Jessie Makinson is a London-based artist known for her humorous, fanciful, and at times unsettling depictions of female figures in paintings, drawings, ceramics, and installations. With references to classical mythology, art-historical canons, science fiction, and contemporary popular culture, the artist redefines the roles and narrative possibilities of women in art.
While best known for her oil paintings, Makinson takes drawings as the starting-point of her work, making large, random drawings on the blank canvas and expanding from there. Her approach is intuitive, working with each new addition of a face, line, form, or colour as a guide to evolving the narrative. Leitmotifs in the artist's works include the repetition of patterns, as in the dresses her female protagonists wear in the paintings Southampton Way and Windy Here (both 2015). Abstract and cartoonish marks also make their way into her figurative representations of humans; in So Handy (2015)—for which she won the Marmite Prize for Painting V in 2016—opaque blue lines with small hands at their ends fly around three individuals, as if giving directions or forming a pattern.
The main characters in Makinson's artworks engage in a range of activities, from mundane to otherworldly. Four women sit and stand around a blue table in I Never Liked You (2015), their stiffened posture suggesting tension and awkwardness. In the background, blue female figures with stocky legs and thin arms evoke Matisse's nude dancers. Instead of dancing hand-in-hand, however, they appear disconnected from one another. Figures on the right seem to be trying to avoid the figure in the centre. In paintings such as Boo or Me Boo Too (both 2016), women wearing animal prints assume almost comical poses that exaggerate their buttocks—a satirical reflection on the representation and consumption of the female body in art and contemporary society.
In Makinson's other works, women are part-human and part-animal, or something else yet, as if emerging out of ancient myths or science fiction. Her solo exhibition Tender Trick at Mexico City's Galería OMR in 2019, for example, presented oil paintings, ceramic pots, and a small wooden house depicting anthropomorphic creatures in bizarre and fantasy-like scenes. Sun- and moon-headed figures embrace each other in the painting My fins are sleeping (2019), while a female figure in the woods strokes a tail with a human head at its end in a painting titled Magma rising (2019). The works in Tender Trick were inspired by The Blazing World, a piece of prose fiction written by Margaret Cavendish in 1666 about a utopian kingdom of talking animals.
Makinson studied drawing and painting at Edinburgh College of Art, graduating in 2007, and undertook the Drawing Year Postgraduate Programme at the Royal Drawing School, London, in 2013. In the same year she was awarded the School's Moritz-Heyman Artist's Residency in Tuscany. In 2016, she participated in the Turps Banana Studio Programme in London, followed by an artist-in-residence programme at London Art School's City & Guilds in 2017.
The works in Jessie Makinson's exhibition Tender Trick (all 2019) were bustling with fantastical beings. A large wooden sculpture suggesting a marquee tent sat at the center of the gallery.