By Scott Bailey
Opening Thursday, September 11th at Plus Gallery is Jenny Morgan’s newest series “The Golden Hour.” It is a very exciting time for the former Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design valedictorian: not only is she returning to Denver for a solo show, but she was also recently featured on the cover of Juxtapoz Magazine. Just after the paint had dried on her newest paintings, 1/1 Magazine got the chance to ask her about art, life, and what it means to her to be showing in Denver at such an exciting juncture in her career.
1/1: Denver claims you as their own, tell me about your relationship with Colorado and what it means to be showing at Plus Gallery during such an exciting time in your career?
JM: I moved to Denver from Salt Lake City when I was 18 to attend Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design. Although I wasn’t raised in Colorado, I spent my late teens/early twenties there and had some formative life experiences. RMCAD was very nurturing- at the time I was attending, the school allowed me to sculpt a program that fit my interests. During my senior year I interned for Plus Gallery and that’s where my relationship with Plus began. I have now been working with the gallery for over a decade and every show feels like a special homecoming to a community of artists and collectors who are actively supporting me.
When I think of Denver, the color blue always arises. Denver to me feels fresh, light, clean and clear. I spent most of my time on campus during school; after graduating I became a member of the Pirate Collective. I learned so much from organizing my own shows and having a set deadline to build bodies of work. The last time I visited Denver, I stopped by Pirate to see Justin Beard’s show and the space still smells the same, bringing back a flood of nostalgia. I was also waitressing at California Pizza Kitchen and splitting my time between pizza service and my humble little studio in southeast Denver. The place that still holds the strongest pull for me is St Marks Coffeehouse. I spent countless hours drinking tea and sketching out ideas for future paintings- I still feel a certain spark every time I walk in.
1/1: Tell me about a day of being Jenny Morgan, your life and creative process?
JM: I wake up mid-morning and usually eat breakfast, take care of emails and read for a bit before heading to my studio in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Bushwick is an interesting area- a mix of garage dumps, countless warehouse-turn-studio buildings and trendy shops and restaurants. I’ve been in my current studio for over three years and many of my best friends are blocks away, so we often visit each other’s studios for feedback and group crits. My space has hardwood floors and a wall of windows that allow me observe sunsets and the storms rolling in. As far as daily rituals in the studio, I have to clean my space everyday before setting up my pallet and getting started. I spend 4-10 hours a day at my studio and I try to give myself one day a week off from art in general to clear my brain. When in the studio, I put on headphones and listen to mostly spoken word- I love audiobooks in subjects ranging from dark murder mysteries to esoteric metaphysical content. Breaks are important and I like to take walks over to coffee shops and read or write. Some days I don’t leave the space at all and order in food. Once I feel too exhausted to keep working, I stand in my doorway and stare at the work for a while before turning off the lights and taking the 20-minute train ride home. Once home, I cook and clean and watch TV, nothing too glamorous. I also make time for working out and meditation.
1/1: Do you find critiques / criticism helpful for growing as an artist?
JM: I find critiques super helpful and criticism is helpful when it is meant to be constructive. No one likes to hear negative feedback- it’s always slightly painful and takes time to sink in or just shoots right into that soft bruise and stings. Personally, my broadest and most rewarding growth spurts have been propelled by a critical comment that I couldn’t let go of and that required me to resolve within the work. I find that if a comment bothers you, it’s because it’s a reflection of something true in you- of course this does not transfer to straight up insults or ignorance. There is a difference. I brought up the fact that I received negative feedback early on because it’s common especially among realist and figurative painters. The criticism is often that skill trumps concept and the work can be void of deeper meaning and investigation. It’s up to the individual artist to decide how much truth is in that statement- I felt pushed towards an understanding that I had more personal content within me that was waiting to find expression, so I allowed myself to go outside my comfort zones and experiment. It’s a war I wage within myself constantly- the battle between the criticism of realist fugitive painters and naturally being one. But I am actually thankful for the criticism because this dynamic is what drives much of my work and I am always trying to find a way to resolve the tension.
1/1: When your paintings are done, do they remind you of the subjects you painted or do they take a personality of their own?
JM: When I paint a portrait in a more realistic way, staying truer to the photo reference, the painting reminds me directly of the subject. If I stray from the photo and play with blurring or sanding then the painting takes on more a life of it’s own. It’s pretty straightforward for me- the more improvisation and abstraction I use, the more the painting feels less human and more like something else.
1/1: Tell me about the difference between when you paint a model as opposed to a self-portrait?
JM: Self-portraits are always a place that I feel totally free to explore and even make big mistakes. Since it’s my own body and personality I’m working with, I feel less inclined to preserve or honor anything in particular. With portraits of others in my life, I usually feel a sense of responsibility. I enjoy self-portraits because they often help me work through big things that are occurring in my life, but I get a greater reward from painting others. I work with the people I love because it allows me to spend a certain kind of time with them- I am able to devote myself to them psychically and emotionally for weeks at a time.
1/1: Tell me about the shadow self and your belief in the supernatural and how they manifest in your work?
JM: It’s always hard to answer this question briefly during an interview. The shadow self and the supernatural have the same core connection of occurring on the subtler levels of reality. I am deeply fascinated with consciousness exploration and I am actively seeking a greater understanding to this basic question. The deeper I go within and connect to the more subtle levels, the more my work starts to operate on dimensions deeper than just the physical.
Quick hit questions that can be answered in brief:
1/1: Do you have to suffer for art?
JM: Yes, but only because you can’t get through life without experiencing a bit of suffering. It’s the way of the world that deep transformation follows pain and struggle. I think artists are naturally adept at working through the darkness.
1/1: Do you like our blue demon mustang at the airport?
JM: Yes. It’s so strange, unnerving and a risk for public sculpture. I’m always excited to see it.
1/1: You paint a lot of self-portraits and nudes, are you someone who likes to push outside their comfort zone or are you just extremely comfortable in your skin and with naked people?
JM: Both. I am extremely comfortable with the nudity of others, but every self-portrait is outside of my comfort zone. I have learned to detach and see myself as just another body and reserve judgment.