Fleeting moments made monumental in Jen Brown’s Ruins at Yell Gallery

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[Joshua tells us about Jen Brown, a young artist whose work holds up a mirror to women and asks questions about the passage of time and relationships.  — the Artblog editors]

In Yell Gallery’s most recent exhibition, Ruins, artist Jen Brown presents a darkly humorous view of life. Although her exhibition includes etchings, photographs, paintings, video art, and installation work, it is unified by a central commonality between sadness and beauty. Jen finds that life is full of beautiful, yet fragile experiences and her work reminds the viewer that nothing golden can stay. Her dark, moody disposition conveys a sense of nostalgia about what could have been and what will never be.  It is this ephemeral quality, our very own ruins, that inspire her work.

Jen Brown, Ruins, at Yell Gallery. Image courtesy of the gallery website.
Jen Brown, Girl in the Green Ribbon (2008), at Yell Gallery. Image courtesy of the gallery website.

Painting about beauty and women’s stories

I had the opportunity to work with Jen Brown at the Snyderman-Works Gallery, and am excited to be reviewing her show. Jen received her BFA in painting from the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, MD. Since then, she has continued to make art since graduating in 2009. She currently serves as the assistant director at the Snyderman-Works Gallery.

But for the Apple, oil on panel (2009)
Snow White, oil on panel (2008)

Her collection of portraits comes from two separate series, the first of which developed from her college thesis in 2008. This series is inspired by fairytales, folktales, and mythology. Jen has a strong interest in the unifying power of stories that seem to transcend time and space. Although these stories have different names in different cultures, they are universal stories known to almost anyone. “Forced Feather”, for example, makes reference to the many stories of women who are forced into the form of a bird, such as Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Another immediately evident reference is that of “Snot White.”.

Angelique, oil on canvas (2013)
Angelique, oil on canvas (2013)

In her second series of paintings in this exhibition, Jen paints three women from movie stills in three separate movies: Les émotifs Anonymes (2010), Lawn dogs (1997), and La double vie de Véronique (1991). Her inspiration behind these paintings is nothing more than her desire to learn something new. She gives herself assignments that cause her to study new media and new ways of artistic interpretation. She finds that this helps her discover why we make art.

Etchings with questions about relationships

Untitled Intaglio etching
Untitled Intaglio etching

The etchings are another genre of art that arose out of her self-ascribed assignments. These are the most boldly satirical works in the exhibitions. In these humorous etchings, she emphasizes the objectification of sex by literally depicting objects interacting with each other with sexual dialogue. The strong sexual implications, although humorous, have a dark side. Consider the image of the faucet: the blatantly phallic object expels liquid; yet the adjoining text, “You’ve been tested…right?” is a question that has come far too late for the suggestive situation depicted.

Jen Brown, Untitled intaglio print
Jen Brown, Untitled intaglio print

Black and white photography

While her painting is a type of controlled portraiture, her photography is natural and fleeting. She photographs what she is not drawn to paint. Her black-and-white photographs capture ephemeral aspects of life, such as shadows. Unlike her portrait paintings, the photos depict things that will never be the same. The photographs embody her idea of ruin, in that nothing persists forever.

We all Have our Ghosts, handspun marino yarn, EL wire, wire (2012)
We all Have our Ghosts, handspun marino yarn, EL wire, wire (2012)

A collaborative video focuses on hair

Also included in the exhibition is a stop-motion animation video installation, The Long and Short of It (2012), in which her long blond hair is cut off in chunks. Anyone who has ever gone through a dramatic change in hairstyle will understand how defining hair can be. Further, dramatic events in life often lead to changes in hairstyle as well. A hairstyle is arguably the most noticeable feature on a person’s head, and as such has a certain amount of power. Jen collaborated with Rosie Langabeer to compose music for this video.

Yell Gallery is an arts and performance space located in Kensington, Philadelphia at 2111 East Susquehanna Avenue. They are a five-minute walk from the Berks stop on the Market-Frankford Line. Gallery hours are by appointment. Any and all inquiries can be directed to yellgallery@gmail.com Jen Brown’s other work can be seen on her website. She can be reached through email at jen.of.art@gmail.com.

Tags

jen brown, philadelphia, ruins, yell gallery

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