Briefly describe the work you do.
My work focuses on the transformations of feelings from the intangible into something physical. In my paintings, I attempt to give my feelings an existence and permanence that is separate from myself. Ultimately, my works are abstract in nature, reflecting the idea that a feeling is not something concrete or exact. Through marks and color, I translate these transient experiences into something visible so that I might gain a clearer understanding of their complexity and meaning.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
I grew up near the twin cities in Minnesota and then attended undergraduate school in Wisconsin, an hour away from where I grew up. It wasn’t until spring of 2014 that I moved out to Montana. My whole life, I have been a very passive and very sheltered individual and I generally accepted the “boxes” people put me in, or the labels they gave me because I didn’t want to do anything that would draw attention to myself. But as I get older, I’m realizing that I am no longer content with those labels and boxes because they don’t fit with my idea of who I really am. I am slowly discovering that I am a closet rebel. My background has influenced my work because my art, I think, is my way of rebelling against what people want or expect me to do, against those boxes and preconceived notions people had (and have) of me. I think my background has influenced me as an artist because the way I make work and the way I think about my work is in direct opposition to how I was raised. While my childhood was static, and safe, and predictable, the way I make art is volatile, destructive (at times), and most of the time, is a real battle.
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
I try to spend as much time in my studio as I can, but the time I spend in there is not solely devoted to making. Yes, I do spend lots of time painting there, but I also spend lots of time looking at my work, or ignoring my work altogether, and I think this is where my studio practice differs from the idea of a traditional studio. When I think of a traditional artist studio, I think of a place where the artist continually works and reworks paintings; I think of a place that is devoted solely to making art. I also go to my studio because it is a safe place for me. It is a place that I really enjoy being in, and it is my space. In this sense, my studio practice is very similar to that of a traditional practice because the space belongs to the artist, and I think studios are spaces where artists do feel comfortable but other people may feel discomfort.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
When I first decided that I wanted to be an artist, I really didn’t have any specific ideas about what that meant, other than I would get to draw all day. Even in undergraduate school, I chose a drawing emphasis for my degree. So I guess the biggest role that I never envisioned playing but ended up doing so anyway is that of painter. I have always loved looking at paintings, but have despised the actual act of painting. Then, halfway through my second year in undergrad, something changed and I started loving it, but I still thought of myself as a drawer. I first realized that maybe I was a painter was in my third year of undergrad when one of my professors introduced me to the chancellor of the school by saying, “she’s a drawing emphasis, but really she’s a painter.”
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?
For me, there is no specific time that I think is better to make art. Instead, it’s when I have inspiration that I think I am most productive, and that inspiration could be as simple as reading a quote, listening to a song, or going for a walk and seeing something that catches my eye. But also, I need to be in the mood to paint and that is definitely not regulated by specific times of day. In the past I have tried to set a specific time each day to work in the studio, but I found that I wasn’t productive so I have since abandoned that idea and now go to my studio whenever I want to. It all comes back to inspiration and being in the mood to paint.
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
In order to answer the question of how my work has changed in the past five years, I need to first explain the difference between abstract as a noun and abstract as a verb. This was a question posed to me by a visiting artist when I was in undergrad. My response was as follows: abstract as a verb is the process of abstracting; it is starting off with something concrete and transforming it into something abstract. Abstract as a noun doesn’t have that transformation. It was never something other than abstract. So, to go back to the question, five years ago, I was painting concrete objects and transforming them into abstractions (abstract as a verb), but now I am painting pure abstractions (abstract as a noun). My paintings now never start off as something recognizable.
Other than looking at my old paintings and taking colors and marks from them to put in my new ones, the biggest reason that my work is similar to five years ago isn’t so much visual as it is mental. My paintings five years ago were, as one of my professors put it, “like boxing matches.” Sometimes I would be winning and the painting would be going somewhere I liked, and sometimes the painting would be winning and I just wouldn’t know what to do with it. That is the one thing that hasn’t changed throughout my painting career. Painting is still like a boxing match for me.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
I think the people who have made the biggest impact on the work I do are the people I went to undergraduate school with. They were the people whose work I would see every time I went to the painting studio; they were the people to give me suggestions during critiques. They were the first people I ever really shared my paintings with, and just being in such an intimate environment allowed me to feed off of them and experiment with ideas, and just really allowed me to find my own voice through paint. Now that I am out of school, though, I find that, instead of looking to others for inspiration, I am looking inward for that inspiration. Something that has always impacted my work, though, is music. Right now the people/bands who most influence, impact, and inspire my work are Led Zeppelin, Trampled By Turtles, and Bob Dylan. More than anything, their music gets me in the mood to paint, and they have also inspired a few paintings.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
When I first started looking for colleges, my family members would try to convince me to major in something like accounting, or science, or math. They would always tell me that I should consider going into a field where I can make money, and that maybe art would be a better minor, or a hobby. And for a few months, I considered their suggestions, but no matter what other majors I looked at, art was always the one I would think about. It was always the one I would go back to. And it was the only one that every really, really interested me. So, I guess my answer would be: no, I have never wanted to do anything else.
My other interests include, boxing and martial arts, long-distance bike riding, travel, reading, listening to music, writing, playing violin, and trying to play guitar.
Jennifer Clausen attended the University of Wisconsin – Stout and graduated in May of 2014 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art with a Studio Art concentration. While at the university, she joined the boxing club, which provided her with inspiration for the beginning of her painting career. Soon after graduation, she moved to Livingston, Montana, where she continues to draw and paint.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.