(*Please note – Jeska’s announcement as a finalist in The Portia Geach Memorial Award occurred after this article went to press and her portrait of Georgia Maq (McDonald) is now ineligible for the Archibald Prize, though originally intended as an Archibald entry. Jeska will now create a new artwork for entry in the Archibald 2019)
The stunningly realised portraiture of Gold Coast artist Jeska Valk explores the complex relationship between humans and the natural world, and takes viewers on an intimate journey inside her subjects. Detailed and textured, her large wooden canvasses project an immediacy and intensity that capture the gaze. Previously independent but now signed to Art Lovers Australia, Jeska has most recently worked a portrait of Camp Cope lead singer Georgia McDonald, which is on its way to being submitted in Australia’s oldest and second richest portraiture prize – The Archibald.
“It is a moment in your career that stands out,” she says of the upcoming entry.
“I enjoy the prospects of being given a bigger platform to showcase my work and share a personal story, whether it be self-reflective or somebody else’s.”
Georgia McDonald’s story is one that particularly resonates with the talented artist.
“I was specifically drawn to Georgia not only as a talent but for her and the band’s activism,” Jeska explains.
“Going against the odds, they have proved to be an unstoppable force standing up against sexual harassment and gender inequality in the music industry. Also her talent as a songwriter has had great influence which emanates strength and resilience. I admire her as a strong woman.”
That admiration may have caused Jeska a few nervous flutters when Art Lovers Australia flew her down to Melbourne to meet with the singer in her home, but she informs us they were swiftly allayed.
“When I met her I was immediately put at ease, as I was welcomed by a warm hug! We spent time in her kitchen, while she prepared her lunch and opened up about her life. It was a raw experience as the conversation deepened. I was captivated by her experiences.
“Feeling more comfortable I began to photograph her in natural poses and settings while she continued to talk about her life. She showed incredible strength and vulnerability. We then finished our meeting back in the kitchen, where I sketched her. Ending with a hug, the experience I had with Georgia was warm and inspiring.”
Jeska has recently achieved the dream of most artists: the flow of commissions has become consistent enough that she is able to concentrate on art full time.
“It really is a dream come true to be a full time portrait artist but it does come with sacrifice, as I spend almost all of my time hiding in my cave (studio) creating,” she says.
“I wouldn’t change a thing though! I love that I get to meet incredible people and hear their stories, and painting them exacerbates that feeling.”
Having the right representation was a crucial step in the transition.
“Finding Art Lovers Australia was serendipitous. We had previously met at one of my exhibitions but it was a year later that we were reacquainted. I signed up with them and the rest is history. Directors Nancy and Jarrod really appreciate the artist, working tirelessly around the clock. They have become great friends and people I admire. I really have a lot to thank them for….constantly.”
And of course, Jeska would not be where she is without the unwavering support of her family.
“The people who support me the most are my husband and my mother. They are always there for me in every way. I feel very lucky.
“My mother is my biggest inspiration. She is amazing. Bringing up myself and my brother herself, she always showed us love and taught us strength, to have integrity and above all she gave us the best childhood. She drew with me, encouraged me as an artist and always helped where she could. She sacrificed so much for us.”
Unsurprising then, that Jeska is so drawn to strong women and their stories. The environment also provides a deep well of inspiration for her, and she holds in high regard, those who seek to make the world a better place.
“Wei Wei is a Chinese revolutionary artist, [and] through his thought provoking pieces, he fights for a democratic and fair society. The selflessness of his actions for the people has changed China and his resilience to continue fighting against the Government is empowering. His work is about the people and about change.”
Deeply personal change has also come about for Jeska as a result of her art.
“When I began creating pieces this intense it was a state of meditation to escape feeling anxious when I would have mild epileptic seizures. It was the only thing in my life that when I focused on painting the tiny detail, distracting myself, it would all just fade away.
“Years later and I am lucky enough to say that in my everyday life those effects have greatly subsided but painting in this manner still has a relaxing almost zen feeling that hours go by and I’m totally unaware.”
The end results of these meditative sessions is nothing short of breathtaking. From a little terror drawing across the walls and scribbling all through her mother’s cookbooks (which her mum still has) to a signed, full time professional artist with her sights set on The Archibald, Jeska Valk is one strong, inspiring woman herself. Self-portrait, perhaps?