Briefly describe the work you do.
My work examines notions of memory, time, and the connections we share as humans with each other and with the natural world that surrounds us. These ideas are explored through mixed media and installation. I find inspiration from my personal experiences, collection of objects, and reflections of time spent in a place. My artwork is heavily rooted in process- the outcome of a work is secondary to the layering and investigation of my concepts through artistic means and materials.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
As a young child, growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio, my family and I moved house a lot. All of the moving encouraged a strong internal desire for exploration and change- staying still for too long never felt quite right. The constants in my life became my family members and the general landscape found in southern Ohio. These were the elements throughout my youth that I identify with and compose my sense of home. Upon graduating high school, I found myself moving around on my own. I finally left Ohio in 2001 and only returned for short visits. My artwork during this period shifted as I tried to hold onto the place and people I had left behind. This would become a resonating theme from that point on.
The effects of moving on my person sparked my desire to understand the places I find myself living- the people, flora and fauna, and the interactions of these things in the landscape. My need for travel and exploration has guided me from place to place. I have lived in Ohio, Kentucky, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Tennessee, England (for a summer), and finally California. My transient nature has often left me feeling uprooted and lost at times. My artwork has become a way in which I explore my surroundings and in doing so, create a connectedness to the place I have come to reside.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
My work begins outside of the traditional studio space. I am a gatherer and my process begins with experiences. I collect these in various forms- photos, found objects, and sketches mostly. From these jumping points I return to the studio space to investigate my ideas and concepts in the medium that is best suited.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
Over the past few years I have begun teaching children art history, foundations, and studio practices. I found that there is a gap in arts education, especially in Los Angeles, for younger people interested in the art world. There is a real gratification seeing young people get authentically excited about something you are showing them. I owe this love for teaching youth to my own two kids- having them opened my eyes up to the importance of passing along my knowledge to a younger generation of growing artists.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
I work whenever I can. As a parent, my schedule is not my own. I am fortunate to have a studio space at my home, so when there is a free moment, I can simply walk outside and into my creative place. I get a few mornings every week to focus solely on my artwork. I try to schedule time in the studio or for doing research- I am very deadline and goal driven and it helps to be on a regimented schedule. When I don’t put myself on a schedule I find that my focus drifts and will remain in a state of creative neglect until I put structure back in place.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
The biggest change over the past five years has been a reemergence of narrative elements in my work. Birds, bees, found objects, and plant elements have been incorporated in my mostly abstracted scenes. My concepts and interests have remained constant but my way of presenting them has definitely evolved.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
People that I am close with have always impacted my work and often become a focus for my subject matter. I find that concentrating on personal relationships helps one to better understand the workings of broader relationships in the world. I often return to the written works of John Muir, Lucy Lippard (The Lure of the Local), Susan Stewart (On Longing), and Kandinsky.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
A farmer. I love the idea of living, growing, and working on a piece of land. One’s life cycles, the changing of seasons, and the passing of time become more obvious and in tune with that kind of work and lifestyle.
Jennifer Barnett Hensel is a freelance artist working in Los Angeles, California. She received her MFA in studio arts from the Memphis College of Art in 2009 and her BFA from the University of Minnesota in 2005. She has exhibited her artwork in galleries and museums across North America with inclusion into over 50 group and solo shows since 2002.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.