Playboy and Portraiture with Artist Jess Cochrane

Photos by Sam Brumby

“You’ll be scuttling into the backwaters for sly sex this month…

To get away with it, you’ll have to adopt a Taurean tactic and spread on a bit of the bull, which might sound trite—’who even uses the word trite?’—which works like a leg opener on the receptive companion…’Fuck this is embarrassing, I feel embarrassed reading this.’ ”

Artist Jess Cochrane is sitting cross-legged on the paint-splattered floor of her Marrickville studio, reading my star sign from a vintage Playboy she’s picked from the stack in the corner. On the walls that feature streams of pink and red paint that drip down onto the floor, are large posters of Playboy pin-up girls that, like the piles of magazines, have been sourced from a vintage store in Sydney’s inner-west. “I just went up and said, I’d like 18 of these filthy magazines please,” she tells me when I ask she felt weird buying nudie mags in bulk.

It’s these vintage pin-up girls that form the basis of Jess’ work for the recently refurbished Lansdowne Hotel, the iconic Sydney music venue that’s been brought back to life with the help of her provocative ladies that adorn the walls and ceilings. While Jess’ style is predominantly based on the perception of women and how this interacts with beauty standards, working with old school Playboy images is a step away from her usual pieces. “I’ve never painted over porn before, but I think the result is interesting because it makes you think about what you’ve looked at for so long. I didn’t realise how much Playboy symbolism had affected my way of viewing women as well.”

As she speaks, Jess unearths larger pieces from her filing cabinet that show a more personal connection—photographs she’s taken herself, of women she’s formed connections with. Vibrant splashes of paint obscure and merge with the women underneath the paint, which both compliments the original form and re-imagines it with oil pastels and thick, broad strokes of paint. Explaining the process as a kind of “reverse Photoshop” Jess explains that, “I don’t have a set plan for what I’m going to do. In a weird way it’s very similar to applying makeup,” she laughs.

Taking on the interior of the Lansdowne has seen Jess embrace a different side to her work, and “flex the art director muscle.” Such as the creation of the ‘Pisstine Chapel’ in the pastel pink bathrooms—a visual ode to golden era Playboy. I ask Jess if creating the Pisstine Chapel made her feel like the Michaelangelo of porn, and she laughs and says she didn’t have the luxury of lying down, but was instead up on a ladder, neck backwards with hands covered in paste for days on end. “I had two girls help me cut up porn for a couple of weeks, then we got all the images and separated them all into bags to have a production line: nude girl, pack of cigarettes, eyeball.”

Jess mentions that spending time over the past few months working with these images, as opposed to the one she creates herself, has made her realise how the perception of women has changed over time. “All the mags from the 60s are so tame to compared to stuff for example in the early 80s,” she says. “But then even in the early 80s isn’t as extreme as the stuff we see on the internet now. At the same time, it’s so unrealistic because they still represent this idea of the ‘ideal woman.’ “

And while the move from portraits in a gallery to porn in a pub is making her slightly nervous, she says, “It’s really cool to see how it’ll play out. Art makes sense when you’re in an art community, but I don’t know how many punters are going to say, ‘What the fuck is this?’ ”

Check out more of Jess’ work on her website or on Instagram @jesscochranepaints_

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