Jen Lobo is currently showing at Hellion Gallery. Much of Jen’s work is of the sea, animals, ships, and the ocean, her appreciation for the force and majesty of the ocean can be seen in her work. She took some time to talk to us about her life, her work, and the way artists research and prepare for their work. Check it out”:
Introduce yourself, what part of LA are you from? What was your childhood like?
Originally I’m from San Pedro, a small town along The Port of Los Angeles. It was such a great place to grow up with tide pools, a great little aquarium, ship museums, animal rescues, and beaches. San Pedro is a hidden little gem in Los Angeles. There is so much history and raw beauty, but it somehow manages to stay off the radar a bit. I am really fortunate to have spent my childhood there.
How long have you been a professional artist?
I graduated from college in 2006 and have been exhibiting and doing the occasional illustration job since then.
What kind of research do you do for your pieces? How much do you know about the animals you depict? What about the ships?
The research usually comes about pretty organically. Documentaries, books, nature magazines. I listen to a lot of audio books while I paint. Usually I’m just listening/watching for entertainment. If something really piques my interest or is something new to me, I’ll then delve a little deeper and try to find out more about a certain animal or behavior. I’ll meld that with some human story, sometimes from my own life, sometimes a character from a book or a story I heard on the radio, something that grabs hold of my interest, and I’ll develop a narrative from there.
I do ship research as well, but sometimes my attention span wanes and I may forget an element that a whaling historian would probably notice. I generally attempt to base them on a particular ship if it’s important to the narrative.
That all being said, lately I’ve been veering a little from how I traditionally develop ideas. I’ve been making a lot more of my work reflect my life, painting things that are around me. My recent work has become more personal.
Do you think that understanding the subject is necessary for an artist to render an accurate depiction? Or can too much research be detrimental? Can it alter or inform an artist in a way that robs them of their genuine expression?
I don’t know about other artists, but for myself, I think it’s important to understand my subject. Something comes through that’s hard to put your finger on. As far as technically rendering, it’s a lot easier to paint an animal that I’ve been around and watched move. On the other hand, I can see how not having all the information can be pretty great. I read once that Albrecht Durer’s ‘Rhinoceros’ was made from a written description. He had never actually seen a rhinoceros and that led his imagination to go a little wild. The result is a stellar drawing. I guess it’s problematic that it went on to become what most people considered to be the true scientific depiction of an Indian rhinoceros, but still… There is so much charm in the way people used to view the world. Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled that we live in an age that we know how to immunize against disease and we understand the danger of infection. The information age is great in that we can go type any question into this box and more than likely, an answer will pop up, but something also gets lost. The thrill of the discovery and the figuring out why and the plain naive wrong answers. It reminds me of when my kids were little explaining the whys of the world. Striking the right balance of referencing science without being too technically accurate is important to me. A while back I did a painting series with nebulae. I had heard them referred to as star nurseries and I fell in love with that idea. We have these very technical, complex answers to these cosmic formations, but the simple answer is, this is where stars are born.
Where do you find inspiration? Where do you go to meditate? Are these similar?
Inspiration comes from so many different sources. A conversation with one of my kids, reading an article about an animal behavior that can easily be anthropomorphic, reading about a new science discovery, or something new to me at least. My next series of paintings deals with introvert and extrovert personalities and compares that to predator/prey relationships with animals. The animal portion came about from personal experiences with a group of coyotes in Arizona.
My life is way too chaotic for meditation of the traditional sort. It’s a little embarrassing, but I do my best thinking in the shower. It’s one of the only times in the day when I’m actually alone. I’m also pretty good at getting lost in thought while doing menial tasks like housework.
What about the ocean intrigues you? What about yourself do you see in the ocean? How would you emotionally describe the ocean? How would you describe yourself?
