Jenna Gribbon is a painter whose works are often tinged with a large dose of intimacy. Thinking about the ways in which we look at one another, she reconsiders the role of the voyeur. In her most recent exhibition The Artist Eroticized at Tennis Elbow at the Journal Gallery, she depicted contemporary artists including Chloe Wise, Dominique Fung, Devon Shimoyama and many other big names in their studios, reframing them from artists to subjects. Often creating works that feel both intimate and personal to her, Jenna’s work conveys a sense of tenderness and care. We spoke to Jenna about her recent works, intimacy and her advice for young women wanting to make careers as artists.
When did you first know you wanted to be an artist?
It was the first thing I was able to imagine for my adult self. Maybe around 5?
Can you tell us what it was like painting all the artists featured in your recent exhibition The Artist Eroticized?
They are all painters I admire, most of them are friends, and I have to say they were some of the most pleasurable paintings I’ve made. I think all of them knew what I was getting at right away. The paintings are meant to simultaneously celebrate these artists, and to highlight the art audience’s voyeuristic fixation on images of the artist in the studio and consumption of identities. When I paint portraits though I get caught up in the empathetic experience of connecting with the humanity of the person. In this case there was the compelling vulnerability of an expression of sexuality that I had been entrusted with. My hope is that the complexity of that dynamic, one of trust and empathy between the subject and I, and of criticality between the viewer and I, is what makes those paintings interesting.
Your work is often described as intimate, would you agree? Is that deliberate?
I think a lot about how to make the paint convey the looking. One of the aspects of my own looking that I focus on is an intimate point of access, what I can see that no one else could. So yes it’s intentional, but not all of the work is focused on an intimate point of access, and it’s often only one layer of what the painting aims to do.
Who or what inspires you?
This is too big of a question to really answer, but I’ll say that music and films have gotten me out of many idea ruts, and I frequently consult my art book library when I need to remember why I love painting. Also, as I’m sure you can tell from looking at my work I’m inspired by observing my girlfriend moving around in the space we share.
You have exhibitions coming up in New York and London, what will you be showing?
In April I’ll be doing a two person show with the estate of Agnes Varda, a longtime hero of mine at Sim Smith in London. In September I’ll be having my second solo show with Fredericks and Freiser, my gallery in New York, and the ideas for that show are just in the beginning stages.
What advice would you give to young women wanting to make a career as an artist?
I would say to be mindful of the fact that women have been conditioned to orient themselves as receptive beings in the world, reject that, or rather absorb what’s fortifying/illuminating but don’t be afraid to shift your power outwards. Other than that, trust in your own voice and keep working. I worked in my studio for many years without shows, not even group shows some years. Just remember that one work leads to another and you just don’t know how long it will take to get to your best work.
What are your plans and hopes for 2021?
My hope/plan is to make some great paintings.