Neoteric Art: Interior space is the subject for your current paintings. When did this begin and why are you interested in interiors?
Jennifer O’Connell: I think the concept of the interior has always been at the core of my paintings even before it was my subject. My initial painting interests were with figures; my family and friends; people I knew so well, that I really wasn’t after a likeness as much as underlying psychology. When I began with interiors it was because I was trying to develop the environments that the figure inhabited. I found that the rooms were very interesting without the glaring eyes of the figure. There is a hierarchy when you have a figure present; every object relates back to it with no way to explore the space on your own without being “watched.” I want viewers to confront objects on their own.
NA: Do these interiors actually exist outside of your paintings?
JO: Yes and no. Reality in my paintings obeys a logic, but it is bendable; it provides a springboard into the painting. Yes, I paint in my home in Massachusetts. My prerequisites for choosing a place to live are not things like, “good plumbing” or “great location” (although they come into it). I look for variety in the way that light travels through the space; wood floors reflect a lot of light from windows, etc. I like the character of older houses; mine is an early 1800’s colonial style with lots of old molding, patches, and dents on the walls. I live in the space I paint, so I experience different lighting and arrangements of objects on a daily basis; it gives me options. I enjoy painting the remains of something that happened; artifacts of daily life. On the other hand, I manipulate object arrangements; I enjoy the mischievous role I play behind the scene.
NA: Describe your thought process when choosing to paint a certain interior.
JO: Sometimes the idea comes from inside and sometimes it comes from the outside. I think about composition as a means toward concept; I set myself up for comparative relationships. I move objects to reflect my ideas. I look for the surprises that happen. When I look, I am also remembering, contemplating, and imagining things differently. What manifests is a combination of experience and sight. I am very interested in structure, light, and color, but I want to do more. I spend hours on drawing for these paintings; artists must understand perspective and learn to draw accurately before they can say anything, but I think, in the end, anyone can paint a real looking image (or at least take a photo). It is what you do after this point that is truly important. I am as interested in the illusion I can create as I am with the abstraction involved in drawing or applying paint to a rectangle.
NA: Do you see yourself moving away from these interiors or is there more to explore?
JO: I have not begun to exhaust the subject, but I am forced to look at it in new ways because of my familiarity with it. I won’t lie, I sometimes yearn for new furniture. I recently painted my living room green, and I have moved around a lot in the past few years always pleased with the prospect of having new subject matter, but you have to bring something else to the table that is unaffected by superficial changes like these. I have developed a language with the paint that is developing and changing. I hope to continue to approach this subject with new descriptions and a more advanced painting language. At the moment I am doing more with color than I ever have before. Painting is about heightening and suppressing and sustaining.
NA: You just recently had a 2 person show at Adam Cave Fine Art. How was that experience?
JO: The exhibition went well; I sold about half of the paintings in the show. I am glad to work with such an experienced gallery owner. Adam Cave spent ten years as director of another gallery before opening his own space in downtown Raleigh, NC. I was actually showing at a gallery in Savannah, Georgia when I was approached by him. By representing a limited number of artists, he develops a more distinct viewing audience for each person. There is a loyalty in that kind of practice that you don’t see very often in commercial galleries.
NA: Which painters have influenced your work?
JO: I look at a lot of contemporary painters like the Zeuxis group of still life painters and the Midwest Painting Group which tend to be great painterly representational painters with strong academic ties. Eve Mansdorf and Tim Kennedy’s paintings are some of the most quality figure paintings today with beautifully described moments amid much larger structure. My work is continually influenced by partner, Brian Kiernan who makes large-scale landscapes with levels of structural resolution that are equaled only by their spontaneity. I like the subtle power of Morandi’s table theaters, Giacommetti’s searching linear structure, Corot’s composition and light, Cezanne’s play with illusion and surface, Rembrandt’s light and dark, and Albers’ color, but that is only what comes to mind right now…When I paint, these are the people who talk to me.