An Interview by Alex Nodopaka
ME: Welcome to Mannequin Envy, Jennifer. Thank you for the opportunity to ask you impertinent questions. I must say that I appreciate your bold impressionistic technique, especially in your painting series figuring sardines. Also, your series of O Fortuna nudes are magnificently scrumptious. Rubens would envy the power of your brushstroke and style.
Personally I have an affinity for the incongruous, not that canned food is. It is somewhat their witty representation as you did also in the candy series that has a touch of wicked voodoo witchcraft about them that interests me. Besides, I love smoked, pickled or marinated sea creatures in various sauces that I typically wash down with Vodka.
JB: Thank you for your sweet compliments. I really appreciate that. As far as any written commentary on the paintings, I prefer to let the paintings visually speak for themselves. I write with my paintbrush.
ME: Yes, I can see the silvery denizens of the deep virtually wiggle out of the canvas but thankfully inaudibly. I appreciate your rendition of the sardines cavorting out of the cans, there's something organic about their stance.
Jennifer, what direction your subject matter may take?
JB: It is tough for me to foresee the immediate future regarding any direction that my subject matter may take…the truth is, although I am moved by particular subject matter, more than anything, I think about the quality of the paint, the brushstrokes, the flow and movement conveyed on the canvas/surface… that is first and foremost what moves me when I look at a painting. The subject matter is secondary. Having said that, I usually don't paint just anything. I will be inspired by some particular idea. My still lifes are typically composed of items with some meaning to me --- I like to create still life compositions that make me smile, quirky things. My figurative paintings have become less storytelling and a bit more introspective as of late. I have also gotten really engrossed in examining and expressing visually human body language, facial expression, human intent, behavior and human skin. My paintings in preparation for my upcoming solo show are mostly self-portraits with a particular message.
ME: Any plans to depict current political events?
JB: I am much more interested in "political" art that is subtle….that the viewer really has to think about. I'm not so crazy about artwork with a blatantly obvious message. I think a lot of work out there is more political than is noticed at face value. Many of us can't help but be influenced by what is happening around us, that which ultimately seeps into our expression. The pieces that I am currently working on have meaning that could be interpreted as psychological and political. I've incorporated geographic maps into a number of pieces that consequently carry geopolitical messages. My fast-food paintings have slices of maps of Japan, China and Korea bound onto them. My paintings entitled "The West" and "The World" depict a figure (me) literally wearing maps, that is, a shirt constructed of maps of particular places. In "The West", the subject is looking at the viewer, wearing North America and has bees buzzing around her. She is grasping one bee between thumb and forefinger. The bees represent the feeling of instability and impending doom. In "The World", the subject is draped in maps of various nations, looking pensively downward, and again has bees buzzing around her head with one bee crawling up her neck. I've enjoyed juxtaposing map pieces into these paintings. My paintings typically have somewhat imprecise brushwork and a generally loose feel to them. So the meticulously cut and pasted map pieces offer quite a contrast to the painting style.
I studied behavioral neuroscience at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. After graduation, I worked my way out west to Seattle after a brief stay in Boulder where I found people not afraid to speak their minds, while I worked in a rat lab. In Seattle, I worked serving the mentally ill and developmentally disabled population. From Seattle, I was pulled to Austin to study Latin American sociology at the University of Texas. I attained my Ph. D. in 2001 after conducting anthropological fieldwork on human migration in Chiapas, Mexico in 1999.
ME: Will you ever return to sociology as a profession?
JB: I do not have any plans to return to sociology as a profession but who really knows. I do think about the possibility of utilizing some of my social research skills as a volunteer doing some public policy work.
ME: What ramifications exist between your art and your academic studies?
JB: Everything we do in life shapes and cultivates us. Although I see no direct link between my studies and my artwork, in general terms, I see the psychological nature of it related more to my undergraduate studies in behavioral neuroscience than to my graduate studies in sociology.
ME: Jennifer, will you apply traditional styles & techniques of Surrealism to your future artistic endeavors?
JB: I think your terms are good descriptors of the work I have done thus far. It is somewhat surrealistic subject matter with traditional painting methods used. I can see continuing in this vein for a while. I'm really enjoying it. It is really important to me to strive to be the best painter I can be. I constantly admire and study others' work, which gives me the inspiration and the will to understand and better apply paint. I got a late start in painting. I think this is the reason why I am not short of ideas for subject matter - I've got my lifetime of ideas and started painting them in 2001. It's the technical part that is the incredible challenge for me - the challenge that will last the rest of my life. Painting for me is a constant eye-opening struggle. A painting from beginning to end is a dialogue that is different every single time or every single painting. I experience epiphanies and arduous frustrations that make the process so invigorating. It never seems to get old. So long as I desire the challenge, I imagine that I will paint for the rest of my life.
ME: Thank you Jennifer for adorning this issue of Mannequin Envy with your artwork. We wish you much success in your artistic future and by the way may I have for dessert one of your crucified chocolates?
See Jennifer Balkan art at www.jenniferbalkan.com