Inspiration, order and a calculator watch help keep artist Jessica Benhar on track.
For an artist, Jessica Benhar sure is ordered. Her Hornsby Heights home studio is pretty simple – a drafting table that her dad cut a lightbox into, her Mac, her linocut tools and a whole lot of reference books. “I’ve got some artworks on the wall that inspire me but mostly it’s my books and it’s just me,” says Jessica. “It’s very quiet and helps me concentrate.” That quiet and order is important to her process. “I’m not one of those people who can just sit at a café and just randomly sketch. No, It’s all about the process, and planning and very methodical.”
It’s this order and process that Jessica brings to bear on her intricate linocuts, which are influenced by everything from folk tales and 14th century woodcuts, to modern feminist icons like Clementine Ford. It’s this work, which she releases under the name ‘Harkenback’ that caught the eye of Mambo last year – skulls, lizards and butterflies rendered in linocut.
Despite the order, nature is never far away. Jessica takes little breaks throughout the day to take in some of the bush that her studio backs onto. “It’s a good way to have space during the day so it’s not always, you know, you’re not always constantly working.” True to form, however, Jessica is even ordered in her leisure time. “I have a calculator watch, and I will time myself when I work just because it helps me know how long I spend on things, prevents me from procrastinating.” Tracking time for Jess is important, as her work can be involved and time-consuming. A recent personal project, designing an intricate linocut of a king and queen for a set of playing cards, took 70 hours. So it’s no surprise that she needs some order.
As well as playing cards, Jessica’s Harkenback projects include her ‘Memento Mori’ series, based on 14th century woodcuts designed to remind the viewer of their own mortality, and her Lizard Brain series. While her lizard designs have made their way into some Mambo prints, they go more than boardies-deep. Of the series, Jessica says, “I think it is just about our primal fears and how the lizard brain often stops us from doing things we want to do because there’s all these imagined fears which obviously aren’t real because we don’t live in a world where bears and lions are chasing us every day but the primal fear still remains. I think one of the ways to battle it is just to acknowledge it really,” says Jessica. “I just wanted to create an artwork that was a helpful reminder that it exists but we can overcome it.”
Up next for Jessica is her first exhibition, alongside fellow Mambo collaborator Glenn ‘Glenno’ Smith, and to continue to develop her craft. “Lately I’ve been trying to think of stuff I’ve never done before which is nearly everything. I just did a zebra because I’ve never done one before, and also very interested in folk tales and other stuff like that, fairy tales. I think a mermaid is probably next or on the cards.”
We can’t wait to see where her order takes her next.