FREEDOM REIGNS IN MANN’S WILDLY WONDERFUL WORK
Story by Odessa Paloma Parker
Jen Mann’s ways are wild – hauntingly beautiful humans surrounded by birds, buffalo, wolves and flowers are featured in her striking paintings and illustrations. Plaid caught up with the Toronto-based artist to learn more about her craft.
What is your first “artistic” memory?
I was four and my parents had this plush Santa Claus face magnet. I grabbed a pad of those multicoloured construction papers and made my own by cutting out shapes from the colored paper and layering them on top of one another without drawing any lines. I glued it together and put a magnet on the back and stuck it to the fridge beside the other one. I think that’s when my parents realized I was different, and artistically inclined.
When did you first start creating art? What drew you to it?
My dad was my first artistic influence. He used to teach my brother and I art on Sunday mornings when we were little. I was always admiring his drawing, and knew that it was something I wanted to do.
Why did you decide to come to Toronto to study?
I don’t know whether it was a decision, or a product of convenience. I was born and grew up in Mississauga, which is a 20-minute drive from Toronto. I didn’t want to take a student loan, so I stuck close by so I could live at home and commute to Toronto for classes. It was great that one of the best art universities in Canada just happened to be so close.
How do you feel your experience at the Ontario College of Art & Design prepared you as an artist? Is it what you expected?
I don’t think OCAD really sets you up with the kind of connections that are essential for success as an artist. I didn’t need any preparation for what it would be like to do the art portion, but connections are really important in building your artistic career.
You received your BFA in printmaking. Why did you decide to pursue fine art instead?
Well, printmaking is fine art. I wanted to go through for printmaking so that I could learn something that I couldn’t learn otherwise. I really enjoyed etching and relief printing, although when I was finished I was really tired of making multiples, and I didn’t have the presses available to me anymore, so I started painting. I had never done oil painting before, but when I was finished, I don’t know, I just started painting. I’ve always loved drawing, which is why I chose printmaking; painting was just a natural progression.
Do you still do any printmaking?
It’s fairly expensive and I don’t have a press, and I cant really afford to be a member at a studio like Open Studio in Toronto. But sometime in the future I think I will do some more.
What inspires your work (aside from nature and animals)?
I think the main inspiration is just how I feel. There is something repressed, something wild that we don’t really express anymore. A lot of my work is just this reaction, this freedom from the constraint that I feel in my life.
What are the overall themes you explore in your paintings and illustrations?
I am fascinated by the natural world. Our animal instincts, nature, behaviour and how our actions as a society affect the well being of ourselves as animals. I am consumed by two ideas: one of the ideas is social psychology and consumer behaviour, and the other is Existentialism. The first explains the ways in which society has shaped us to understand, relate, act and live our lives according to their systems, and the second looks at the effects of the first on us as individuals, how it affects us spiritually and how to find inner peace amid the madness. My work is a direct result of these ideas, and how they inspire and constrain my creativity.
The women in your art are very beautiful – how do you conjure those images to be able to render them so wonderfully?
The women are sourced from photographs. I will do photo shoots with girls for reference for paintings, sometimes I find photos as well, but working from photos allows me to get a relatively realistic feel to the ladies.
The colour schemes in your work are either very subtle and soft, or quite deep and powerful. How do you make the colour selections for each piece?
I work in Photoshop a lot before moving to canvas. I like to plot out color schemes, placement, et cetera, and really get a feel for what it would look like. This way it allows me to really experiment and go crazy without messing anything up.
You have participated in many shows across Ontario and in the US – what are these experiences like for you?
Most are great experiences. I’ve learned a lot about shipping work (which is really expensive). Some gallery directors are really great, welcoming and lots of fun to work with. I’d have to say overall it’s just great to participate in shows.
Do you have much of a chance to speak to your fans? What do they tell you about your work and how it makes them feel?
I have a Facebook page where people can ‘like’ my work. This has actually been a really great place for me to connect with my audience and get feedback. I think everyone’s experience is different when looking at a piece of art, and it’s great to hear what people have to say. The internet is really cool that way. I get to connect with people from all over the world who want to talk about my work with me, and that is pretty awesome.
Can you describe a typical day in your life?
I don’t know if there is a typical day. I work a lot, but most of the time I look like I’m doing nothing at all. I like to peruse the internet, so a lot of time is spent doing that. My guilty pleasure is online shopping when I’m feeling blue. I usually pack my cart and never buy anything, though. When I start a new series like I am in the process of right now, my schedule gets crazy – I will have photo shoots with girls some days, days where I paint from morning and then through the night, and then I’ll have crash days where I just watch Netflix and nap. I have spurts where I am extremely productive, and then I spend a lot of time just regaining energy and thinking. A lot of the process work is just thinking, dreaming, and coming up with ideas. When I don’t feel like painting I will draw, or write poetry to get things flowing. I also work as a graphic designer. So when I’m not working doing design and layout, I’m doing all the other stuff I mentioned. My life and schedule is crazy, but I am really flexible, and that is nice.
What’s next for you?
I don’t really know. I like to think you just keep doing what you love and good things will come, and when you stop loving it, stop doing it. Right now I am loving it, and I am starting a series called “Toxic Love”. It’s going to be a lot of fun and I can’t wait to start my photo shoots with some lovely ladies who have agreed to model for me.
Where can people see your next show?
I’m not sure just yet. I hope somewhere in Toronto sometime in the near future. I am always updating my Facebook page with new stuff and details, so sometime in the near future there will be details about a next show.