Bread and a Girl by Jess Burgess : Exhibition Text by Adele Smejkal

Bread and a Girl is the first solo show of the British artist, Jess Burgess. A series of paintings present pastel colour images that capture female figures with a glamorous flair. Aesthetically pleasing images are arranged on canvases in a collage-like manner, each revealing either a part of the female body dressed in beautiful clothes, or a plate with an appetising looking dish. 

Burgess’s work is targeting several areas of the contemporary woman’s life. From the art history point of view, women have always been one of the main subjects of art, and today’s artists only confirm that this is an ongoing dialogue that will continue to inspire artists as the position of women in society and culture develops each decade. 

Burgess’s work here touches the notion of beauty culture. She is positioning the relationship of attractive women like models and celebrities with food and their daily activities.  In this show, the artist here draws the Japanese recipe book called Bread and Dog by Kuwahara Natsuko. The book is a photographic journey into the dog’s psyche when living with a professional food stylist. Neatly arranged plates and tableware are photographed from a perspective that also captures the dog’s emotional expression of being unable to reach for the above dish. The artist adopts the same point of view for her female models and references today’s beauty culture, especially the female body.  Burgess is deeply aware of the power of social media and how the virtual world presented through the digital screen impacts our everyday life. However, the artist doesn’t necessarily project female suffering when it comes to food; on the contrary, she plays with the notion of ‘attractive’ deserts next to attractive women. By placing the images next to each other in a college matter, she contradicts the reality of women dieting.

Burgess’s mission, however, goes even beyond our eating habits – we live in a consumerist society where we view ourselves through shop windows full of fancy garments. She thus reflects on this notion by dressing her ‘models’ in designer clothes and placing them in an interior or exterior setting, which constitutes the contemporary still life. Many situations in her paintings capture her figures in almost idealistic illusion, which is the same illusion we received as viewers of fashion magazines and social media. What makes Burgess’ ideology refined and timeless is the fact that she never mentions labels in her work and doesn’t use real-life persons. Her figures are rendered in a pictorial style that is inspired by Alex Katz.

Nevertheless, Burgess uses her artist role models as a sole inspiration as she adopts collages and the ‘edge’ element as the underlying signature style. ‘Merge Visible’ is a photoshop feature which the artist uses for her picture editing, and then she transfers the inspiration into her painterly work. The ‘edge’ technique draws from an essay by Ian Monroe called Where does one thing end and next one begin, and contributes to the notion of layering realities, in Burgess’s case colliding pictures from social media and magazines. Bread and a Girl is the ideal balance between visual stimulation and cultural meditation. 

 Adele Smejkal, Client Liaison at Sotheby’s, 2020

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