Being a relative newcomer to the commercial arts scene, Jessica Murtagh’s CV is already extensive. Having only been practising for the last five years, her work has been selected for high profile awards including the Woollahra Small Sculpture Prize, the Tom Malone Prize, and the Pro Hart Art Prize. She’s had multiple residencies, has had two solo shows, and has already been collected by major institutions such as the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), The Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences (Powerhouse) and the Parliament House Art Collection. But why is Jess’ work gaining so much momentum? Her attention to detail, subject matter and hints of irony make this artist one to watch.
Jess’s fascination with glazing started when she began sand carving glass, part of her job working for a contractor who was involved in glazing for the construction industry. But, it was an allurement to molten glass and fire that inspired her to explore and experiment with making different forms. Equal parts challenging and enjoyable, it’s this act of making molten glass into a finished object that drives her.
Having always been drawn to the Ancient Greek and Roman sections of any museum specifically because of their narrative ceramic-ware, Murtagh is deeply fascinated by how the past informs the present. “I love that many centuries later we can unearth these relics and have an idea of what their everyday lives consisted of, their traditions, culture and beliefs.”
Along with a deep interest in human history, she is fascinated by what our civilisation will leave behind. In the event that digital technology doesn’t survive the test of time, it’s the evidence of physical relics that remain that will tell the tale about our everyday lives. Murtagh imagines herself as the author in a catalogue of histories recording daily life. Commonalities in her pictorial musings include working from home, the global pandemic, dating apps, living through lockdowns and the economic downturn. It’s these records of daily life she hopes to leave for the future generations as a testament to our time.
Although humour is at play here, Murtagh’s rise to where she is now was anything but comedic. Believing she had her educational trajectory all figured out, she was disappointed when she wasn’t accepted into a well-known associate program. “It was a huge blow for me at the time, especially as I had, in my mind, put all my eggs in that basket.” But, when things didn’t work out as planned, how did she turn things around? “What felt like a huge disappointment in my career and a rejection of my work and person ended up being the best thing that could’ve happened for my arts practice. I continued with my degree and was able to explore and develop my arts practice in a way that wouldn’t have been possible.”
This optimism and ability to back herself is ultimately what led to her multitude of accolades before she’d even graduated. “One of the best things I can think of that has been beneficial to my career was to enter prizes and exhibitions within the first year of studying. Doing this meant that I had the makings of a solid professional art practice before graduating which I did in March this year.”
Murtagh is a rising star of the arts and one to watch. Her intricate and playful works are currently being exhibited in her solo show, Collective Histories in Blue at Grainger Gallery in Canberra until 7th May, 2023.