Sterling HeightsJuly 18, 2012
Oceanic art, activism merge for Artist of the Month
By Cortney Casey
C & G Staff Writer
“Jaws” may have frightened an entire generation into staying out of the water — or at least remaining close to shore — but it had the opposite effect on Jessica Montgomery.
The Utica resident, Sterling Heights’ Artist of the Month, credits the chilling shark film for sparking her enthrallment with all things aquatic — and as a result, inspiring her sea-centered art.
“Even though I was terrified, I was fascinated,” laughed Montgomery. “I’ve always been interested in the ocean, since I was little, and it wasn’t until I was older that I started reflecting back on why I have this profound interest in the ocean.”
Devouring books on the topic, including one on the Bathysphere, “the first diving vessel … kind of like a mini-submarine,” further sparked Montgomery’s imagination.
“That kind of got me thinking about man’s need to explore and man’s innate connection with the otherworldliness of the sea,” she explained. “And so I started creating pieces based on man’s connection to the sea, both positive and negative, like that awe and exploration, and also our issues with conservation.”
Montgomery often selects endangered species jeopardized “mainly because of man’s hand” as her subjects. Her pieces displayed at City Hall include a hammerhead shark and a Yangtze finless porpoise, the former threatened by shark finning, the latter by the Yangtze River’s pollution.
There’s also a more abstract image of swirling navy blue and foamy white that makes the viewer feels as if underwater. It’s from a series Montgomery calls “From Which We Came,” based on a Jacques Cousteau quote she found deeply meaningful.
“He talks about man’s longing to return to the sea and why we’re all, like me, fascinated with the ocean,” she said. “And it talks about modern man’s disconnect to the natural world and how to view the ocean as this freedom that we either lost or surrendered, and we’re just longing to get back to it.”
Montgomery often searches for online photos of sea creatures to use as guides, gleaning facts about them along the way.
“I think that’s really important to see other people’s perspective on how we treat animals or how we use animals, or how other cultures view animals,” she said.
But her knowledge of the sea isn’t solely virtual. She’s snorkeled at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and in Hawaii, where she swam alongside an injured sea turtle. Though it was missing a fin, she recalled, it “was just cruising along, like you would never know the difference.”
She hopes to explore the waters of South Korea, as well, when she moves there in August to teach English for a year.
In lieu of traditional paper or canvas, Montgomery prefers Mylar, which she discovered when her father brought home scraps of it from his workplace.
As a child, “I would lay down and trace myself with my friends,” she said.
While attending Kendall College of Art & Design in Grand Rapids — where she earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in drawing, with a minor in painting, in 2011 — Montgomery encountered artists who were using Mylar and reconnected with the familiar format, albeit in a more professional setting.
“I just loved the surface quality, and I loved the effects you could get with various materials on it: the translucency, the durability,” she said. “I think the materials on the Mylar really echo the essence of water and the sea.”
Typically, Montgomery draws with charcoal on Mylar, seals the image with a spray fixative and puts it through an “oil wash” — oil paint diluted with mineral spirits — before using salt and other solvents to add dappling and bubble-like effects.
Intent on educating viewers, Montgomery often identifies the species depicted and sometimes includes a brief description of its plight on the image itself, tracing typed words through the Mylar.
Montgomery’s past exhibitions include a solo performance show, “Art+Exploration” at The Gallery in Beaufort, S.C., last year, where she “ate, slept and created artwork” over a three-day period in the gallery’s windows.
She also had a piece in ArtPrize in Grand Rapids in 2011. Through the massive open art competition, local venues host artists’ works, and the public can vote on their favorites, with winners earning cash prizes.
“It’s just so exciting what it’s done to Grand Rapids,” she said of ArtPrize. “It turns Grand Rapids on its head — for the better.”
The Sterling Heights Cultural Commission continues to seek applicants for the Artist of the Month program. Applicants can hail from anywhere in the state. For more information, visit www.sterling-heights.net or call (586) 446-2489.
Montgomery’s pieces will be on display throughout July in the lower level of Sterling Heights City Hall, 40555 Utica Road; and at the Used But Sterling Bookstore, inside the Sterling Heights Public Library, 40255 Dodge Park Road.
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