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2023: The Year in Review

Hi Everyone, I hope the year in painting has been good for you! I wanted to share some of the highlights of my year. I always feel enormously blessed to be able to create my paintings and send them out into the world. Over the past many years, I have established long-term relationships with some amazing galleries. Earlier this year I had an exhibition at the Carrie Haddad Gallery. I've been showing at Carrie's since 2001. She actually gave me my first professional exhibition opportunity and our relationship continues to thrive. 

I created about a dozen new works for the space. Most were paintings on canvas, but others were works on paper from an ongoing series titled "Workstation". These are loose drawing/paintings created from observations around the studio, and then somewhat deconstructed.

 

 Workstation #16, 24x18, oil on paper

It helps me to imagine this light filled room during the productive months prior to the exhibition. I work well with a deadline, and creating in this focused way allows me to make a very interconnected group of paintings. Sometimes those connections don't become clear to me until I see the pieces curated through someone else's eyes. Seeing the finished work hanging in the gorgeous front room seems almost surreal when I think of the journey of painting and preparation that proceeded this moment. 

 

 

Every time I prepare for a show there is that certain sequence of tasks that must be performed, outside of painting, that is the work behind the work. Putting the dates on the calendar is only the exciting beginning. There are conversations with the gallery. How many pieces they anticipate hanging and what sizes, so our vision is aligned. 

I work well under pressure with a deadline. I love having a spring show on the calendar so that I can hole away in the winter months, becoming deeply quiet, without outside stimulus. 

But creating the work is quite a different mind-set than loading the van to have the work photographed or shipped. While painting takes place in a reality outside of the everyday, where there is a feeling of effortless attention and action and awareness are merged, making appointments in the world outside of the studio requires another kind of presence.   

One of the last tasks, is wiring and preparing the canvas for display. In a way this part reminds me of when I was about 10 years old and working side by side with my dad in his wood shop. The hammer in the photo below was one my father gave to me. I always use it when I'm wiring up the work, one, because it's the perfect tool for the job, but also because it somehow weaves his memory into the process. He becomes part of the exhibition. And so each task of readying for the show is in itself a practice and a mindful act. 

 

 

Performing these finishing touches is like coming out of a creative fog. I give myself about 6 months to paint for an exhibition. During those months there is nothing but showing up in the studio and moving through the works. There is no knowing what shapes are going to repeat themselves, or what visual story might connect the paintings to each other. There is no preconceived idea. 

While the show is hung, I visit the gallery often, taking in the new unexpected arrangement of the work. My insides are now on display on the outside, in public. The work in this space has taken on a new life. Free from the crowded studio, it can breathe! The real reward is seeing people taking the time to really look, examine and appreciate it.

Only I know that moments that appear spontaneous, are really labored over. I know what series of "mistakes" and failed attempts came together to form the glue of the composition. I know what the final mark was that changed the picture from angst to resolved and I know what beautiful things have disappeared beneath the surface.  

 Finally, when collectors choose to live with your work, it's a blessing and the highest compliment. 

Shipshape 48x48 oil on linen

I was honored to have work in the 25th anniversary exhibition at Hidell Brooks Gallery this year. Congratulations to an outstanding contemporary art gallery located in Charlotte, NC. I've had the pleasure of being represented by Hidell Brooks since 2016 and I'm happy to announce an upcoming exhibition on the calendar in the spring of 2025!  

This year I had several requests for horizontal paintings. I prefer a square format, or a short rectangle. A true horizontal can really throw me for a loop. There is always a natural inclination to create a horizon line and thus an abstracted landscape. Almost unavoidable. I'm not totally opposed to this, but I'd rather not battle it out with the reference.

I started on paper, taping two 24x18's together. For this piece, a continuation of the "Workstation" series, I set up a still life amongst my paint and tools. I also constructed some patterns on the wall behind with a charcoal drawing and papers of different values. I worked from observation for some time, before taking down the still life and responding only to the work in front of me. A jumble of lines and loose references.  

Here is the result, Twin Workstation 1, 24x36.

 

 

I then moved onto canvas and created two 36x48's. This is the size ratio that makes me uncomfortable. I struggled with this piece quite a bit. It was slow going with many incarnations, and I spent more time then usual just looking, and studying. Stumped. At some point I realized that this particular piece was going to be about the couch time, and I surrendered.

