Artist Jessica Albarn on dead insects and older brother Damon

As Jessica Albarn's drawings go on show, the artist tells Victoria-Anne Bull about her unusual passion and idyllic childhood with older brother Damon

Forget delicately scented flowers, toss out the chocolate and never mind a collection of miniature soaps wrapped in tissue paper – the perfect gift for Jessica Albarn is a carton of insects. Dead of course. Or perhaps her very own beehive.

The artist (who happens to be the younger sister of Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz fame – he calls her "a complete master of the pencil") has built her career on exquisitely detailed drawings of arthropods, lepidoptera and bees.

Today she opens two boxes revealing some of her latest spoils – her daughter Lola gave her a rare butterfly and a moth for her birthday. And then there is Albarn's favourite, a death's-head hawk moth found by a friend's son in Mallorca 10 years ago, not to mention her box of bees ("That one is beautiful, he is very velvety," she points to a large one with a fiery-looking abdomen) or the artefacts sent by brother Damon, "He has given me quite a few of my larger butterflies," she adds. An old school pal sends scorpions and dragonflies from the south of France. All friends and family, in fact, are on high alert and boxes of the deceased regularly arrive in the post.

Her new show, Resurrection, at Soho's Lawrence Alkin Gallery this month is a play on the fact that she immortalises these creatures through the graceful strokes of her pencil or paintbrush. "A lot of my work in the exhibition is either dead, endangered or extinct and, in my head, I try and bring new life to them through my drawings," she explains.

This work is displayed through five mediums: wax, glass, clay, canvas and paper. She paints on them in acrylics and each medium appears to have a special meaning. For example, the poetic words "till us death lay. To ripe mellow, here we're stubborn clay" by John Donne spoke to her when she stumbled across the verse one day, "I felt it connected with my thoughts, which is why I wanted to include it in the show."

Her use of glass also has a deep personal story behind it. When she was 10, Albarn (now 43) suffered a bout of severe pneumonia, which caused her to hallucinate. Some of those visions have stayed with her even today. "This might sound a bit weird," she cautions. "I dreamt that I was a thin shard of glass and it has always haunted me. Afterwards when I was at school and we used to look at biology slides through microscopes it would make me feel strange because in my hallucination I was just like that biology slide but much bigger and very thin."

Geometric shapes are also explored. Striking images of bees have been painted on to palm-sized hexagons made out of wax or clay. "I am interested in alchemic geometry and it's symbolic of that." It is not lost that honeycomb is of course a mass of hexagonal wax cells built by bees in their nests.

So where has her enthralment of dead things, namely insects come from? She has spoken at length about the sylvan upbringing she shared with Damon in the Essex village of Aldham and how her parents (both art teachers) allowed them to roam the woods. She would freely pick up animals and dead bees whenever it took her fancy. "I would rescue them if I found a bird in wire or something. I didn't have that kind of fear about handling animals or insects, especially when they're dead." But perhaps it's simpler than a mere deconstruction of her childhood. "I think I am just attracted to them," she says suddenly. "I just love them. I think it is love actually. A kind of connection, a looking after, nurturing thing.

Jessica Albarn: younger sister of Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz fame Jessica Albarn: younger sister of Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz fame (David Sandison)

"I'm not very good with slugs and worms, anything that is slimy or decomposing doesn't attract me, but death, when it's dried and dead, I find fascinating. That's why a butterfly is so amazing because even after death it hold its shape."

When it comes to the art world, she doesn't feel there is a clear space on the bookshelf she can slot into ("I haven't gone up the ladder the conventional way.") Perhaps it's because her boundless creativity – she has collaborated with fashion doyen Helmut Lang, written and illustrated a children's book The Boy in the Oak, now made into a short film (Damon wrote the score and Jude Law narrated the script) and had an exhibition of portraits with subjects including Alison Goldfrapp, Antony Hegarty and Pearl Lowe at Liberty – doesn't quite fit in with the terms of the Establishment. Or maybe, as she asserts, it could be to do with the fact that she is a mother of three: Lola, 18 and Rudy 16 from her first marriage and Etta, three, from her second to photography director Serge Teulon. "I think it puts you at a disadvantage in the art world," she says. "Because there are woman artists out there who do have children but we are still really under-represented. The old idea of an artist, perhaps the ideal, is that you have hours and hours in your studio and you can work through the night."

Hers, incidentally, is a small green shed at the bottom of her east London garden piled to the brim with cases of insects like a museum. "But that is not my reality," she adds. "I have to work very hard around looking after my children and that is why I work from home. When I am cooking dinner I am casting these at the stove," she hold up two of the wax hexagons.

Nevertheless, she soldiers on, continuing to create and use her meticulous draughtsmanship to discover more about her creepy subjects. "I don't seem to tire of looking at a bee and investigating it in all the sorts of detail. I get absorbed with it," she says. "What I would like to think is that maybe people who don't look at insects much will look at my drawings and learn something new so they can relate to them better."

A bee flies into her conservatory. Albarn's eyes follow the buzzing. She will of course save it. "Do you give them flowers?" she asks before imparting some valuable educational advice. "Because if they're not flying off after they've been stuck indoors for a few hours they are probably on the verge of death, but if you give them a flower they will have a drink and often perk up. You can give them sugar water but I just find they lay in it." She smiles, "I would like to do some work with live bees." And who knows? If she does, perhaps she'll receive some scented flowers or some miniature soaps on her birthday one day after all.

Jessica Albarn: Resurrection, Lawrence Alkin Gallery, London WC2 (020 7240 7909) 13 to 28 June

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
The American stand-up Tig Notaro, who performed topless this week

Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars

Arts and Entertainment

TVNetflix gets cryptic

Arts and Entertainment
Claudia Winkleman is having another week off Strictly to care for her daughter
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Children in Need is the BBC's UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million to change the lives of disabled children and young people in the UK

TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his winning novel

Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
    Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

    Look what's mushrooming now!

    Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
    Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

    Oeuf quake

    Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
    Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

    Terry Venables column

    Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
    Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin