There exists an approach to art criticism among patrons that is annoyingly pervasive. You’ll hear it everywhere, from the tiny lowbrow gallery to the highest-minded Modern Art museum. I remember overhearing it at the Norton Simon when I was 7, and I thought it was a pretty stupid thing to say then. It goes like this…”I could do that”. Of course, if you’ve ever uttered that statement out loud then you’re probably not reading this anyway. Art just isn’t something you care about. But on the off chance that one of you armchair neophytes is listening, let me be the first to say, NO, you couldn’t do that, and more importantly, you didn’t. You have to have an idea. It doesn’t even matter what it is. Whether it’s Rothko’s enormous orange blob or Richard Tuttle’s bent wire on wood. You have to have an idea first.
I mention this because when I look at Jennifer J. Jelenski’s paintings, I find myself deconstructing them in my head. I try to figure out each stage of her process, from the initial drawing, to the complex layout, to the color triads, to the intricate line work and I always come to the same conclusion. I couldn’t do this. Not a chance. There’s a very unique brain, functioning at a very high level here.
At first blush, Jelenski’s paintings can be deceptively cute, as they are peppered with bunnies, bats, and a myriad of other creatures, but they are frequently armed with knives, or grenades. Some are wearing gas masks, standing in the eye of a toxic apocalypse. Jennifer told me a couple of months ago that she intends the critters to invoke “warm fuzzies”, and trigger some innate compassion within us. She’s tricking us into a higher consciousness.
Her work clearly draws from the mystic well of Tibetan art. Whirling Mandalas abound. Most of the paintings are alive with motion, yet still and meditative. It’s no surprise then that Jennifer is an avid practitioner of Yoga. This yields to a larger theme, that of balance. A constant search for the center permeates her art. No matter how packed with imagery any given painting may be, there is never a hint of clutter. That applies right down to her use of color. It would be easy for her, since she uses a solid application, to just use the paint right out of the tube, but instead she painstakingly mixes everything and then does little test paintings until she reaches the exact tonalities she wants. The end result being an arrangement of color notes bouncing harmonic signals off one another. It’s a balance thing. She’s performing a high wire act, where one wrong move could bring the whole circus tent toppling down on us. Yet, she never tilts, never shakes, and never falters. Her art, for all its Buddhist echoes, is a mantra unto itself. Hers are singular works that won’t be confused with any other artist. They won’t be defined by any genre, or trend. Her paintings provide solace in a cynical world. Each one is deep breath taken, held, and exhaled.
And Damn, I wish I could do that.
Written by Keith Ross Dugas