One hour from the mountains in the central city, adjacent to Auckland’s lively and iconic Queen Street, is a stylishly understated lane and home to our latest store - High Street. And we're so excited to have Jen’s painting embellishing the walls and adding a touch of local creativity. We sat down with Jen and found out about life as a multidisciplinary creative, how place inspires her practice and the importance of individuality.
What does an average day look like for you?
I would absolutely love to say that I spend my hours in a sun-drenched studio with my paints and canvas, but the reality is a little more practical. I spend most weekdays at my day job as a graphic designer, which I think has had a profound effect on my work. I've learned to see my paintings as layouts and to think in terms of shape and colour, and tone of voice. After I work, I make the long commute home to my house in the hills, spend a few hours having dinner and wrangling a three-year-old to bed, then I settle down to do my art. Sometimes that means answering emails about commissions, sometimes it means sketching, planning or painting. On the weekends, I get a few hours each day to really settle into a few hours of solid painting in my sun-drenched studio, and it's amazing.
Tell me a little bit about how you got to where you are now. Have you always been a painter?
I've always wanted to be an artist, as a child I drew obsessively, and as I grew up I fell in love with paint. I did a few years of a fine arts degree and decided to switch to a graphic design course to be practical. I've painted on and off sporadically, but only really got back into it about two years ago – on a Friday afternoon, when I was overcome by inspiration and gathered up a sheet of ply and some leftover house paint to make a painting. I haven't stopped since, I feel like I've been making up for lost time.
Where did you live before you moved to the foothills of the Waitakere Mountains? Does place and your surroundings inform your practice?
It certainly informs it, and in this case, it completely inspired it. Just before we moved into our house I was in a little suburban bungalow. When we moved I was so inspired by my surroundings... and I'm pretty sure that's why I picked up my brushes again. I also grew up in South Africa and have lived in Mexico and Indonesia, and I think my multicultural view of the world has influenced my work.
What do individuality and self-expression mean to you?
I feel like this is a question I deal with daily. I'm constantly checking myself to make sure that I'm expressing my own truth, not a version of someone else's. I think that the ability to express myself is such a blessing, and such a joy.
As well as your abstract forms, you also paint vibrant portraits of women. They're very expressive and their 'personalities' really shine through! Do you create unique identities for the subjects of your works? Or are they inspired by any particular women?
Thank you! My queens (as I like to call them) are usually a mix of a few faces, with a bit of creative license added for good measure. I spend a lot of time looking at faces, in life and online. I love trying to figure out exactly what it is that makes a face look strong – or where it's personality comes from – so I try my best to capture that.
What piece of advice would you give to those hoping to make their art into a career?
Dive into it immediately! Seriously. I've found the world to be a lot more receptive to my art than I ever would have dreamed in art school. Take chances, be brave, and just keep creating as much as you can, and showing it to as many people as you can find. (which is easy with magical tools like Instagram!). Use good paint. Good quality paint can make all the difference. And read two books 1. 'Big Magic' by Elizabeth Gilbert and 2. 'Art Inc.' by Lisa Congdon.
What books/movies/activities are inspiring you at the moment?
Mindfulness is a must have for a busy creative mind. I'm also busy with 'The Book of Joy' – by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu. I read it slowly, because by the end of the day I'm shattered. But it's such a gem of a book.
Other than painting our High Street store, do you have any exciting projects coming up?
I do! I'm busy writing and illustrating (painting) a book. And I'm working on expanding my art into more textile and surface design – so on the lookout for collaborations! Other than that, I'm keeping up with commissions and always trying to develop my style.