We Are The Art Life: Jess Purser Interview

Welcome to the second in our series showcasing artists inspired by Twin Peaks and Lynch.  Jess Purser is a long time Twin Peaks fan and artist who has been creating Twin Peaks-related pieces for many years. She launched a Kickstarter last year, prior to the new season, for an artzine inspired by Twin Peaks and the Pacific Northwest. I talked to her about Twin Peaks, her work and why she is so obsessed with forests.

Coop and the llama - Copyright Jess Purser

25YL: Jess, thanks for talking with us. As you know, a print of your ‘Coop and the llama’ painting keeps me company in my office. We know the show has inspired your art a lot over the years. How did you first get into Twin Peaks?

JP: I was 12 years old in Autumn, 1990 and had just recently been allowed my own TV for my room. I remember watching it in bed, with just my eyes and nose peeking out from under the duvet. Nobody else I knew watched it, but I became obsessed pretty quickly. The whole atmosphere of the town and the darkness in the woods drew me in. At that time, I was sure Leo was the culprit. Such naivety!

I remember being heartbroken when it went off air. Then, one day in about 1993, when I was at our local record store, I saw the whole series on VHS on one of their shelves and spent the next few months saving up my pennies so I could collect the whole lot. Bliss! I rewatched everything, and haven’t stopped rewatching to this day.

25YL: I think a lot of us old-timers can identify with being the sole Twin Peaks fan that you know. Do you still have the VHS copies and have you moved on to watching on DVD or Blu-ray now?

JP: I kept those VHS copies up until about 2003, when they disappeared during a house-move. It was kind of sad, but time to technologically move on anyway. I wish I still had them sitting up there on my shelf, though. They kept us company during long, dark rainy nights at uni in wildest Wales.

I have the Gold Box Edition DVDs, but am currently watching both the original and Season 3 through Sky Atlantic as I can capture the best screen shots for reference that way. My perfect afternoon is spent painting on the canvas with TP playing in the background on the tablet. Still waiting for the Blu-ray and so desperate to watch the extras!

25YL: I just got the Season 3 Blu-Ray in the mail today and can’t wait to fire up the extras disc! Can you tell us why you felt inspired to create TP art?

JP: I think a lot of Lynch’s work lends itself to inspiration in other people. There is always a mystery to work out and maybe creative minds can’t resist it. Obviously, Twin Peaks is beautiful and Lynch’s directorial style perfectly complements the location, but it’s not just that which is inspirational – it’s the ideas behind the whole world Lynch and Frost have created. It’s the depth of each and every character, their motivations and possibilities.

I’ve always sketched little bits of ideas from Twin Peaks, but there were certain scenes in the original series which I needed to get out onto canvas (it was a need rather than a want). Laura’s Homecoming photo, Coop and the Llama, Audrey when we first see her dancing in her room, and Josie reflected in the mirror were the first I painted in full in 2011. There are still so many other pieces I have to make from the original and Season 3.
Also, not just the characters, but the woods themselves are a never-ending source of inspiration. It was so cool last year – just before Season 3 came onscreen – one of the Showtime trailers featured Michael Horse saying “Location sometimes becomes a character…like being inside a moving painting” and that made me feel SO WEIRD – that is exactly what I want to capture in my forest pieces – if the viewer too feels like they are inside it (like I already do), then maybe I’ve succeeded. I’ve always got some kind of forest piece on the easel.

25YL: Trees featured in your Twin Peaks Artzine quite prominently also. Can you tell us a bit about the ‘zine, it’s history and the future of it?

JP: The ‘zine had kind of been writing itself for a couple of years before I realised it WAS a ‘zine, if that makes sense? By mid 2016, I had so much Twin Peaks artwork which didn’t really make sense as single pieces, but worked well together – some from Series 1 and 2, and some from FWWM.

