In our Fibre Artists Series, we'll shine a spotlight on fibre artists from around the globe. If you're a basket maker like me, you'll likely have a love for the whole spectrum of basketry arts - from functional pieces you have on your mantle, right through to fine art sculptural works like the ones we will show you in this series. There are amazing artists making brilliant work out there, and we cannot wait to showcase them for you.
We shine our first spotlight on sculpture and fibre artist, Jess Leitmanis. Jess has a palpable connection to the ocean. Her works often pay homage to the big deep and our vast natural environment. They often explore themes such as consumer culture and sustainability, and the causal loop in the relationship between ourselves and the natural world around us.
Jess's primary material is discarded marine debris rope, a material that is sadly synonymous with ocean life. These discarded bits of rubbish, a product of the fishing industry, have a hugely detrimental impact on the ocean space. Jess manages to repurpose it, creating beautiful woven sculptures that come alive like they are living parts of the ocean they came from.
Over the years, she has amassed loads of marine rope, her personal stash sits at a whopping 1500kg. Once she finds it, it has often been weathered by the elements, bleached, and battered from sun and surf. As an artist's material, it can be challenging, brittle from age and unpredictable. Jess describes working with it as like a strange tango or intricate wrestle between maker and rope ('wrestling marine rope' is how she describes her work on her Instagram page). It's a description I love, and one that many fibre artists can relate to when using tricky materials.
Jess has sourced marine debris from some of the remotest beaches of Australia, from the clear glassy bays of Tasmania to the sun-drenched blue expanse that surrounds the Cape York Peninsular. She is outspoken about her love and concern for our ocean. She has worked with South West Marine Debris, an organisation that fights to keep our coastlines clear of rubbish. She was recently a guest on an Ocean Impact podcast with Tim Silverwood (Co-founder of Ocean Impact and Take 3 for the Sea) where they discussed the complementary worlds of science and art.
Earlier this year she spent a month at sea aboard The Schmidt Ocean Institute's state of the art science research vessel R/V Falkor, as an Artist-at-Sea. On her 30-day voyage into the northern Tasman Sea, she joined scientists as they mapped the bathymetry of the ocean floor, whilst studying seabirds and microplastic, and collected some of the first data sets contributing to the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.
What I love about Jess as an artist is that she shows us that with a bit of imagination, this art form is limitless. When you cross from traditional basket making to sculpture, you make a different kind of vessel, one that is less about traditional function and more about, well, art. If you ever get to one of her exhibitions once COVID buzzes off, you'll likely have a sense that you are in the ocean under the waves yourself.
Fibre artists like Jessica prove that the best work can come from upcycling materials, even industrial rubbish! It’s important, I think, as crafters, that we are conscious of the materials we use. And not always be ready to run to the store to buy new plastic-wrapped materials from sources we know little about. Jessica just takes this ethos a little further by sculpting and helping save the oceans at the same time.
For more about Jessica: