The Studio Work interviews Jenifer Kent

May 2015

The Studio Work
by Elise Morris

The work of Jenifer Kent is initially quiet, but once closer, it seems to roar with movement and the flickering potential of something much louder.  They touch on references from tiny to vast, beginnings to ends.  As she says, "I’m so fascinated by the way that an accumulation of simple marks can coalesce into a larger entity.” 

What is your creative process like? How do ideas for new pieces come about? 

I’m always collecting images and ideas, and I’ve been inspired lately by ideas about movement and time. I will often make a lot of sketches in my sketchbook to play around with different marks I want to use. When I’m ready to begin a drawing, I usually just find a starting point and then the drawing grows outward from there in a very organic way until I’ve achieved the form I’m looking for. I’m so fascinated by the way that an accumulation of simple marks can coalesce into a larger entity. I’m interested a lot in opposites like micro/macro, and lately I’ve been thinking about how time moves, and the relationship between speed and stillness… for example, the way that my slow methodical process can turn into a representation of massive growth or speed.  

Your background in printmaking seems to have an important influence on how you approach your work and make marks. Can you tell us more? 

As an undergrad at Rutgers University, I did a lot of intaglio and more recently, after grad school, some drypoint etching. I love both the process of how a print evolves as well as the quality of line produced there. Working with ink has proved more direct for me, but I still use a vocabulary of marks that evolved during many years of working with line in printmaking. I am also inspired by old etchings where you can see such minute detail and repetition of marks. I love to zoom in on a Durer to see the artist’s hand in each mark, and how they come together to create tone and form.

We talked about how nature is a great inspiration for you – does the fact that you live in a place that is surrounded by nature on a working farm inform your work as it evolves? 

Yes, I live on a sheep farm in Petaluma, and I like to hike and backpack as well. Being surrounded by nature and beauty feels very important to me. The stillness and solitude of natural surroundings help me to both find inspiration for new work, and also calm my mind for the kind of drawings I make. I feel like my mind is so busy a lot of the time, and when I lived in a more urban setting, it was hard to know how to calm that energy. In the country, I can drop into a place of quiet much more  quickly. 

The repetitive mark-making of your current work feels meditative – does creating a new piece require a certain concentration or presence? 

When I am developing new ideas, it is very important to me to have silence, spaciousness, and time. Without that, it feels really hard to “hear” my ideas. Once I’m clear on which direction or image is next, then I can work with music or radio, but I need to be very focused because there isn’t a lot of room for mistakes once I commit to a line. 

I also feel like the repetition of marks creates a certain comfort. Gaston Bachelard spoke of a “shelter of habit” and I’ve long been interested in this idea of the comfort of habit or repetition, and how we find a feeling of home through repetition. I don’t have any formal meditation practice, but I certainly feel like my drawing practice requires the same stillness and focus. I am coming back to line again and again, just as I would return to breath in meditation. 

Motherhood and teaching art are both roles that seem to be at the heart of your identity. How do they influence the work that you do, and where do you find balance? 

I often think about how much time I wasted before having a child! I was told that having kids would be the end of my art career, but for me, it has been just the opposite. Because of my family, I now realize how precious every moment is, and I try to work as efficiently as I can, using my studio time in a very intentional way. 

Practically, it can be hard to find balance between teaching, studio time, and family. My husband and daughter are incredibly supportive of my art career and really understand my need for time in the studio. My husband is the one who does all the household chores, and a lot of the traditional “mommy roles”, which allows me to focus on work and be more engaged with my career. 

I also feel like having a child gives you a completely different perspective on the small details of life. Kids just force you to slow down and look at things in such a special way. That has been a real gift for me. 

As a teacher, I feel so inspired by the energy of my students, and teaching drawing helps me keep up my chops in the basic skills that I think are important at any level. I also feel so indebted to the inspiring teachers in my own education, teachers like Lynn Allen, Hung Liu, Ron Nagle… I feel that it is important for artists to give back and mentor younger generations as they move up through their own career, so I try to do that as my own art practice and career grow. 

You’re finishing the work for your upcoming show at Dolby Chadwick Gallery! Tell us all the details, and where else can we see your work? 

Yes, I’m so excited! I am deeply grateful to Dolby Chadwick for all the support they have given me. My show there runs from July 9-August 29th (2015). I also have a small show coming up in Sonoma in August which will be posted on my website, www.jeniferkent.com. You can always see my work and find out what I’m up to there.