Jenna Gribbon's paintings will make you want to talk.
The Unlimited talked to Jenna about her "Conversation" Portrait series.
This particular series of people having conversations is meant to capture a very specific moment in time when someone is expressing something or listening intently. I seem to always return to painting people, and I guess it's because there's nothing more interesting to me than the people of a given time, their presence, and their relationship to their world. It's fascinating how a good portrait can approximate something of that presence, and materialize it into something permanent. I think that the people I know are pretty interesting and worth documenting, and that they are at their most beautiful and themselves when they're deeply engaged. I love being in a room with people enlivened by a good conversation. There isn't really anything better. These paintings create something of permanence out of those moments.
Do you paint from life or photos?
I don’t paint the figures from life. It's important that they come from a photo because only a photo can sort of freeze time that way, capture that one specific moment. Otherwise the scene would have to be set up, and that's not what I'm interested in for this work. However the backgrounds are more fantastical and are often painted from life, or completely made up. Whatever is happening around the figure is meant to be a kind of amalgamated version of their interior world and mine, with cues taken from the conversations.
In what way do you give each painting its own character?
I had a goal in this series to paint every single one in a different way, and even within each painting to paint in a few different ways. I do a lot of...a kind of channeling of other artists that I like. It's kind of fun to feel like a sort of medium for all of these people in painting history, and think, Oh, I’m going to paint this part as if this person were painting it and then I’m going to be this person when I paint this part. Of course you are never really that person, and then that's where you find yourself. I think it keeps it fresh in a way because I don't get stuck in this rote delivery of brush strokes. Then the paintings become not only about the conversation the subject is having, but my own conversation with myself about paint.
"I think in order to really paint someone well you have to fall in love with him or her a little bit. It's an act of devotion to paint someone's face. Even in the case of a commission, in order to do it well, I have to develop a sort of emotional attachment to the subject."
What is The Oracle Club?
My boyfriend and I started it three years ago. It is a work space for artists and writers predominantly. We also wanted a place where creative people could go and sit and have a quiet evening and nice conversation, (Which goes back to my interest in good conversation), but be able to sit down and talk to someone and play some records and maybe have a bottle of wine or a cup of coffee without feeling like you’re in some kind of scene-situation or there's music blasting. It doesn’t have to be dinner. It can be people just sitting around. Sometimes people have parties here, and sometimes we have readings, collage class, or concerts, but the day to day is really just a lot of good work happening.
Anyone interested in membership can contact us through our website, and send us an email to tell us who they are and about their interests.
Interview & Photography by Karin Bar
The Oracle Club, 10-41 47th Avenue, Long Island City, NY; 917-519-2594;
go to theoracleclub.com.