Growing up so close to the ocean, it’s always been a presence in my life. It was our source of entertainment and our concrete lessons about nature. The place we went to be wild. It was also a force to be reckoned with. Stormy seas can be downright scary. Nothing can make you appreciate the force of nature more than terrifyingly large waves. The power of a large body of water is an entity that is hard to describe. It has so much personality. The ocean also holds so much mystery. When we were little, we used to go out on boats and go whale watching. You usually only see their fluke or spray from their blow, but imagining this enormous being in such close proximity is just so damn exciting. We’d also go watch the grunion run. These little silver fish come ashore when the moon is just so to mate on the sand. Hundreds and hundreds of little silver fish wriggling and glittering around on the sand in the moonlight. There’s also a time, during red tide, when crashing waves glow fluorescent. There are so many sea creatures that are mind blowing, too. Anglerfish and the dumbo octopus. The sea life scientists keep discovering in the deepest parts of the ocean seem extraterrestrial. The vast unknowns can keep your imagination soaring for countless hours. There is just so much magic in the ocean. It is such an endless source of inspiration. That being said, I think most of my new work has moved away from including the ocean. I have such a curiosity exploring this new place I’m in. The forests and unique flora of the Pacific Northwest. We are also moving to a property on Sauvie Island, which is this little slice of paradise in the northern part of Portland. The island is part wildlife area and part farmland. I have a sneaking suspicion it will influence future subjects.
Anything I describe about myself, you’d have to completely dismiss on account of the source, but I hope that I’m someone who keeps a curiosity about everything.
What pieces are you showing at Hellion Gallery? Have you shown there before? Where else have you shown? What has been a hard leaned lesson for you showing with galleries?
The pieces at Hellion Gallery are all inspired by the last couple years of my life, that have been spent in transition from California to Arizona to Oregon. The inspiration for the pieces were the plant life and environments of the three places. The reference came from a collection of photographs I took along the way. The main subject is our tortoise, Rosie, who made the trek with us. Tortoises are such a perfect metaphor for transient life, carrying only what’s important. I also made plant installations to accompany the paintings, some with clippings from my gardens in all three places. A garden is confidence in the future and a signifier of permanence. I love plants and living in one temporary situation after another, it was one thing that I had to figure out how to enjoy without letting things truly take root. The botanical element came from those ideas.
This was my first time showing at the actual gallery in Portland. Matt has shown some of my work in group shows for Hellion in Tokyo and in 2007, I showed with him when he curated at Compound Gallery.
I’ve shown mostly around Los Angeles. My last show before I left was with Thinkspace. I’ve also done a lot of group shows. I’ve shown in New Orleans with The Shop and Tresor Gallery. My next show will be with Outre Gallery in Australia.
Gallery work can be quite demanding. I don’t know if it’s just indicative of the internet age we are in, but everything is so fast paced and geared towards consumption. I’ve found that when I take my time, it feels like starting over. Any momentum you’ve built as an artist dissipates rapidly. It also feels a little like we’re branded, maybe another symptom of today’s society. It’s hard to explore and evolve as an artist when people expect something specific from you. At the end of the day, I’m grateful that anyone pays attention at all, but it is not without it’s challenges.
What are you working on now? What is your dream project? What would it take to realize it? What’s next for you?
Right now I’m working on my show with Outre Gallery. This will be my first large body of work being shown internationally so I’m really looking forward to it. It deals with the predator/prey theme I mentioned.
My dream would be to work large scale, huge scale in fact, like 6 feet by 8 feet, but still rendered with the same detail as my small work. I would just need to freeze time in order to make that a reality. One painting would take me, oh….about 6 years. I’m also really interested in exploring with different mediums. When we lived in Arizona, we raised a few sheep and I have become slightly obsessive about shepherding and researching sheep breeds and wool. There is such an interesting story in the history of agriculture and taming and using animals for our benefit. I’d love to spin my own wool and from it, weave some incredibly detailed tapestries. Again, very large scale and with the same attention as I give my paintings. All I need is buckets and buckets of time….