Jenna Gribbon’s paintings explore feelings through portraits of people dear to her, including close friends, her partner, family members and colleagues who share her passion for painting. Her works insist on exploring the implications of looking and being looked at, one of the central themes of her work, showing and telling the intimacy and the pleasure, as she affirms in the interview in Muse Issue 59, for which she also does the cover Art. The viewer feels a part of the painting by sensing the close connection between the artist and the portrayed subject depending on how it is depicted: the way Mackenzie, her wife, is portrayed changes over time along with the progress of the relationship. More trust and more and more reserved moments together allowed for an evolution of Jenna’s works, catching her in spontaneous situations, with less composed postures and expressions, underscoring the complicity that was created between them. The viewer takes the artist’s place, looking at Gribbon’s painted subjects from the exact position she occupied in the scene: her point of view also becomes that of the viewer, inviting him or her to imagine the artist’s experience dealing with the painting, to delineate their relationship, and to explore the profile of the subject being portrayed. What role does she play in Jenna’s life? What is her name and how long have they known each other? The intimacy of the scenes creates an alienating effect, as if we are gradually immersing ourselves in a situation that does not belong to us.
“Mackenzie is an ideal subject for me not only because she’s my partner and I have access to very up close intimate moments with her, but as a musician, she’s also a public figure, and public vs private portrayal is a key subject in my work. The paintings have definitely evolved with the relationship.”
Massimo De Carlo Gallery is hosting a solo exhibition by Jenna Gribbon for the third time, this time in Hong Kong, entitled A Domestic Cast. In fact, the title derives from the artist’s personal approach to depicting the more domestic aspects of her life, while the word “cast” has a double meaning, literally referring to the people who populate her works, and to the importance of how and to whom light is cast in her paintings. The smaller work Cast in a surprising light introduces the viewer to the main setting of the works, the artist’s home. The small size forces one to get very close to the image, having the impression of entering directly into the room represented. Larger, on the other hand, are the paintings depicting loved ones. The musician Mackenzie Scott is definitely the most illustrated subject: the woman is portrayed again with vivid colors, fluid and sensual brushstrokes, which almost seem to merge the figure with her surroundings. The nude body conveys a strong visual energy and allows the viewer to feel the security that both girls convey: a state perceived by many as vulnerable, in Jenna Gribbon’s works instead instills confidence, tranquility and shelter. Mackenzie’s gaze, as in the case of her son’s portrait, is relaxed and gazes into the eyes of the viewer, fully aware that they are being observed and in control of their role. The strong brushstrokes are also transferred to the object paintings, again referencing aspects of his daily life and giving the viewer a way to get a more detailed idea of the elements with which the artist interacts on a daily basis. Real flowers in my kitchen and Fake flowers confuse the viewer who cannot tell through the work which flowers are real and which are fake, coming to the conclusion that he is looking at a construction of his everyday life and not a hyper-real documentation. Light, as the title also suggests, is central to Gribbon’s painting: in the three paintings depicting her son, his eyes seem to tear up or wince under the glare of the spotlights aimed at him, recalling the effect of dramatic lighting.
“We sit in Gribbon’s seat at her kitchen table, as we catch her wife, Mackenzie Scott, off guard at the rare and liminal moment between obliviousness and awareness that she is being surveyed.”
In A Domestic Cast, light is used as a tool beyond true representation, Gribbon exploits its ability to command the viewer’s attention, personify the gaze, and emphasize its artificiality to remind us of the nature of painting as a subjective medium that creates a mediated image that, however convincing, may not necessarily be truthful. Jenna’s paintings draw inspiration from personal memories, fluidly combining different styles within the same canvas. The photographs she takes every day allow her to capture ideas, incorporating elements of fiction into portraits or real scenes, mixing multiple aspects into the same painting. The works carry with them a contemporary vision of the feminine universe in which beauty, pleasure and intimacy are conveyed directly to the viewer, who is not only limited to looking, but is also pushed to understand the complexity of the relationships expressed by the work, becoming an integral and active part of the artist’s work.
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