Conversation with Featured Student Artist: Jenni Denekas

Jenni is a senior (’11) Studio Art Major with an Environmental Policy and Decision-Making Minor.

(Top left to right: “Puyallup Tribe”, “Foss Waterway Development Authority”, “Citizens for a Healthy Bay”, “Puget Creek Restoration Society”)

Artist Statement

Tell us a little more the work on display in the Library?
I was asked by Puget Creek Restoration Society to present my summer research on local environmental organizations, their relationship to the environment, and their involvement with the Superfund cleanup of Commencement Bay, at their Saturday seminar, which serves to educate their interns, volunteers, and the public on environmental issues in the area, particularly pertaining to Puget Creek. It was a small and informal setting, and I had a large block of time to talk, which was great because I had done a really extensive research project in addition to creating my paintings. It was nice to be able to share my information as well as my artwork, because I am really passionate about issues of restoration and redevelopment. The Superfund cleanup of Commencement Bay’s Nearshore/Tideflats Area has been, overall, a great success story in a long history of failed cleanups of Superfund sites across the country. The cleanup in Tacoma strongly indicates that economic development and environmental cleanup can be harmoniously combined, to the benefit of all, which contradicts many popular stereotypes about environmental issues.

My interviewees from the summer were excited to see my perspective on the places they work (one contact thought my choice of composition was interesting, because she said that she would not have thought of it myself) and overall feel happy with how the pieces turned out. That was a contributing factor to me getting to do my talk at PCRS, for instance. Also, the Foss Waterway Development Authority would like to hang my painting of the Foss Waterway in their office for a time, once my show at the library is over. I am glad especially that the organizations that I researched feel happy with my paintings, because I wanted to show them in a positive light. These organizations are doing so many positive things in the local community, driving innovative policy-making, helping the environment to recover and driving economic revitalization in Tacoma. They deserve some credit for their good work, and for contributing to an overall successful Superfund cleanup.

Have you always wanted to be an artist?
I have done art for as long as I can remember. My mom and I would draw pictures together when I was little, and I have continued to draw and create ever since. For most of my life, though, I have been more interested in drawing than painting. Charcoal and colored pencil are my favorite dry media, and I love experimenting with color and layering with colored pencil. I only began to paint on a regular basis my senior year of high school when I took AP Studio Art, and that was kind of because I had to. At first, painting was frustrating to me because I felt that I had less control over minute details than I did with drawing, and as a new medium, it was hard to manipulate so that my pieces looked how I wanted them to. Over time, though, I came to love painting as well, and I find it a good way to express certain ideas, whereas drawing is better-suited to express other concepts. I only recently came to oil painting (I began with acrylics). My first encounter with oils was my sophomore year at UPS, when I took Elise Richman’s beginning painting class, Art 251. Oils proved addictive because of their amazing capacity to layer and create rich colors–which echoed my interest in layering with colored pencils. Glazing is the layering method with oils that I am interested in. I began to explore this technique–and ladscape painting that incorporates sustainable development–last spring (2009) with an independent study, with Elise as my advisor. I researched general sustainable development concepts such as contour plowing and xeriscaping and created landscapes with glazes based on my research, which were only loosely based on real places. With my summer research project, I focused on specific, actual places and further explored glazing. Over the course of my exploration into landscape, I have become much better at painting, and more knowledgeable about sustainable development. As far as a career, I have always been back and forth about whether I want to be a painter. I will always be an artist in the sense that art will always be a part of my life, and I will always feel compelled to make art. I don’t know yet whether I want that to be my main career or not. Ideally I would like to continue to combine my interests in environmental policy and landscape painting, but I’m not sure exactly what form that will take yet. Hopefully I will figure that out in the coming months!

Where do find inspiration?
Mostly I try not to rely on other artists to inspire my work. I do not want to copy someone else’s style, and I also think that looking too much at other artists can compromise my ability to pay attention to my original subject. I think of working from other artists’ work as akin to making photocopies of photocopies; each reproduction becomes less true to the original subject matter and loses its relevance to real life–and I do try to make my paintings at least somewhat representative of the real world. Most of my paintings come from an actual place or experience that inspires me to capture it on canvas. Even so, there are a few artists who have significantly influenced my approach to painting. The first is Sandro Negri, a self-taught Italian painter who visited my high school when I was just learning to paint. He has an impressionistic style, works from life, and paints very, very quickly! He takes about 10 minutes to complete a piece; during his one-hour demonstration he made several beautiful paintings. I really admired his quick, emotion-driven approach to painting because it captures the character of a place, and the moment in which he experienced the place, so well. I still enjoy making landscapes in his style from time to time, with a palette knife and working quickly. Although I generally work more slowly than he does (or perhaps because of our differences), he has probably had an influence on my work. I also have for a long time admired the landscapes of the Hudson River School, a group of nineteenth-century Romantic landscape artists. Their works have amazing lighting, are incredibly detailed, and overall feel simultaneously realistic and beyond the ordinary. I hope one day to be as skilled as they are–though that is quite a task! Finally, my more recent attempts at city-scapes were influenced by Wayne Thiebaud. He is famous for his dessert still-lifes, but he also has some interesting city-scapes that convey dimension and depth with only a few brushstrokes. Like Negri, Thiebaud’s style runs counter to my more detail-oriented approach, so his work was very informative to look at. More specifically, his use of warm-cool color relationships really helped me to capture depth and dimension in my paintings of cityscapes. Also, of course, my instructors over the course of my life have had a significant effect on me as an artist and a person, and I would argue that they overall have impacted my style and approach to art more than the artists that I study in Art History classes or see in a museum. In particular, I would cite Sally Nelson, Lynn Pass, Otto Youngers and Elise Richman as important influences on my development as a painter and as an artist more specifically.

What are you working on now?
I am currently working on a commissioned painting for Integrity, a medical office near Salem, Oregon. It is a landscape based on Silver Falls State Park, which is near their office. Otherwise, I’m in-between major projects at the moment, just doing some smaller paintings for gifts and for fun, and of course working on schoolwork. It has been good to give myself a break from working so intensively on painting this summer for my research project; it got to the point where all I could think of in regard to painting was making more glazed landscapes of Tacoma! But even so, I think I will go back to that theme; there is so much interesting information to delve into, and more cool places to depict!

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