Caffeine&Machine cultofmachine Essentials In search of adventure: Jess Gray

In search of adventure: Jess Gray

What inspires C&M Emporium-featured artist Jess Gray to create her beautifully minimalist artwork?

Dreaming is one thing. Most people, at one point or another, have thoughts about stepping away from a steady job and jumping into the unknown. Pursuing passions, setting out in search of adventure. But actually making that move is another thing entirely – there are hurdles to overcome, and realities to face.

If, however, there are any positives to take out of a global pandemic that forced everyone indoors for the better part of a year, it’s surely that for many it provided an impetus to rethink priorities and chase things that only previously existed in the realm of fantasy.

Take artist Jess Gray. In 2021, she stepped back from a steady but exhausting and unfulfilling job to pursue a steadier life, concentrating on two things: art and adventure.

The latter is provided by a Jeep Wrangler, transformed from the perfectly adept off-roader that left the factory to a fitted-out, knobbly-tyred beast, capable of serving as a home from home for weeks at a time in pretty much any environment.

For Jess and her partner, Harvey, the purchase of the Jeep was an easy decision. It began as a vector for quick, UK-based getaways. “We wanted to be able to explore, and it made sense to have some sort of fun car to spend our time in,” she says. “On weekends we could do Wales or the Lake District, and you meet likeminded people when you start doing things like that. We noticed a lot of people were making these 4x4s their little home on wheels, and taking them on seriously long-term trips, and we thought ‘this sounds like a little bit of us’.”

The long-term expeditions emerged from there, and with it all the addenda needed for a potentially months-long overland trip. The first of these took Jess and Harvey down through France, over the Alps and as far as Croatia. “You just see things and experience things differently… You can come across a little village up a mountain somewhere and just stop and stay there for a couple of days. There’s that sort of freedom that you don’t get if you’re just getting a direct flight to your destination. We fell in love with that on-the-road lifestyle.”

The global interruption in 2020 would firmly drive this dream home. “During Covid, a lot of people probably had a similar thought process. That’s when I decided that my full-time job [in fashion merchandising] wasn’t making me happy anymore, and I made the decision to leave. Picking my artwork back up tied in – it all happened around the same time.”

By the time trans-European travel became feasible again, the itch for adventure needed scratching more than ever. “We took a three-month trip across the Balkans, all the way down to the bottom of Greece. That’s when I realised that my digital art could be done on the road. I was able to draw whilst we were sat there in these remote locations.”

The influence of the adventure on Jess’s art is clear: minimalist, pastel-hued landscapes are stripped back to their essential forms, emphasising the natural irregularities of the terrain and the way the shadows and light fall across them.

A love for cars pervades her pieces too, with an unsurprising inclination towards vehicles geared for adventure. Machinery in the spotlight include a pair of Series III Land Rovers, a faithful recreation of a Porsche 356 pre-A entered in the daunting Carrera Panamericana, and a ski rack-equipped, oval-window Beetle making its way up Switzerland’s Nufenen Pass.

Jess’s art distils these grand expeditions into precise moments in time and presents them in a crisp, decluttered way, allowing the carefully designed forms of the vehicles to sit in perfect harmony with the beautifully organic disorder that defines the shapes of nature. It’s an ode to one of the greatest gifts the car has given us – the opportunity for near limitless exploration and discovery.

A selection of Jess’s work is available in the Caffeine&Machine Emporium.

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