I caught Jennifer Shimatsu's grad show at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena this summer. For me, her work stirred up faint memories of 50s modern art, the sort of work that first attracted me to art years ago, and I loved the scale.
I thought it would be nice to leave you for the weekend with a glimpse into Jennifer's world. I'll be back soon with the usual Eye on Style Friday post.
mjm: How did you get started painting and how long have you been doing it?
jennifer: I am a fourth generation American of Japanese decent and I grew up in a very Americanized household. I felt disconnected from my Japanese heritage. Then, in 1992, my grandfather passed away. I came across his old Sumi-e (Japanese brush-painting) paintings and became really interested in them. Something in these paintings spoke to me.
I decided to study this exacting art to try to create a connection to my Japanese legacy. I ended up training with a Sumi-e master for nearly seven years, and I feel very fortunate to have discovered and learned this extraordinary and beautiful painting technique.
This brush painting would become an important aspect of my undergraduate work at Otis because it gave me a means of expression through which to explore my ongoing sense of cultural “disconnect” and discover what my Japanese heritage meant to me, as well as my own place within it.
I constantly struggled to deconstruct and push the boundaries of Sumi-e while still continuing to learn more about the practice. I borrowed images from what I perceived to be Japanese culture (such as the individual brush strokes of Sumi-e, the traditional “Hanko” stamp, and various patterns from kimonos) in hopes of learning more about what actually comprises Japanese culture while doing so.
By the time I graduated from Otis, I had developed something of a Japanese identity for myself through my painting and my intentional use of Japanese elements in it. However, when I decided to continue my art education, I felt very strongly that I did not want to continue on this path. While I still had some questions about culture, I definitely didn’t want to be pigeon-holed as the Japanese girl doing Japanese work. I wanted to avoid including these direct references to preclude having my paintings ethnically labeled.
I was accepted into the MFA program at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Once there, I had to figure out what to do next...
I have experienced migraine headaches for nearly half of my life. In the midst of these migraines, I see auras. Such auras result from changes that occur in the cortex--the outer layer of the brain--that subsequently can produce visual occlusions: anomalous forms within the visual field whose specific colors and depth are indeterminate.
These intangible, inescapable images block my vision and are highly compelling to me as a painter. The marvelously elusive yet intensely visual nature of the aura interests me most.
My auras often present as quite small at first, barely noticeable, sometimes beginning with a single black dot.
Gradually, this symptom worsens and the black dot multiplies, followed by flashes of light dancing between the dots. When I close my right eye, vision in my left eye is completely obscured by shimmering dots and lights. With both eyes closed, the aura is most vividly present, although still impossible to perceive clearly.
In the midst of an attack, I feel trapped within my body, yet oddly, somehow more connected to the physical world, as lights and sounds outside affect me more immediately and urgently. The aura is the only part of the migraine lacking discomfort; its appearance heralds the inevitable pain of a blinding headache and nausea.
I came to regard the visual aspects of my migraines, the auras, as uniquely personal and profound visual phenomena and, thus, inspiration for my painting.
My experience of migraine auras is non-representational, leading me, perhaps inevitably, to explore abstract painting and perception.
While at Art Center, I became fascinated by vision and how paintings can create a slippage between surface and depth, and my paintings became increasingly gestural. I began implementing numerous painting marks on the same surface, such as palette knife marks and multi-directional drips, all of which contributed to a palpable sense of turbulence.
With regard to these marks and the confusion they elicited, each new painting engaged in my dialogue with the visionary, erratic, aura-like qualities of a hallucination.
My friend and business partner, bought this painting from Jennifer's show.
mj: Can you talk a little about what inspired this group of paintings and what your process is?
jennifer: The group of paintings you saw over the summer was my show called “Chromatic Disintegrations,” influenced by the idea of a palimpsest.
According to the American Heritage Dictionary, a palimpsest is “a manuscript that has been written on more than once, with the earlier writing incompletely erased and often legible; an object, place or area that reflects its history.”
Both definitions correlate to this series of paintings. In one painting I call "Tussle," I began scraping away and adding to an older painting that I felt was not successful. Experimenting with a variety of techniques allowed me to expand my vocabulary with regard to the use of marks and the application of paint.
The scraping away creates harshness, and the different layers on the painting's surface serve to confuse the perception of space within it. The scrapes can also be read as independent interruptions, interjecting themselves within the painting, while simultaneously revealing the layers underneath.
The marks I included also caused this painting to become more turbulent than any of my previous ones. By revealing traces, or remnants, of the original work underneath the final piece, I was trying to create an experience of images being there at the same time as not being there.
My goal was visual disorientation and spatial confusion so that the viewer would be unable to precisely define the space that he/she is looking at since there is so much layering and scraping away within the painting itself.
Being engaged with the physicality of the painting almost forces viewers to become conscious of the process of my painting, and this relates directly to the history of abstract painting, specifically, Abstract Expressionism.
Thank you Jennifer for stopping by! I'm looking forward to seeing your new work.