Born in Knoxville, Tennessee, Jenna Gribbon is an artist based in New York City. Taking influence from her surroundings and capturing moments in time through her paintings. her work has been exhibited in galleries all over the world. Her style is immediately identifiable and can be viewed through many outlets – alongside gallery exhibitions, her commission by Sofia Coppola to contribute three paintings for her film, ‘Marie Antoinette’ followed her role as painter and color technician for artist Jeff Koons.
Jenna’s studio is encapsulated at the members-only artists workspace ‘The Oracle Club’ which she co-founded in Long Island City.
Here in conversation with Louise Leverett, she discusses her inspiration, background and what motivates her to push the boundaries within her own creativity.
LL: So in the beginning, what inspired you to become an artist?
JG: Becoming an artist was a natural evolution for me. I was always just drawn to the experience of watching marks appear on a surface. As a child it was the closest thing I ever knew to real life magic.
LL: And how did those early years, and your surroundings influence you – where were you living at that time?
JG: I grew up in Tennessee and Georgia. I was kind of a strange kid, and didn’t really fit in with my surroundings. I was also an adept escapist. All I ever wanted to do was read and draw. I can remember my mom telling my teachers not to let me spend recess that way, and to make me play with the other kids. If anything, the influence was that making things allowed me to create a world for myself that was larger than the one that I perceived was hemming me in.
LL: Who were your influences during that time?
JG: As a child my influences were mostly the characters in my books. I was especially drawn to hyper-romantic stories of girls in pinafores falling on hard times, and also some sic-fi fantasy stuff. Weirdly I think my work is still tethered to the aesthetic notions formed by those nascent attractions. A little later as a teenager, I’d say that indie rock took over as the strongest artistic force in my life, and thank god. All of that romanticism without a little rebellion would have been a painting disaster.
LL: In terms of production and technique, what are the material sources you tend to work with, do they swap and change?
JG: I work the way pretty much every other oil painter has for the last few hundred years. The basics are oil paints, brushes, and medium, which I’m always experimenting with. Lately I love using a walnut Alkyd medium. I’ve been painting on oil primed linen for years, but have recently been fooling around with oil primed paper, and that’s been pretty fun.
LL: You live in New York City, does your lifestyle have an impact on your ideas ideas, place of mind, the concept of going out and getting inspired?
JG: New York City dwelling is such a particular and addictive lifestyle. I’ve become so accustomed to the constant stimulation, and I think I’m reliant on it for my work. I’ve done some residencies elsewhere, in the countryside in Finland for example, or this summer I spent some time trying to paint in Athens, Georgia, but I find myself a little restless in front of the canvas outside of New York. I usually end up making better work about those experiences after I’ve left them. I have the most ideas after a night of great conversations, or even just interesting exchanges with the amazing people I know in this city, or after seeing a great film or exhibition. It’s easy to become spoiled that way here.
LL: How did education play a part in your development? Do you think your environment culturally effected your development of ideas?
JG: I had a really great college experience at The University of Georgia in Athens. It was my first experience with learning about the importance of a supportive creative community. The cost of living is pretty low there, so people had a lot of free time on their hands to participate in each other’s projects, and to just explore. I think sometimes people in New York don’t have the time to court their eccentricities. In terms of professors I had some great ones.
LL: And who would you say were the main influencers?
JG: In particular my teacher James Herbert had a huge influence on the way I see paint. He was amazing in a critique. His paintings were so different than mine were then, or are now, but his relationship to the medium of painting was so genuine and passionate that any distinctions of style or subject were irrelevant.
LL: You speak of his style and how that influenced you, now that you are an established artist what are the fundamentals you hold on to.
JG: I guess what I really value as an artist is living a life that doesn’t take anything for granted, that doesn’t accept seeing anything through someone else’s lens.
LL: Now that the world is changing at such a fast pace, how do you place the importance of artistic creativity in this world we live in now.
JG: It’s a pretty interesting thing to be confronted all day by all of these creative identities. It’s a little harder to feel like an exceptional entity, but it’s great that it’s easier now to get a sense of the momentary collective consensus on things like aesthetics and humor.
LL: In terms of those ‘creative identities’ how do you feel they influence one another?
JG: The mechanics of influence are pretty hard to trace, but I think we all have to look outside of our respective fields for fresh perspective sometimes. No artist operates in a vessel that’s hermetically sealed, even from the influences they’d rather shut out. In general that’s a good thing, but things have become increasingly porous in the last couple of decades, and a byproduct of this has been a greater influence of fashion and commerce in art.
LL: In what way has another art form, for example music or film, influenced the work? Has that been a source of thought?
JG: Because my work deals with the narrative impulse, I often look to film for inspiration. If I get stuck creatively, I turn to Jean Cocteau’s Orphic Trilogy. It might not seem superficially obvious in my work, but those films are a major touchstone of mine. And Lately I find Fassbinder so satisfying. Really, I can’t get enough. There’s something about the mysterious tone, laced with societal truisms and lush visuals that I unabashedly covet.
LL: We’ve spoken about the creative aspect but there is obviously a very real presence of an academic side of art. How do you leave time for the reality of running things, such as sourcing new clients, developing the business?
JG: I wouldn’t say that I’m very good at balancing the business side of things with the studio side. I’m constantly neglecting the former. But I do enjoy some aspects of being an artist that occur outside of the studio. I consider going to openings, or having dinner or drinks with collectors, dealers and other artists part of the job, and it’s usually very pleasurable. At a basic level, we’re all people who have an interest in art, so there’s a lot of common ground. My other secret to staying afloat is that I have a partner who’s better at opening mail than I am. I can generally trust that a very important deadline won’t pass without him noticing. He’s a novelist, and also prioritizes his creative work, but the business side of The Oracle Club wouldn’t function without him.
LL: Where do you look to develop things in the future?
JG: In terms of the future, I just plan to keep developing my work. I don’t think I’ve made my best paintings yet, and that excites me. I hope the Oracle Club keeps fostering interesting work and community. So many great artists, writers, musicians, and performers have walked through our doors, and it just keeps getting better.
LL: And with that what will continue to inspire you on the journey?
JG: I don’t really know. I think I’m one of the many people who requires seeing their experiences manifest themselves outside of themselves to believe that they’ve actually had the experience.
LL: And finally, if you are the centre of your world, what makes your world turn?
JG: Magic. That’s the only possible explanation.