Jenny Morgan! More Jenny Morgan! Oh my lord is Jenny Morgan awesome. Her work is vibrant and real, her depictions of both women and men feel more like candid photos than paintings, the way the hair is everywhere and the eyes, goddamn she’s good at making the eyes. ALSO her interview is LEGIT. She handles herself with grace, class and soul. Do yourself a favor and read:
Please introduce yourself.
Jenny Morgan. Artist living and working in New York City.
Artistically how did Salt Lake City nurture you? How is your experience in NYC different or similar?
Salt Lake is a small community of people nestled in a beautiful landscape. Things are simple and family oriented. Culturally, the city is a bit intense, but while growing up most of it was under my radar. I moved when I was 18, so my artistic life there was that of a child and young adult which is much different from working to build a career as an adult in a massive city at the center of the art world. The similarities exist only within the friendships I’ve built. What encourages me and inspires me most are the artists I surround myself with and the positive energy I work to cultivate here. The city can swallow you up unless you have a solid foundation around you.
What was your collaboration with David Mramor like? How did working with David push the limits of your own ability? What was it like to collaborate, what did you have to sacrifice? What did you gain?
Collaborating with David was an incredibly rewarding experience. We were classmates in grad school and clicked right away- I adore him and his work even though in a lot of ways we are opposites. He is a very gestural painter and I am obsessed with detail. I would go to David when I was stuck on a piece and he really pushed me to explore past my boundaries. Our first collaboration piece happened in school and a year later my gallery offered us a collab show. Working on the show was exciting and difficult. I would start the piece, make a first layer then hand it off to David- he would add his marks and energy then hand it back. We never knew what the next person would do and that was the interesting part. I learned a lot about his process and must admit that I stole a few things from him- he was a true influence and I credit him with a helping my work evolve.
Which was your favorite piece of that series?
The piece I truely love is “Mother’s Pearls.” It’s a Portrait of the performer Justin Bond. I can see that our process blossomed in this portrait.
What emotion is the girl feeling in “New Territory”? What were you feeling when you painted the piece? What inspired it? What new territory had you encountered or overcome to make you feel like the subject?
“New Territory” is a self-portrait. The piece was a part of show for Plus Gallery in Denver titled “This Too Shall Pass.” I did my undergrad in Denver and lived in the city for 6 years. Plus Gallery started showing my work when I was 21 and before I left in 2006 for New York, I was very involved with the art community. So, this show in 2009 was my come back after moving away. I was in a much different place artistically and personally. With “New Territory” I was feeling nervous about returning as a different person in some ways- showing work that had taken on new qualities, not sure how it would be received.
In “We Are All Setting Suns” how did you achieve the effect you did with the subject’s face at large but most specifically eyes? You seem to have done something similar in both “In” and “Further”, why have you chosen to accentuate the effect on the eyes rather than the mouth or nose?
In those pieces I am playing with blurring the face- just taking a dry brush and pulling paint. It’s an attempt to pull away from the realistic qualities and take the figure somewhere deeper. The affect really shows up in the eyes because of the high concentration of black in pupil. “We Are All Setting Suns” was the first piece I experimented with this idea and so the eyes are the most dramatic- it was exciting to see how the paint reacted. I enjoy disturbing the eyes or slightly covering them in some way. One of my favorite moments in every piece is adding that tiny white dot of highlight to the eyes- it automatically brings life and soul to the person and with the irises of the eye slightly pushed back, the highlight takes on new power.
In many of your pieces the subject’s hands seem to be depicted differently than the body and head. Is there something you are trying to say? As the primary method with which we interact with and connect to the world around us, do you think hands are fundamentally different than the rest of our body? With the rise of technology, hands free devices in particular, voice recognition software and so on, do you think our relationship to and framing of the world will drastically change?
This aspect of my work is interesting to for me to address because I feel so disconnected form it’s meaning. The concept of differentiating the hands from the body started as more of a formal consideration- I wanted to place to different colors/textures up against each other and the hands felt like a natural fit. It started more as a desire to see the visual contrast. But I always give credit to unconscious motivations. I look at what was going on in my personal life when I started using this and I was in a place where I felt I had little control over what was happening to me. I was facing some extremely challenging events and it was all out of my hands. And if you want to talk about technology, I do feel that it’s directly changing how we relate to the world, in very obvious ways. It’s only a matter of time before we no longer even use “devices” and the hardware is built into our biology. We can debate when that may happen, but it’s in the works. It all just becomes part of our culture and we grow with it. I can see that things made by hand and that have organic qualities with become even more valuable was we progress technologically, and that includes painting.