My ideas felt like they lent themselves to a ‘zine format, so I started to put it together in a way which seemed cohesive. I wanted it to pose questions and have some silliness as well as darkness to it. ‘Into The Woods’ was the only title it ever needed.
It isn’t for sale due to the copyright issues, but I still want to share it with fans, so it can be accessed for free at the ‘zine website if you feel like printing it at home.

25YL: It’s really nice of you to provide access to the art for free. Do you have a favourite piece that went into the ‘zine?

JP: That’s a tough question because I enjoyed creating all of them for very different reasons and, although I wanted the zine to work as a whole, I was very aware of making each piece unique. The original ‘Coop and the Llama’ you mentioned earlier is very special to me and has never been for sale (even before the copyright issues came up). That one lives in our front room, above our fireplace. It was one of the first ‘proper’ TP paintings I made and one of my absolute favourite scenes.

I loved creating the grey, ‘Misty Woods’ from the cover as it has so much depth and mystery. I wish now I had made it larger – maybe I’ll paint a similar one on a bigger canvas soon. FWWM’s Lil was great fun to paint – her personality just seemed to shoot right out of my paint brush!

I wasn’t sure I’d be able to capture the ‘Laura In The Woods’ piece and it was a difficult one to create – I felt I had to be understanding and patient with her. It felt like we were having a real conversation as I painted her: I had to capture her intelligence, her strength, her pain and a glimmer of hope in there too. I’m going to work more on the original piece in oils, to better define her – she deserves it.


25YL: In March you were chosen to be one of Showtimes Artists-In-Residence and featured on their official Tumblr. How did that feel?

JP: That was crazy! Twin Peaks inspires so many people to create art, and over the last couple of years I’ve noticed it even more, so to be picked out, along with the fantastic and prolific Rinaldo Zoontjes and Pachu M Torres with his brilliant line work skills was such a huge honour. I have to thank Showtime’s director of social media marketing Ashmi Dang for being so cool and supportive to the creative fans out there – she has been such a positive and fun force in Twin Peaks world!

25YL: Can you tell us a bit about your other, non-Twin Peaks work.

JP: I’ve dabbled in all kinds of art – portraiture, landscape, abstract, digital and have had an Etsy shop since 2007. That’s when I realised it was possible to earn a real living from art, whereas previously I had only seen it as a hobby. I wish now I had started seriously studying and practicing earlier, when I had time!

Most of my work at the beginning was portrait-related with some imaginary characters and some literary ones. I painted a lot of tiny portraits of vintage 50’s French ladies on Les Liaisons Dangereuses book pages, which people seemed to like. Then after that, I made a series of Jane Austen characters, which have sold in bookmark and postcard form pretty consistently for years.

I’ve realised recently, though, that I need to go back to my roots (and there’s a painting about actual tree roots in the works too). For a long time, I was drawn to Sylvia Plath’s poetry – there’s a beautiful, surreal darkness there which I feel a kinship for as an artist. I’m no poet (although some terrible attempts were made at one point…), but I feel like, as creatives of any kind, we are simultaneously our own victims and saviours. It’s our job to reach inside ourselves in order to show the world to itself and, hopefully, someone else out there will recognise the things we’re trying to say and turn our dreams into something positive in the ‘real’ world.

I’m currently working on a few forest pieces simultaneously and a large Wuthering Heights portrait.

25YL: As a fan of the original show when it aired, how did you find Series 3?

JP: I found it absolutely stunning. It was so mind-blowing to see that the series I had loved for such a long time, which had become part of me, was still so unlike anything out there and completely broke the mold again. Everything else is so predictable, but we Peakies prefer the mystery and that was central to the plot. I have spoken to people who don’t see any plot or coherence and think Lynch is just out to confuse and play mind-tricks.

I didn’t have any expectations going in, as that’s always dangerous both when it comes to Lynch and when a series or movie returns after such a long time. One thing I did know was that Lynch and Frost would craft it beautifully, and they did.

25YL: Are you going to be creating art in relation to the new season and books?

