Q+Art: Jennifer Small Turns Everyday Routine Into Mesmerizing Fluorescent Paintings
Philadelphia-based artist Jennifer Small reinterprets the tedium of everyday life as mesmerizing fluorescent paintings. Intended to illustrate an ordinary day in the life of the artist, these striking studies elevate the mundane moments in our lives to awe-inspiring heights.
Small’s process begins with a camera, which she uses to document her immediate surroundings on an ordinary day. To convey an entire day’s journey at once, Small assembles her photos into a collage before simplifying the patterns and forms with brightly colored paint. The artist’s paintings, initially abstract in appearance, track her route from diner windows to tennis courts, from park benches to sewer grates, and from playground caution tape to an urban garden. Her emphasis on form creates a flattening effect, compressing both time and space into a shallow depth of field. “I see curious formal elements in common things,” she writes in her artist statement, “waiting to be manipulated and transformed into abstract compositions.”
Small’s process strips her environment of identifying labels, allowing pure color and shape to shine through. Using her graphic design background, Small creates a network of clean lines and bold shapes that trace her footsteps, and map an otherwise forgettable day into memory. A typical walk to a lake becomes a personal triumph, a story of heightened awareness and appreciation for the compounding effects of time.
In Today’s Q+Art Interview…
Jennifer Small discusses elevating the mundane, how to avoid “fussy” painting, and adapting her work to the end of the pandemic.
Which books, fiction or nonfiction, belong on every artist’s shelf?
Jennifer Small: Creative Block, Vitamin P2, Chromophobia.
If you could have dinner with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?
JS: Georgia O'Keeffe.
What are you trying to express with your art?
JS: My goal is to elevate everyday, mundane environments through formal abstraction in order to tell my personal story of time and place, but also heighten the viewers to awareness and appreciation of their daily, overlooked surroundings.
Do you prefer New York- or Chicago-style pizza?
JS: While I used to live in Chicago and love the city, I prefer New York-style pizza.
What person has most influenced your work?
JS: It's not a person, but my environment has influenced my work the most.
What do you consider your greatest artistic achievement?
JS: My greatest artistic achievement is continuing to create work that challenges me and that I am proud of.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
JS: The best advice I ever received was from a professor in grad school, to avoid getting too fussy or precious with a painting, was to tape my brush to the end of a yard stick and paint from a greater distance and with less control.
Is a formal arts education worth the money?
JS: For me it was because I was able to take the time to develop my voice as an artist in a positive environment among a talented and supportive network of colleagues and instructors.
What is one thing you would like to change about the art world?
JS: I would make the representation of female artists equal to male artists.
What are you listening to in the studio right now?
JS: I am listening to the Art for Your Ear podcast with Danielle Krysa (The Jealous Curator).
How do you think the coronavirus pandemic will impact the art world in the long term?
JS: I think the pandemic has opened up the art world to the power of virtual events, e-commerce, and the increased reach that results in audiences viewing art online.
What are you working on that you’re excited about right now?
JS: I am working on a new body of work that explores the contrasts of being inside and getting outside as the seasons change and the process of ending the pandemic is beginning with the vaccine rollout.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist.
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