If my time in the studio was spent making one mark and then reflecting on how that one mark effected the whole horizontal orientation, so be it.

Day after day, I came in the studio and sat staring. When painting, I repeatedly and unconsciously divided the canvas in half and was working separately on each half, and struggling to unite them. At some point, after a few hard won, pivotal adjustments, I flipped it over and was able to find my way to an unexpected and exciting finish. 

A common question I hear from artists working abstractly is "how do you know when it's finished?" There is no specific, concrete answer. Each work is unique, and each artist is unique. This particular painting felt like it could have been resolved in a few of its incarnations. Also, a painting could really go on indefinitely. But there are some other questions to ask that can get you closer to knowing when a piece is resolved. 

Have you learned all you can from the painting? It may not turn out as you expected, but have you tried different ideas and advanced your skills during the process? Not every painting is going to be great or even good, or finished, but you can't make a painting and not learn something of value to apply moving forward. 

Is it "finished for now?" I love this term. You have tried everything and the painting exists within the context of all your other work as a marker of where you are in this moment. 

Is there a balance of elements that excites you? Is there something unpredictable coupled with dynamic organization? Have you left some space for the viewer to pause and study the piece as a whole? Does it feel whole, or is there something tugging at you that still seems unresolved? 

 

 The Good Sky

There is always some studio improvement project waiting in the wings! This was the year to  add wheels and some height to my work tables. My neck was really starting to bother me when I was mixing a palette. Of course there were also piles of old art supplies, and boxes of random stuff under these tables, so it was also a declutter job! Once this was completed my neck and my mind felt so much better. This was really about self care in the studio. Improving my ability to work pain free. Finally! Did you do any studio improvement projects this year?

Lastly, here are a few of my favorite books this year!

 

 

If you haven't read The Secret Lives of Colour, you are in for a treat. A beautiful book painters will love! You can pick it up, open it anywhere, and learn something wonderfully new about color as you work away in the studio. "The Secret Lives of Color tells the unusual stories of seventy-five fascinating shades, dyes, and hues. From blonde to ginger, the brown that changed the way battles were fought to the white that protected against the plague, Picasso’s blue period to the charcoal on the cave walls at Lascaux, acid yellow to kelly green, and from scarlet women to imperial purple, these surprising stories run like a bright thread throughout history. In this book, Kassia St. Clair has turned her lifelong obsession with colors and where they come from (whether Van Gogh’s chrome yellow sunflowers or punk’s fluorescent pink) into a unique study of human civilization. Across fashion and politics, art and war, the secret lives of color tell the vivid story of our culture." 

I just began Shocking Paris, and so far so good! If you are a fan of Soutine, and love Paris, a must read. "For a couple of decades before World War II, a group of immigrant painters and sculptors, including Amedeo Modigliani, Marc Chagall, Chaim Soutine and Jules Pascin dominated the new art scene of Montparnasse in Paris. Art critics gave them the name 'the School of Paris' to set them apart from the French-born (and less talented) young artists of the period. Modigliani and Chagall eventually attained enormous worldwide popularity, but in those earlier days most School of Paris painters looked on Soutine as their most talented contemporary. Willem de Kooning proclaimed Soutine his favorite painter, and Jackson Pollack hailed him as a major influence. Soutine arrived in Paris while many painters were experimenting with cubism, but he had no time for trends and fashions; like his art, Soutine was intense, demonic, and fierce."

Also, The Art Thief, which is so odd, but wonderfully so. What a character study! "In this spellbinding portrait of obsession and flawed genius, the best-selling author of The Stranger in the Woods brings us into Breitwieser’s strange world—unlike most thieves, he never stole for money, keeping all his treasures in a single room where he could admire them. For centuries, works of art have been stolen in countless ways from all over the world, but no one has been quite as successful at it as the master thief Stéphane Breitwieser. Carrying out more than two hundred heists over nearly eight years—in museums and cathedrals all over Europe—Breitwieser, along with his girlfriend who worked as his lookout, stole more than three hundred objects, until it all fell apart in spectacular fashion."

Thank you so much for following my creative musings. I appreciate your time and interest in the painting process.

Happy New Year! Wishing you all a great year in painting.

—Jenny 

 

 

 

 

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