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Jenny Day interviewed by Frank Juarez Gallery

Briefly describe the work you do. 


Recently I have been working on Nearly Somewhere, a series of paintings using acrylic paint, spray paint, ink, crayon, pencil and collage. With this body of work I seek to reconcile our romantic notion of the environment with the way that the landscape is unavoidably fragmented and eroded through its conceptualization and use. Merging images of landscapes, horizon lines, cities, highways, water canals, and other forms of human infrastructure, the work explores concepts of place, space, utopia and dystopia.


Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.


With a background in Environmental Studies, my paintings discuss how the fractured landscape, once altered, reconstructs itself. Influenced by resource extraction, architecture, and our need to document our effect on nature, the work investigates the construction of our relationship to land, water, and the built environment. The scientific framework of thinking, questioning and searching directly translates into my artistic practice as a way of creating, problem solving and conceptualizing in painting.


The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”


I begin with gathering found images, photos of places I have been, pieces of colorful trash and film stills. I fill my studio walls with these pieces of information that hold some type of meaning. From there I edit, gluing things together, cutting and pasting, dripping paint and drawing over, until a pattern or particular image stands out. I move to canvas, pouring ink, sanding, scrubbing, inserting paper and ripping it out to create a hierarchy of surface. At some point I begin to see something in the canvas that resonates with the image wall, and go back to a source photo. The final object is always a departure from my original idea.


My studio time is routine. Alone in one room for most of the day, I start at the same time, sweep, put on my apron and turn up the music. Art supplies are organized by color and type. Brushes are cleaned at the end of the day. When I am stuck on a painting I sit and map it out in thumbnails or knit, keeping my hands busy while I problem solve. This order helps to balance out the chaos of my artistic process.


What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?


My initial vision of an artist was someone who was in the studio all day making things. Now I understand that for me being an artist also involves business, promotional, writing and social skills.


When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?


The best time for me is between 6-10 am and then again around 4-8 pm. My goal is to spend at least 40 hours a week in the studio.


How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?


In the past five years I moved from Fairbanks, Alaska to Tucson, Arizona and then to Santa Fe, New Mexico. I finished a BFA in Alaska and an MFA in Arizona. These changes in education, landscape, and community drastically affected my work. Before graduate school I painted surreal situations and relationships between people using watered down paint on canvas. Now I paint abstracted landscapes using mixed media. I still work with acrylics and canvas, enjoy using a colorful palette, and am intrigued with concepts of reality and illusion. One of the biggest changes over the last decade in my artistic practice is that now I see that every hour spent in the studio is important, that some days you just show up and see what happens.


How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?


Before we moved to the Lower 48 from Alaska we took a year, lived in a van and drove around the United States exploring art scenes, museums and different landscapes. The ability to see actual art objects, as opposed to something online or printed and visually deconstruct how something is made was invaluable. In the fall we are planning on visiting Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. I am very curious to see how my work will change after visiting communities and landscapes so different from my experiences in the United States.


Connecting with artwork that departed from my original ideas of the picture plane and the environment such as Andrea Zittel, Annie Lapin, Lisa Sanditz and Jim Gaylord has helped me to push my own artistic process both formally and conceptually. Reading cultural geographer Yi Fu Tuan’s Topophilia and French philosopher Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space, radically altered my ideas of landscape and our place in it. My favorite authors include Rick Bass, Colum McCann, Annie Proulx, and Cormac McCarthy. Their ability to capture the multiplicity and specific memory of a place often inspires me to experiment with my own interpretations of landscape and memory.


Some of my biggest influences in realizing my work are my family, friends, mentors and husband. Having a network of people who question, challenge and support me to create art has allowed me to set aside the time to paint and to process some the difficulties of being a working artist.


Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?


Before I committed fulltime to painting I was a horticulturist and an environmental educator. Some of my interests include raising chickens, knitting, camping and baking pie.


Jenny Day was raised in the Sierra Nevada Foothills of California, where she developed an appreciation for transitional landscapes. She draws inspiration from many of the environments she has lived in including the interior of Alaska and the San Juan Islands in Washington. She paints a fragmented space, examining human demand and the effects of environmental degradation on an understanding of place. Her work presents landscapes that address the unstable balance of order and disorder, nature and culture.


Day has exhibited nationally in group and solo exhibitions in galleries and museums including: Center for Contemporary Art (Santa Fe, NM), Zhou B. Art Center (Chicago, IL), University of Alaska Fairbanks (Fairbanks, AK), Ciao Gallery (Jackson, WY), Davis Dominguez Gallery, Tucson Museum of Art, University of Arizona Museum, Process Museum, South West School of Visual Arts, Porter Hall Gallery, University of Arizona Lionel Rombach Gallery (Tucson, AZ) and the Shemmer Museum (Phoenix, AZ).


She earned an MFA in Painting and Drawing from the University of Arizona in Tucson, a BFA in Painting from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and a BA in Environmental Studies from the University of California Santa Cruz.  Most recently Day has spent time at a number of artist residencies including Playa (OR), Jentel (WY) and Ucross (WY). Day divides her time between Santa Fe, New Mexico and Tucson, Arizona.


Written by Matt Kish