Marin Independent Journal
August 13th, 2009
Working Artist: 'Feminine Nature' Reveals Intensity of Feeling
August 13, 2009
by Christine Brenneman
Nature and the human temperament share a mercurial changeability: blue skies can rapidly turn stormy, just as one's mood can morph from calm to agitated in an instant.
These concepts are central to Jennifer Downey's paintings; in them, female figures in various emotional states stand starkly against roiling skies and bleak landscapes. Though they're often separated within the picture plane, the women and their natural backdrops impart an intensity of feeling, a depth of color, and a cool, graphic style.
In a new exhibition at San Rafael's Arrivederci Caf , Downey, a self-taught Alameda artist, presents her recent body of work entitled "Feminine Nature."
Q: You meld two seemingly different genres of painting - landscape painting and figure painting - in your work. What is the relationship between the two for you?
A: The connection is the mindset or mood that's shared between the landscape and the female figure. My titles refer to these moods: Sentinel Spirits, Old Wise Limbs, Bare. They may come from two different places, so one of my challenges as a painter is to have the landscape and figure meet on the same plane - not a picture plane, but a similar emotional space. I don't want the figure to be set in the landscape; I want a sense of timelessness, and the subtle power of the feminine and nature.
Q: A dark-haired woman appears in most of your recent paintings; she often looks thoughtful and serious, almost sad. Who is she?
A: The short answer is that they're all variations on what I call the "feminine principle." I'm painting these female figures because I want to show another side of femininity. In pop culture, it's all advertising and celebrity, and women look pretty and are always smiling. That's a small, myopic view of the feminine experience; I'm looking at feminine strength, without borrowing from a masculine idea of strength.
Q: There's a starkness or austerity in these works. Is that intentional?
A: Part of it is based on technique. I don't want to get bogged down in too much detail. I'm painting about strength, and to me, part of that is shown through a strong graphic sense and through contrast. With too much detail, I could lose some of that. In my painting Sentinel Spirits, for example, the bleached out, dead trees are part of a burned landscape, and I was drawn to those gestures and the gorgeous limbs. I agree that some of my landscapes are stark, they're spare. Somehow that spare quality captures a rawness for me.
Q: What is your favorite color?
A: Green, any shade.
Q: What is your most prized art-related possession?
A: In my studio I have this collection of found nature miscellany from hikes: bones, pods, skulls, and honeycomb. It's a small natural history museum.
Q: What's the most inspiring thing you see each day?
A: There's this wonderful sycamore tree, and I love to watch it sway in the breeze. It has these rustling leaves, and it's so tall. I can't help but look up at it and see the clouds scrolling past.
Q: What one word best describes you as an artist?
Q: What you would do if you didn't make art?
A: I would be a nonfiction writer.
IF YOU GO
What: Solo exhibit of oil paintings by Jennifer Downey
When: Through Aug. 20
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 pm; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 4 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Where: Arrivederci Caf , 11 G St., San Rafael