the work. Secondly, if you’ve drawn something once, you can draw it again, and again, and again; and each time you draw it you will get better at it. And lastly, draw what makes you happy, not what you think people want to see.”

On current happenings in her work 

“I feel so incredibly positive and excited about my work. I love going into the studio and I have so many works and projects I feel inspired to tackle. I’m currently working on some client commissions as well as a body of work I hope to show as part of a group exhibition or even a solo show in 2023. I’m also working on some products which I would love to have available through my website.”  

As a voracious consumer of music, podcasts, and audiobooks when working (“I need things to listen to all the time to help keep me focused”), she shares her current playlists:  

Audiobook: Elmet by Fiona Mozley. 

Podcasts: This American Life, Crime Junkie, Maintenance Phase, Serial, True Crime Casefile, You’re Wrong About. 

Music playlists include: Glass Animals, Xique-Xique, LEISURE, Gary V, Leif Erikson, Paula Liven, Nick Hakim, Vance Joy, Honeymoan, Chet Faker, Celeste, and Phoebe Bridgers.

The Safari & Living Proust(ish) Questionnaire

What one superpower would you choose to possess and why?  

The ability to teleport. So many places to see, so little money and time! 

Which two habits would you most like to develop and why?

I would love to get back into reading daily and going for more walks around my neighbourhood. 

What three essential elements does your ideal day include?

Exercise. A full and productive day of painting. A good night’s sleep. 

Name five things you adore about your home and why?  

The collection of art I have built over the years. My cat, Yvie. The sheer number of books on shelves. The adopted tortoise, Gilbert. My two lovely housemates, May and Jade.

What is your most marked characteristic according to your closest friend?

A love for activities of any kind. 

What sound, scent and texture do you most love?  

One of my neighbours practices the saxophone and piano, usually on a Sunday. I love hearing them through my window. The smell of jasmine in spring. The soft fur on Yvie’s ears. 

…And loathe?

Loud chewers. The smell of Icy Hot lotion. The texture of raw chicken. 

Do you think it's necessary to do things one is afraid of or is this idea a pop psychology nonsense designed to burden us with achievement anxiety? 

I think there are many ways in which you can be afraid and it’s important to be self-reflexive and dissect what exactly it is that is evoking this response. Sometimes fear is there to protect you, and sometimes it's your inner saboteur making you afraid of failure. I think a blanket “do what scares you” narrative is much more nuanced than pop psychology can encompass. 

What was the last frightening thing you did?

Taking the leap to work full-time as an artist. I’ve worked for myself before as a freelancer but this time around I purposefully didn’t look for other work except where someone wanted to pay me for exactly what I do. It was nerve-wracking but it has been so worth it. 

What real natural gift or attribute - other than your artistic talent - do you wish you naturally possessed?

I wish I was better at mathematics and logistics. It would make running the business side of my practice so much easier! 

What single word of advice would your Inner Mentor (you) give your 11-year-old self? 

Get involved; there is so much to learn.

Twenty-two year old you? 

Persevere; it will get easier. 

Thirty-three year old you?

Relax; you’re giving yourself wrinkles. 

What's your most overused phrase or word?

Whenever I’m very angry I use the phrase “I’m mad as a snake”. It’s become a joke that it’s my catchphrase. 

What is your idea of earthly happiness?

A rainy Sunday morning, a rare cuddle from Yvie, a good book, a great cup of tea, and nowhere to be. 

Do you have a personal motto or mantra that you steer by?

Never do anything you don’t want to do. 

Jessica Bosworth Smith received her BFA from Rhodes University and her Honours in Visual Studies (Illustration) from the University of Stellenbosch (Cum Laude) as well as a Post-Graduate Certificate in Education. She was named one of the Design Indaba Emerging Creatives of 2017, was part of the Top 100 in the ABSA l’Atelier in 2017 and 2018, participated in the Comic Blast residency at the Arteles Creative Center in Finland in 2018, and has published two books through Imaginary House. Bosworth Smith exhibits with 131A Gallery in Cape Town, South Africa. @jess.bosworthsmith

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