The meticulously intricate work of artist and illustrator Jenna Andersen is filled with mysterious uncertainty and often gives rise to auras of tension and disquietude. This comes as no real surprise, as Andersen’s narratives focus heavily on concepts surrounding loneliness, mortality and the unresolved life. Her symbolically driven explorations feature recurring motifs and characters, and many of these bring their clear associations with, and connotations of death and the afterlife. While others, including her often faceless protagonists, carry a marked ambiguity, further advancing feelings of unrest. Ultimately, it is the natural landscape and its abundance of entwined and grasping organic lifeforms that controls the overall mood and direction of Andersen’s imagery; in turn, creating the largest character of all, and reminding us to beware of the power our surroundings can have, both on our development and our identities.
Jenna Andersen is an artist, illustrator, and designer based in Williamsburg, Virginia. In 2015 she graduated from VCU with a BFA in Communication Arts. Since leaving university she has exhibited her work in numerous galleries, including, Helikon Gallery, Light Grey Art Lab and Gallery 5. She has also had her art featured by prominent New Contemporary Art publications and blogs, such as, Hi-Fructose, Booooooom and Supersonic Art.
WOW x WOW is very honoured to have a brand-new Jenna Andersen creation in our current group exhibition of square artworks: WOW². ‘Two of a Kind’ explores another of Jenna’s intriguing narratives, beautifully brought to life by her fantastic linework. We hope you enjoy the following exclusive interview with the artist herself, in which she discusses life, inspirations and the act of creating.
Hi Jenna, thanks very much for making the time to have a chat, we really appreciate it. To get us started, can you give us some background on what has lead you to this point in your professional life, be it your formal training, hard work, serendipity, etc.?
Hi! Thanks for having me! I graduated college in 2015 with a Bachelor of Fine Art in Communication Art, which encompasses a lot of disciplines like illustration, graphic design, photography, etc. After graduating, is when I started to create work that felt like ‘me’, although I struggled for a while doing many different pieces in different media with different subject matter. Then one day I went walking around Yorktown Beach in Yorktown,VA and was struck with inspiration for my piece ‘Hideout’, when I saw a wonderfully weird natural structure made from intertwined rope-like plants. I immediately knew what I wanted to draw, which paper I wanted to use (Grey BFK Rives,) and the pen I wanted to use to draw it (the Rapidograph .35). This was a couple of weeks before Christmas, so I had to ask my Mom if I could have the Rapidograph I asked for early, because I just couldn’t wait to draw it! I have mainly been using this setup since to create works that more-or-less fit into the same ‘world’.
In what ways did your childhood and upbringing affect your relationship with the arts?
I have always loved art and always took art classes in school if I could. In high school I was very lucky to have very supportive art teachers; and my parents have always been very supportive of anything creative that I have wanted to do as well.
We are very honoured to have you participating in our ‘WOW²’ show. Your piece is entitled ‘Two of a Kind’ and revolves around a wonderfully intriguing narrative. We’d love for you to give us a little background on the piece. What were your inspirations and how does this image fit into your larger body of work?
This piece came about like many other pieces of mine- on my walks around town I am always looking for the most interesting formations, and could not pass up this fence being interrupted so forcefully by this tree! As the show is about square works of art, I thought it would make an interesting symmetry if the tree cut the picture in half. As far as the characters that inhabit this space, I don’t know who they are, or what their relationship is. Does this piece take place on this Earth? I don’t know. My pieces are as much a mystery to me as they are to the viewer.
As both an illustrator and a fine artist, do you compartmentalize these as two separate aspects of your creative output, or do you feel that these terms are redundant and that the word ‘artist’ sufficiently encompasses what you do? What are your thoughts?
I definitely think that illustration and fine art need not be differentiated in terms of value. The only difference is in their function- illustration usually accompanying something like an article or story, while fine art is more intrinsically for itself. One is not better than the other.
What gives you the impetus to sit down and pick up a pen or a paint brush? Do you only work when you have an idea or a deadline to meet, or do you start working and let your images unfold in a more organic way? How does the creative process work for you?
Drawing and painting are things that I feel compelled to do, which is why I have decided to make it my main endeavor in life. As far as ideas go- sometimes they come in a random flash of inspiration and I know exactly what I want to make. Other times, I have a lot of trouble coming up with an idea and I have to really drudge something up from the depths of my mind. Either way, I always have something I am working on, whether it is a full-fledged drawing or just sketchbook work. Many times I will not even have a full idea, rather just a general photographic reference of a landscape and build the drawing around it, not knowing exactly how it’s going to end up. It has been nice to have the freedom to do this since graduating college, because at least in the program I was in, we had to show exactly what we were going to make before starting and follow through with it. I would have never been able to get away with going blind into a piece like I do now!
Being a visual artist, can you shed some light on some of the most important inspirations and influences on your work that aren’t visual?
Hmm.. this is a tough one as I now realize most of my inspirations are visual! My favorite musical artist right now is Bastille. My piece ‘Void’ was directly inspired from their song ‘Snakes’. I love to read and will read books of most genres, but I especially like authors like H.G. Wells and Stephen King.
What has been the most exciting life and impact you have you witnessed any of your art take on once it has left confines of your studio? What kind of feelings do you have about letting your creations go and live their own lives in the big wide world?
I have had a few runs of patches made, one of them drawn directly from one of my pieces. I like knowing that somewhere right now there might be someone wearing my art on them! I have absolutely no qualms about letting my pieces go, either to galleries or their new owners. A drawing still with the original artist is like how a brand new pristine book looks nice, but a really torn up, dog eared book has actually been enjoyed to the fullest. I would love to not have any of my originals in my possession for that reason!
Would you describe your art as a form of escapism? Either for yourself or for others. What do you hope that a viewer takes from your artwork?
I wouldn’t say my art is a form of escapism – I would say quite the opposite actually. I have lived in the same house in the same area for over 19 years. I have not stepped foot out of the state of Virginia in over 7 years. My work, whose landscape is ripped directly from the landscape around me, is about imparting onto the viewer the sense of ‘limbo’ that I feel personally. It feels like I will stay here forever and can’t find a way out. I show characters alone or just a couple at a time, and usually hide their faces purposefully. I am stuck in this place and cannot see a way to leave in the foreseeable future. Like many other ‘Millennials’ I have not had any luck in the job market and haven’t had much traction in selling my artwork… yet. If I ever do find myself in a different situation, my work will probably reflect that change in some way.
What would be the greatest compliment you could ever receive about your work?
My favorite thing to see is when someone writes a passage about my work, or in another way interprets it artistically. It’s so cool to see that something I made triggered a reaction in someone else.
In order to get a better understanding of the personality of an artist, it can help to get a peek behind the curtain. Would you be willing to share a story from your own life, possibly one who’s memory you find yourself returning to for inspiration, or maybe just a tale about a hardship you’ve overcome which has helped define the person and therefore artist that you are now?
As a young child, around 4 years old, one of my friends of my same age died in a house fire. While I was not present to witness the fire, having my first run-in with death be as a child and of someone my same age may have essentially shaped the way I view death and mortality. I definitely didn’t fully grasp the gravity and reality of the situation at the time, but it has been in the back of my mind ever since. Much of my work revolves around symbols of death such as vultures and ghosts, or in some way alludes to it.
If you could own one piece of art from any of the world’s collections what would it be and why?
Anything by James Jean! He is truly a modern master.
What’s next for Jenna Andersen?
Who knows! I am excited to see what opportunities await me and how my art will grow.