It’s an Olympic feat for artist Jessica

Jessica Taylor's work 'Calling at...', which has won a national competition and will be produced large scale to appear at the new south entrance of London's Blackfriars Station
Jessica Taylor's work 'Calling at...', which has won a national competition and will be produced large scale to appear at the new south entrance of London's Blackfriars Station
Dr John Steadman, archivist of Portsmouth History Centre based at Portsmouth Central Library     Picture:  Malcolm Wells

Your chance to trace past family members on the web

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Artist and self-confessed hoarder Jessica Taylor has built up quite a collection of random objects.

Everything from train tickets to parts of a bed have been carefully kept by Jess. After all, she believes, you never know what you’re going to need later.

Artist Jessica Taylor (25) from Portsmouth, has won a prestigious national award for the London Lives 2011 competition. Jessica's art piece Calling at... will be on display large scale at the entrance of London's Blackfriars Station.  Pictured is: Artist Jessica Taylor (25).   Picture: Sarah Standing (113335-5282)

Artist Jessica Taylor (25) from Portsmouth, has won a prestigious national award for the London Lives 2011 competition. Jessica's art piece Calling at... will be on display large scale at the entrance of London's Blackfriars Station. Pictured is: Artist Jessica Taylor (25). Picture: Sarah Standing (113335-5282)

And it seems one man’s rubbish really is another’s treasure as the 25-year-old has struck gold with one of her collections.

The Portsmouth artist has used a hoard of train tickets, collected from her years at art school in Winchester, to create an award-winning work of art.

Jess entered the piece in a national contest and beat competition from 300 other artists to have it reproduced large-scale and displayed in the new south entrance at London’s Blackfriars Station.

The work entitled ‘Calling at...’ will be seen by millions of people passing through the station, which is undergoing a major redevelopment due to be completed in 2012. The new southern entrance is due to be open in December, just in time for Olympics year and the huge increase in passengers that will bring.

‘I kept this big pile of tickets, just because they were a record of that important time in my life – when I was studying for my degree and going to Winchester every day. A lot of my work is about personal and general history so I had an idea they might be useful,’ says the textile art graduate.

For her competition piece, Jess blended personal and general history by using her own tickets and old Blackfriars train tickets. ‘I found them on the web just by searching for “old Blackfriars train tickets”. God bless Google,’ she laughs.

She created the piece on computer, layering the tickets with the silhouettes of waiting passengers. Using a computer pen she copied the silhouettes of the people who had been snapped in station pictures from the present day and the early 1900s.

‘I found the photographs online and I was fascinated by the people waiting. I wanted old and new photographs because I wanted to do the historical thing – it seemed important. I love train stations anyway because I like people watching.

‘It struck me as quite funny that the whole point of a journey is to try to get somewhere but the bigger part of it is usually spent standing still and waiting. And you can tell a lot from people on a station platform – some are shuffling about impatiently, others are more reflective.’

Jess had to make a journey of her own when she attended the private viewing of the shortlisted work at London’s Bankside Gallery. Kitted out in a smart dress, she took her sister Emma to the event where the winner of the contest, run by the gallery, Network Rail and art supplier GreatArt, was announced.

‘Our jaws nearly hit the floor,’ laughs Jess. ‘We couldn’t believe it when my name was announced. Our faces must have looked really funny. Then when I told my mum, I said the names of the second and third prize winners and then said “the Gold award winner was me.” It was a brilliant moment.’

Now she’s looking forward to seeing her piece in a high-profile position. Having work covering a large section of any station entrance would be satisfying enough, but Blackfriars serves visitors to the Tate Modern. So it really is a prime position for a young artist.

‘I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like,’ says Jess. ‘I think it will be really strange to see it. But ever since I won I’ve had a feeling of contentment. The pressure’s off a bit. I feel like if I never do anything with art or make a living out of it, at least I’ve done this. I think it will be up in the station temporarily but they’re also going to include a print in a time capsule.’

The rest of the prize – £1,500 worth of art supplies – has also come in handy for a struggling artist not long out of uni. And so has the fact that a Network Rail executive has bought her work to put up in his office.

As Jess talks about her win, she is surrounded by the results of a new art project. Having put the tickets to good use and used the bed planks for a piece in one of her degree shows, she is now working with her store of old postcards.

This time, though, she has been collecting with the project in mind.

The artist started buying postcards and pictures of Victorian and Edwardian children after trying to trace her own family tree.

She says: ‘I loved the stories my grandparents used to tell and I became fascinated with the history of ordinary people and how I came to be. I realised there were so many circumstances, and if they had been different I wouldn’t exist. It kind of blows your mind.’

She discovered that her grandfather had four older sisters her immediate family didn’t know about because the girls had all died in childhood.

She says: ‘We had a picture of my granddad when he was tiny in a family group. There was a girl of about eight in it and we didn’t know who she was. It was because she had died.

‘I realised that she had got lost in history, we didn’t know about her. And I started wondering about all the other children, because mortality rates were dreadful.’

She doesn’t know much about the girls with bows in their hair and boys in sailor suits on her postcards. But she has attempted to find out the identities of some of them.

‘I love this one of two little boys,’ says Jess, pointing to a framed black and white picture. ‘They look so grumpy.’

The Lost Voices project sees Jess returning to work in textiles. She irons photographs on cloth and then embroiders silhouettes of scenes around them.

‘I collect the pictures from antiques fairs and things and while I don’t know about a lot of children, whether they grew up, had families, I find it sad that the photographs are no longer with the families. I think a lot of ordinary lives get lost in history and this is kind of giving them back to the world.’

There’s no danger of that happening with Jess’s life and work, with a station display and time capsule in the planning. And she’s also hoping to land some exhibition space for her Lost Voices project.

But there’s plenty of work to do on it yet. Jess rummages through a wooden box full of postcards. ‘There’s a great one of a little boy and a baby. He doesn’t look pleased to have a baby brother at all. It’s wonderful, sibling rivalry had set in early.’

It seems another useful hoard is forming.

‘I know, I collect everything, I can’t seem to help it.’