When artist Jess Lucas moved to Melbourne in 1999, she thought she had left her old life behind, including the memories of an awkward teenage phase. “These self-portraits are based on images of myself taken for an Auckland talent agency when I was 15,” she says. “I was desperate to become an extra on Xena: Warrior Princess, however the shots were terrible and I never got called. It was a crisis of youthful ambition.”

Jess now fondly remembers that part of her life and her lack of self-judgment meant the portraits have a certain gentle quality. While she interprets photographic images as a basis for the works, she isn’t fixated on creating exact likenesses. “I use oil paint on board and I paint quite loose, flat paintings. The surface of the board creates the background,” she says. “The brushstrokes just come out naturally in response to what I see in the image.”

The paintings are part of Jess’ recent show at gallery Utopian Slumps and form part of an impressive repertoire of showings on the horizon. “I have solo shows at C3 and the St Hellier’s General Store and in November I will have a joint show with photographer and musician Karl Scullin of Kes Band,” she explains. “I’m also heading to Bundanoon in NSW for a month-long residency in March at Arthur Boyd’s property.”

Jess draws on the work of a range of influential artists. “I’ve been looking at Mary Heilmann, Alice Neel and Helen Frankenthaler. They are such great painters and they just inspire me to just keep painting and keep developing my own work, ” she says.

Like most artists, since graduating from a Masters in Fine Arts Jess has worked hard to fund her various projects. This year she receives a new grant from the Australia Council for the Arts supporting graduate artists. “The grant will pay for things like materials, documentation and exhibition costs,” she says. “It will also help me to market my work, by developing my existing website and publicising shows.”

The grant gives her piece of mind, so she can get back to the business of being an artist. “My goal is to continue developing my work and become represented by a gallery,” she adds.

Applications for round one of the 2011 ArtStart grant closes March 2. For more information go to the ArtStart website - artstartgrant.com.au