JP: Yes! It has taken a while to get the ideas together after we all went through the frenzy of watching the third season. I’m slowly beginning to make new pieces as and when they happen and give them away as rewards over at my Patreon page.

Diane in progress- Copyright Jess Purser

25YL: The visual imagery of Season 3 is very different to the original, and more in line with Lynch’s art. How did you feel about the new season in relation to the design and lighting?

JP: Yes – that was something which was strange to get used to. Obviously, the variety of locations away from Washington. means it’s impossible to keep hold of that original atmosphere. The thing which I think drew many of us to TP in the first place was the warm, woody coziness – a homeliness, yet just beneath the surface lies absolute darkness and terror – that’s TP and that’s Laura’s story (at least the most obvious part of it).

I have to say season three didn’t feel like “my” TP, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
There were a lot of new, big themes brought into it this time round, which had obviously been developing in Lynch and Frost’s minds over those 25 years and, to me, it makes sense that the directorial style should reflect that. The scenes were modern, sharper, brighter, less forgiving: especially in the Vegas scenes. I felt almost blinded by the intensity of those scenes! Even the town of Twin Peaks looks different when we return after being out there in the world so long. The sense of comfort and sweetness is almost completely gone; filming is frequently done in bright, spring daylight as opposed to a sleepy, winter twilight. I found myself yearning for glimmers of the old TP, yet totally sucked into the new one too, but in a different way. I was never one to watch it just for the coffee and pie kicks (although that doesn’t mean I would refuse to partake when it’s offered) – it’s more the sensual surroundings and brooding possibilities that I missed. That’s what drew me in and that is the spark behind my own inspiration artistically.

I loved that there were some clever ways those original motifs had evolved – I loved that a fine Bordeaux seemed to take the place of coffee, for example. We really have grown up. I’m not sure yet whether I can immerse myself in Season 3 day-after-day, or go about my day while it plays in the background – it’s more challenging than that – and that’s a good thing. We should be made to think deeper and further because that’s what the world needs right now.

Then there’s Episode 8 – to make the decision to put that out there must be the bravest of any show I can think of, and yes – definitely more Lynchian in its artistic style. The snap contrast against that episode, visually and psychologically is stunning. You’ve got ‘real life’ going on out there in the previous episodes, then this dark, ominous, nightmarish thing bubbling away under the surface, encompassing the worst that mankind has to offer. Beautiful.

25YL: Have you seen The Art Life? What did you think, and do you see any similarities in how Lynch produces art and your own approach?

JP: I have! It’s something I will watch time and time again. Haha! I couldn’t dream of comparing my own and Lynch’s process – he’s a lot braver than I am (and has his own studio – that kind of helps!) I’m always inspired by different ideas and who knows where that will lead in time, but there is one quote of Lynch’s which resonated particularly with me: “All I wanted to do was paint. It was like I couldn’t control it.”
I do get that ALL the time. If an idea presents itself, it scratches away at me until I let it out onto canvas. If I’m stopped or have to carry out other chores instead of painting, I get so antsy and turn into the grumpiest person. Then give me a couple of hours of quiet to create and I’m fine again. I can be a nice person again.

The other thing is the woods themselves. Lynch’s whole artistic being seems to be steeped in the woods – he LOVES them. I feel that is where my own inspiration stems from too. There’s something eternal about the woods – something in us which has always been there, since before we were even humans. The forest is a place both of safety and refuge and of danger. Folklore and fairytales have always told us this. We can run there to hide, to build a secret fortress…or we can be ambushed when we’re least expecting it.

After Mountainscape 2 - Copyright Jess Purser

25YL: Where can non-Patreons find your stuff and what special rewards do your Patreons get?

JP: You can find most of it over at my Etsy shop and I have an Instagram and Facebook page which are updated with my latest stuff. Redbubble has a really cool selection of clothing and home decor, so I put some of my work on my shop there, too.

I’m so grateful to my Patreon supporters, so give them as much as I can in return – high resolution pictures and behind-the-scenes photos and information on what’s coming next, videos and new art mailed each month, too.