You often favor very vibrant red and orange, what emotions or responses are you hoping to trigger with these colors? What is your personal connection to such colors?
My attraction to red and her analogous colors is so innate that when I try to move away from it and avoid the color it feels so uncomfortable that I end up putting it back in some how. In terms of response, I just want the intensity to resonate. The viewer will have an individual relationship to the color usage, so for me, I just focus on what feels good to paint.
What part of a painting takes the most focus, time or energy? What part do you enjoy painting the most? When you’re done with a piece, how do you know?
The middle stage of every piece is hardest for me to get through. I work in a specific layers- the first layer of skin and background is exciting because it’s the birth of the piece. Then I go through a full second and highly refined layer- this is when I have to really focus and not get distracted in order to finish. My absolute favorite part is the last stage where I go in and play or experiment, which means sanding down through the layers or glazing over or blurring out all the work I just did. Every piece reacts differently to the techniques and often I encounter obstacle that I have to think my way through and it keeps the work intense and interesting for me.
Do you have a ritual, a set approach to crafting a piece? Something outside of the stepwise construction of the art itself?
I’m obsessed with making my own frames for canvases. I know not many people so that anymore, but it’s important for me to be a part of the process the whole way through. If I’m every stuck on a painting, I can just focus on making some more stretcher bars and getting work done that way. It’s a rewarding skill I’m thankful for picking up in undergrad.
Can you name some influences? How have they affected you? What have you learned from them? What have you taken from them? What have you avoided?
Artists such as, Jenny Saville, Kaye Donachie, Glenn Brown. Also two mentors, Irene Delka McCray and Marilyn Minter. Probably the most profound has been my dear friend David Mramor. I have adopted things form each person I feel fit my work and life and avoided only that which makes no sense for me.
Do you think art is complicit in the fetishization and sexualization of women in culture today or do you see it as a counter force? What challenges have you faced, being female, that you may not have encountered as a man? Why do you think the depiction of women as “perfect” are so successful, despite being such an obvious distortion of the truth? Is it lust? Signal strength? Both and more?
I think art is both a fetishization and a counter force- it just depends on whose making and selling it. I certainly face challenges as a female- I think that some powerful dealers can be turned off by “feminine” work or work where the female nude is not just simply sexualized. It’s not so much that I am female, but that the work that comes from me carries notes of female identity, which can be challenging for some. I am certainly not saying that this is pervasive attitude, but I have run into situation where I was made to feel less than because I wasn’t making masculine work. I was literally told to use more blue and less red- which felt less like color theory and more like boy vs. girl. On the subject of perfection, that’s tricky. Even I feel entranced while staring at perfectly structured female body. I love seeing my female friends naked and appreciate their bodies as beautiful images. But, there is a tipping point where the body loses the personal identity and becomes just an object. I think that happens in work like Will Cotton’s- he is lustfully placing gorgeous female nudes in the clouds and coating them with sugar icing. His blatant sexualization of the female is so obvious that it’s not even worth debating; the viewer just accepts it and moves on. So, what’s the harm? The harm is taking away that human aspect of the female nude and debasing her. Art is just an expression of the cultural consciousness and if the feminine is debased here, it’s a signal of a prevailing attitude in the cultural at large. On some level it needs to be continually challenged.
Your art seems crafted to be in many ways, antithetical to that “perfect” archetype, the hair is messy, but natural, with strands flying everywhere, the expressions seem more like candids than posed, the hands a commanding presence. What do you think it says of our culture that your rawness, the reality of your work is the outgroup, not the mean?
The “perfect” archetype must be so deeply rooted within to express itself so profoundly in culture. I ask myself whether I am buying into someone else’s idea of beauty in that photoshopped image or if my initial attraction to it means that on some level I have aided in bringing it to life. I understand how the mean becomes the high standard. We reach for the unattainable and that desire pushes us to grow, whether positively or negatively is the question for the individual consumer. With my work I have always been afraid of that perfection- maybe because I feel art should be challenging in order to be engaging. The work I am most attracted to is often awkward and vulnerable, so I know I strive to emulate that sensation in my viewers. Ultimately, I think that beauty hits us on a range of levels, some surface and other at our core.
What are you working on right now? What’s in the pipeline for you?
I just completed 8 pieces for a solo show at Plus Gallery titled “Kin and Kin” which opens June 1st. Now I am working on a few pieces that will go to a couple different places. I am working on larger canvases and pushing some more abstract ideas.
What is your favorite drink?
A cup of black tea.