In preparation for her upcoming show at the little gallery, Polecat Communications asked artist Jennifer Radil to answer 5 questions about how and why she makes art.
Read her responses below, then plan to attend “the abstract cartographer: paintings on paper and wood” March 4 through April 29. The opening reception is Friday, March 4, from 6:00 to 9:00pm at 5917 Maple in downtown Benson. Make sure to talk a walk through Jennifer’s pop-up shop at 5915 Maple on March 4 – enter through the little gallery.
Q: When did you know you were going to be an artist?
I’ve always been a maker. But it’s only in the last three years that I knew I wanted to be an artist and could own that title. It took losing my job to open me up to the possibility. I had been working as the art therapist at Uta Halee Girls Village and Cooper Village for Boys. While I found fulfillment in facilitating creative experiences for others while there, I did very little of my own art making. The organizations closed their doors approximately five years ago and as I considered my next professional move, Tim Barry, manager of the Hot Shops, encouraged me to devote time and energy to my own work. I started renting a studio there in 2012, and it felt like a real leap at the time. What if I had time and space to create and no ideas, I wondered? Would my artwork appeal to people? In retrospect, I know I needn’t have worried about the first question. When I was fortunate enough to be commissioned to do a large painting for the dining room of an Omaha restaurant, I thought, okay. This is really happening. Someone appreciates my work enough to install a piece in their business. I hate to admit that audience and validation play a key role in my committing to a studio practice but, at the end of the day, it goes a long way in motivating me.
Q: Describe your process.
My process is a dance between structure and spontaneity. Typically, I begin with an outline – the outline of a state, for instance, and draw in the major rivers (structure). From there I look at hydrology or physical maps of the place. These give me ideas about how I might divide the interior of the state or what colors I feel best represent it. From that point on, however, I set them aside. The map is an artist’s interpretation, after all – not a factual representation of anything – so I insert a patch of spring green acrylic here, a coiled bit of string there (spontaneity). The piece slowly assembles itself. Design decisions are made based on preceding ones, rather than an initial mental image of a finished piece. I never stick to a single medium, and I especially relish inserting bits of vintage maps and texts into painted works.
Q: Where do you find inspiration?
Layering materials is a key part of my process. Inspiration comes from geological formations like the Badlands of western Nebraska and South Dakota, whose exposed sedimentary layers show the effects of water and wind over millions of years; or interiors, where layers of wallpaper each tell a story about a space’s former inhabitants. Vintage materials like books, leather and fabrics connect me to the legacy of artists and makers who created them, reminding me that the present will one day be past. Regarding influential artists, I am most smitten with Joseph Cornell’s boxed assemblages created with found objects, which I first saw at the Art Institute of Chicago while in graduate school; and the postcard collages of fiber-turned-mixed-media artist Lenore Tawney. Pictured: Joseph Cornell, Untitled (Celestial Navigation), 1958
Q: Name the 3 most important things in your studio space.
The three most important things in my studio space are my adjustable height, eight-foot wide drawing table that, as a wheelchair user, enables me to take on large pieces and access them from a variety of angles; the incredibly bright fluorescent lights installed in 2014 that are reputed to mimic natural light better than any others and therefore almost, almost, make up for the lack of windows; and the collection of old books and maps that range in copyright from 1927 to 1974 and provide endless source materials for works on paper and wood.
Q: What do you want others to know about you/your work?
I want my work to invite people to look closer, to make them wonder what the surface feels like and how it was created. I want them to see pieces that, while influenced by earlier artists, maps, and the natural history of places, still feel new or fresh somehow to the viewer. It’s not so much what I want people to know about me or my paintings – it’s how I want to make them feel.