25YL: How did your interest in art develop and did you study at all?

JP: I’ve drawn for as long as I can remember. The earliest memory I have of creating art is drawing a field of flowers, with a power plant in the background. I must have found the contrast interesting. I have not studied art since school, but my mum did go to Art college and she taught me the fundamentals of figure and form in portraiture.

25YL: What medium do you use mostly?

JP: I’m currently in the process of moving into oils – I finally feel I’m at the stage where my work is good enough to deserve it. For a long time, acrylics were the medium I felt were best for work on canvas, but as they dry so quickly, it’s difficult to blend the colours, so it was time to move on, although I do still use acrylics as a base for new paintings before adding layers of oils.

I use watercolours and gouache for plein-air work in the summer. I’m also teaching myself to work more in digital mediums as it’s so much faster for some pieces and for working out colour palettes.

25YL: Plein-air is what they put on the free-range eggs in France. I digress… how long does it take to create your pieces usually?

JP: It depends on size, medium and the amount of detail. Some smaller digital pieces can take only an hour or so, whereas a large canvas can easily take hundreds of hours. The 8”x10” ‘Coop and the Llama’ acrylic on canvas took just under 15 hours. I have a layered forest landscape which took me most of last winter, night after night, and is still less than half-way finished. I have hidden figures and other things among the trees, which nobody will ever see without an x-ray machine. I’m not even sure why I’m doing it that way, but it’s fun. That one has already sucked up about 120 hours.

Forest scene in progress - Copyright Jess Purser

25YL:  Pretty sure Lynch hides stuff everywhere also that we’ll probably never discover. Can you tell us about any other interests – hobbies, life, TV, film.

JP: I’m a very boring person – everything I do revolves around normal family life or art of one kind or another. I love my coffee, I love the sun, I love nature, I love travelling and I love wise people.

I like the idea of watching more sci-fi and fantasy, but somehow never get around to it, so that’s rubbish. I love listening to books while I work. The most recent was A Pocketful Of Crows by Joanne Harris. I stumbled upon it, not really knowing what it was about. It’s essentially about a girl-‘witch’, who lives alone, in the woods…and what happens when she leaves the woods…not at all familiar.

Japan. I’m a bit obsessed with that country. When the Japanese decide to do something, they do it properly, especially when it comes to art. The quality of their woodworking is stunning. I’d say I’m inspired by the Japanese attention to detail.

I guess I get the most inspiration from documentaries. Just today, I caught a few minutes of a BBC documentary Meet the Moose Family. It brought me right back to thinking about the beauty and fragility of life in the Canadian Rockies. I think that might be it for me – contrast, juxtaposition and paradox. For a long time, the wild poppy was my favourite flower – I couldn’t get my head around how it could be so bold and vibrant, yet so fragile at the same time. Ironically, we can’t grow them in our garden – the soil is too rich and fertile and poppies don’t like that – they get their life inspiration from scraping a living from the dust. How cool is that? How beautiful a concept? How many promising rock stars have you seen struggling at the start, then getting spoilt by fame and then fading into obscurity?

I think, rather than other peoples’ work inspiring me, it’s other peoples’ own inspiration – their love and obsession for what they do. I love watching other artists (and even non-artists, as long as they enjoy their work) carry out their craft – it brings my own ideas to fruition and makes me excited for the next step. I just never know where the next step might lead.

25YL:  Thanks Jess for chatting with us, and good luck with your ongoing work. Don’t get too lost in the woods!

Be sure to check out the first part of the series, Laura Stewart’s interview with Greg Ruth.

All images are copyrighted © by Jess Purser and permission was obtained to use these images. The use of any image from this site is prohibited unless prior written permission from the artist is obtained.

Written by Matt Armitage

Director of Operations at 25YL Media. Webmaster, Editor, Chief Weasel and occasional writer. Likes: Weird psychological horror, cats, wine, and whisky. Dislikes: Most people, rain, cats.

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