Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Tranquility Amidst Chaos: An Interview with Kathleen Jacobs

Kathleen Jacobs is a Cape Cod artist who paints self-described "reconstructed landscapes." Her process is rooted in a sense of place, but it also engages a sense of time... In her work, the natural world is ever-changing (and, significantly, understood to be diminishing), and her painting process reflects this.

Kathleen Jacobs, Herring River, 48 x 48 in o-linen
Jacobs paints by "layering, editing, deciphering," and rebuilding - intuitively taking apart and recombining the elements of a landscape she understands to be in flux: "tranquility amidst chaos, and order within randomness.... my compositions have evolved to become reconstructed landscapes...memories or placeholders that investigate the orderly natural forms that are around us."

Her work will be on display through October at the Kendall Gallery in Wellfleet, Mass., which exhibited a selection of her new larger-format work this summer in a show titled, "Reconstructed Landscapes – A Reconsideration of Nature."

Kathleen Jacobs, Marsh Pods, 2013
Born in St. Louis, Jacobs spent most of her childhood in Western Mass. and many summers in Wellfleet on the Cape. She moved there a year ago last May to become the marketing and events coordinator at the Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill

CV: Your work, as I understand it, is explicitly tied to the process of perception isn't it? What is the relationship for you between painting and perception? 

KJ: Observation is the beginning for my intuitive exploration in my current painting process. In my work I record my response to the rapidly changing landscape that I've watched diminish and transform.  Land, sky, trees and water...in the landscape there is a natural order.  

I search for balance among imbalance, tranquility amidst chaos, and order within randomness, layering, editing, deciphering --- reorganizing and reconstructing - my compositions have evolved to become reconstructed landscapes...memories or placeholders that investigate the orderly natural forms that are around us. Shapes of saturated color next to tonally mixed neutrals mimic the tranquility and beauty that nature displays for me.  

My paintings are simplified images, distilled compositions that are my response to nature’s rhythmic grace, where nothing remains fixed. Whether because of on going real estate development or change due to natural causes as tides erode shorelines, the landscape is always in flux. And since our relationship with the environment is integral to our survival, it makes sense that the alarming threats to our environment today contribute to my insistent need to reconnect, decipher and revere the natural world that still exists.

CV: What educational experiences, mentors, or influences played an important role in your development?

KJ: I attended the University of Massachusetts where I received a BFA in Painting and Art History. I received a full scholarship to attend the University and worked with artist Richard Yarde,  an amazing painter- primarily a water-colorist and a man with enormous integrity.  Sadly he just recently passed away, but when we worked together he instilled in me to work from what I know and to put in the time needed to discover my own process of working.

I had a very supportive learning experience at UMASS from all of my professors including painters Michael Coblyn, Hanlyn Davies and I worked with Robert Sweeney at Amherst College. I earned my Masters in Fine Art in Visual Arts and Painting from the Art Institute of Boston, Lesley University and worked with Rick Fox, Katy Schneider, Maureen Gallace, Stuart Steck and Barry Schwabsky. Rick Fox taught me to trust myself and helped me to realize that it's a matter of trusting in the process that allows for unexpected things to happen.


CV: You're making larger paintings now - what was your process in getting there?

KJ: I worked with Maureen Gallace, who is the Painting Chair at New York University and was recently in the Whitney Bienniel. Prior to her influence I was working entirely outside, from life.  She asked me to question and completely reconsider my process.  I started making paintings from the work I do outside and that opened up my work completely. 

I worked primarily on a small scale in order to concisely think about structure and composition of a painting.  I've since started to work on a much larger scale, such as 48" x 48" - using larger brushes and more paint.  I like the feedom of working with my entire arm while painting and realized it's just a matter of scale in terms of size...the same things apply to make a painting whether it's small or big, the challenge is the same.

Kathleen Jacobs, Cahoon's Edge, 10" x 10," oil on birch panel.

CV:  Can you say a few words about what you are working on now and where you're headed in the near future?

KJ: As I progress with my work now, I want to continue to make larger works from my paintings that are pushed to a greater point of distillation, as in Cahoon’s Edge. I am reducing my compositions to eliminate any obvious signs of a tree, field or horizon line. In doing this, I am exploring whether it is important for me to keep a trace of the landscape- is it needed because of the meaning it holds for me?  I am also exploring how important it is for me to retain a clear sense of structure and form within my paintings.  I am influenced by so many painters including Matisse, Richard Diebenkorn, Agnes Martin, and the concepts behind Luc Tuymans' work have made me realize it's important for me to try and convey something more than just form and structure --- I work with the hope that others will take away much more meaning from my work.     
  
Kathleen Jacobs, Hamblin Hollow, 6"x6," oil on birch panel

Hamblin Hollow - (a place near my home) exemplifies my exploration of the divide between representation and abstraction, and somewhat symbolic of how we all traverse that boundary between our connection and disconnection with the natural world.

At this point, painting the landscape directly from life would be difficult to abandon for many reasons. In the spirit of the Romantic artists and philosophers, in nature I experience the sublime, a self-forgetfulness and sense of well-being in the presence of something extraordinary, and incomprehensible.

In Hamblin Hollow, the imbalanced structure of the composition of simplified shapes, rendered in soft, closely related values are meant to be calming, as in my previous work. With extremely simplified bands of color indicating ground and sky, the painting is still a landscape, but is void of green, with an angular object in the foreground left vaguely described. There is no indication of a light source.

After many months developing and analyzing my landscape painting, I can say with confidence that I am not just interested in painting pretty pictures. The concepts behind my paintings are complex and numerous. As I paint outdoors, even now with the understanding that my ability to truly experience "untouched nature" is impossible and the natural world is becoming more bleak, I am still grateful for what does still exist, for what is natural, for what is not created by humans but by a force beyond our understanding. When I paint outdoors, my curiosity is fed. And I feel hopeful, as did Thoreau:

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.‎" (Walden 87)

2 comments: