Jessica Albarn: The Boy in the Oak

Helmut Lang collaborator Jessica Albarn's new book launches at Liberty...

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Jessica Albarn's illustrations are beautifully delicate, alluringly fragile and unquestionably belong to the fairy-tale elegance and dreamy myths of childhood fantasy. Her graceful pencil drawings have now been composed into Albarn's first venture into the world of literature by releasing her debute book this month. 'The Boy in the Oak' provides an enchanting and ethereal tale which tells the tale of a young boy’s journey after discovering an ancient oak tree in the garden of his family home. Dazed followed the winding road into a kingdom far, far away to discover more about these beautiful illustrations.

Dazed Digital: Your work is very fantastical and delicate, where do you draw your inspiration from?

Jessica Albarn: As a child my favourite book was ' The Butterfly Ball ' by Alan Aldridge. I loved his vibrant use of colour, his detail and the sinister undertones of some of the characters. It was all there for me in that book and I think it has had more impact on what I am doing today than anything else.

DD: What were your favourite fairy-tales as a child?

Jessica Albarn: The first fairy tale that I remember being taken with was Hansel and Gretel. I was obsessed with witches as a child and the thought that your parents could leave you in the woods terrified me! But I loved all fairy tales, and particularly Russian folklore with illustrations from the Art Nouveau/Deco periods. 'The Snow girl' and 'Baga Yaga'. One of my all time favourites though is the 'Happy Prince' by Oscar Wilde. It is one of the most beautiful stories of love.

DD: You have collaborated with the likes of Helmut Lang and Modus. Do you see yourself collaborating again? If so, who would you most like to work alongside?

Jessica Albarn: Right now I am looking to turn the 'Boy in the Oak' into a film. I would love to work with Tim Burton and animate my drawings.

DD: Why do you record nature so exclusively? What attracts you to the natural world?

Jessica Albarn: I love insects because of their fine detail and the way they just dry out when they die. I have a large collection of specimens in my studio and usually I begin a piece of work when I find something new. People also give me creatures that they find or send me photos which is wonderful. For a while I had this guy I knew who was in Iraq doing bomb disposal and he sent me an amazing photo of a spider covered in fine dust inside the shell of a bomb.The spiders I do tend to draw live as they shrivel up too much when dead. I am attracted to creatures that have a deep connection with humans symbolically and at the moment I am working on birds.

DD: Where did the story of the Oak Tree come from?

Jessica Albarn: A very good friend of mine showed me a tree in her garden that had been spooking her out. It has a face of boy in the bark. Her garden backs onto a wood and that reminded me of a cottage in the woods that I used to visit with my family when I was a very young child. The seeds of the story were sown there.

DD: Do you think you will combine literature and illustration again? 

Jessica Albarn: I plan to start working on my next book very soon! I have the story written in rough.

DD: If you were a character in a fairy tale, who would you be?

Jessica Albarn: I would be the girl in Baga Yaga who outwits the witch or Hansel in Hansel and Gretel. As I said I was obsessed with witches and because I was actually quite scared at the thought of them,  I would rehearse in my mind what to do if I encountered one!

DD: Do you have any other projects coming up? Can you tell us about them?

Jessica Albarn: I will be joining the House of Fairy Tales at the Port Eliot Festival next month with the book. And then I shall get going on a whole new body of work, one piece being a drawing for an exhibition called 'Ghosts'. It will be a great a show of various artists all exhibiting a work on a bird that is extinct. It is being curated by Ceri Levi.

A preview of Jessica’s illustrations will be showcased at Liberty of London on the 16th June. The exhibition is open to the public at Liberty on the 4th Floor East Atrium Gallery from 17th June to 11th July, the book is available to buy exclusively at Liberty until September when it will be available internationally.
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