Born in Vienna, the British artist Tess Jaray later moved to Worcestershire in England where she spent her childhood painting and drawing from the rural landscape. Later, she moved to London to study at two prominent art schools; Central Saint Martins and Slade School of Fine Art, the latter of which she famously became the first female teacher at in 1968. With a practice spanning fifty years, Tess’ art works can be found in institutions such as the British Museum and Tate and her designs in various locations such as the terrazzo floor of Victoria Station and a wall sculpture in King’s Cross. Her use of geometry, colour, pattern and repetition remain to be the artist’s oeuvre in both her paintings and print designs today, each of which Tess combines to invite each viewer to consider the relationship we have with our surroundings and the space that exists between things and between people.
I don’t think that making art is necessarily always a question of expressing one’s self.
It’s much more complicated than that because my own view is do you really want to know the details about an individual artist whose work you look at? I think that comes across anyhow, one way another. Growing up, I can remember drawing and painting in the evenings because in those days there was no other entertainment. We listened to the radio a little bit but there were no other children around and no television. So that’s how I spent my evenings - drawing and painting with water colours.
I grew up thinking I was an artist without having a clue as to what it really meant.
I’d always made art without analysing it and my parents always called me an artist growing up so that’s what I believed. As a child, I became conscious of the difficulty in representing the outside world. Things like making something sit back on a piece of paper or making something else come to the front. At that stage, nobody told me that if you drew a person and you want another person behind them, they have to be smaller so I had to work that out for myself. It has all been a very gradual process.
I was lucky enough to go to Syria two years before the war and I was very affected by it.
It was just the most beautiful place. For instance, Damascus is a place where I was very conscious of the fact that it’d been around for something like 4000 years. It was full of wonderfully mixed communities, not entirely unlike London now, and everything was very beautiful - the architecture, the people, the food. I noticed that both in Damascus and Aleppo a number of the mosques had a particular feature which I’d never seen anywhere else which was a very simple lintel above the entrances to the mosque that were in alternate blocks of stone, very pale rose pink and a rich deep granite grey.
Many artists need to make political statements in their work but I’ve never wanted to.
I never thought it could be in any way effective or useful but in the case of my Aleppo series, there didn’t seem to be any alternative. When the war started in Syria, I watched it on television, as we all did, and when you’ve been somewhere and fallen in love with it, it’s particularly horrifying when you witness it being bombed and falling to pieces. So I thought, I have to in some way transfer the work so that it means something to me in terms of what has been lost. So that’s what happened - some how a force took over and directed me towards the way to work on them.
The colour in my works often represent something as simple as a moment in the day, the moment the light may strike at dawn or dusk and the weather.
I love weather so I often think about colour in those terms rather than if it’s red or blue. One of the most important things I consider at certain times more than others is how to create space within a painting because that is a kind of miracle. You’ll have a rectangle of some sort, and you paint something on it and if you’re lucky you’re making another world and some way or another through your vision you can enter that world. The starting point for a painting is usually the painting that came before. Each time, I break all of my rules and start from scratch.