JenMarie Zeleznak from Cleveland, Ohio, is one of Ugallery’s most popular artists. She has been showing her work on the site for a handful of years, and we’ve been fortunate enough to watch her work grow and change. Enjoy this interview with JenMarie and be sure to check out more work in her Ugallery profile.
How did you get into painting and drawing?
Since age five I have been playing piano quite seriously. There was something about the power of music that held me captive. The feelings I experienced from listening and playing music were so deep and I found myself not knowing how to deal with these overwhelming feelings and sensations. In painting and drawing, I found an outlet to express these emotions.
There came a point towards the end of high school where I had to make a complicated decision. To pursue music or art? I knew my touch for music would never leave me and that I could always come back to it. On the other hand, I had never formally learned how to paint or “make art” - I just did because there was an urgency to create. I felt that I wanted to learn more and develop my skills in painting, which is why I enrolled at the Cleveland Institute of Art.
You’ve been showing your work with Ugallery for a few years now. How have you and your work changed since you first started with us?
Gosh, my work and I have definitely changed, or maybe matured, since I first began showing with Ugallery. I first showed abstracted landscapes, through which I questioned what motivates my work and really considering and developing my mark-making. I then transitioned into a new body of work focused on box forms and tonal modulation. I create spatial depth and illusionistic space in my paintings that explore the human predilection toward desire and emotional fulfillment. The work is dark and draws upon perceptions of abandonment, loss, transience and impermanence, resulting in sensations of withdrawal and a lingering nostalgia for the unattainable.
Ultimately, my interest in animals as subject matter began to seep into my work, and animals became a more prominent metaphorical subject to explore notions of the human condition. I feel more connected to the animal as subject matter and think that they are the best vehicle to explore and engage in the complex subjects that perplex the human being. This is where I am currently, and will probably remain for a long time.
How did you develop an interest in these animals? How do you use them and what do they mean in your work?
I have always had an affinity for animals. There is something so familiar yet so mysterious about them - wild and domestic alike. I am the kind of person that talks to animals and knows they are talking back. I really believe that animal beings love and suffer as they whimper and snort; their hearts hope with anticipation and subside in despair. We are all experiencing the same beautiful and strife-ridden moments of life.
I am always thinking about relationships, that is often why you see animals coupled together in my work. For example, in Hope Is The First Sigh of Defeat No. 1 - these two deer are entangled together by their antlers. I leave the narrative open. There is no struggle or strife apparent. Are they standing, laying, hanging…dancing? Maybe the one on the left has passed. Maybe the one on the right is dying. In this piece I was thinking a lot about an excerpt from one of Shakespeare’s poems:
“I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride; I love you because I know no other way than this. Where I does not exist, nor you, so close that your hand on my chest is my hand, so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.”
Do you work from photographs of animals, memory or “live models”?
I work most often from photos and documentaries, but more significantly from real, remembered or imagined experiences. It’s important to me that the animal maintains its natural state or condition in my work. I don’t intend to anthropomorphize them - they just are.
I love your asymmetrical compositions. Why do you lay out your works in such a unique way spatially?
My intention is to engage a field of mental phenomena within, between, around and beyond beings. Though surrounded by empty white space, the space is anything but empty. It’s a psychologically charged space. A spiritual space, a space of searching, of thinking; a space with and without answers.
One of my favorite pieces of yours is “This is Only a Temporary Solution (Deer)”. I have to know - what’s on the deer’s head? Also, what’s the significance of the title?
This is one of my favorite pieces as well. The purple gathering is a headpiece - “a temporary solution” to relieve the burden of human interference. It in fact is a purple volleyball net, but can represent many things. Deer’s antlers normally function as a means of protection, a visual threat, or as status symbols. This netting functions as a device that should burden the deer, but instead fashions itself into a head piece - making the best out of its dilemma. The narrative is about tolerance and adaptation, as the deer doesn’t seem to mind the netting entwined within what once defined its dominance. Charming and undeniable, he looks intently at the viewer, maybe asking for a peace offering.
How has your art education influenced your work?
I don’t think I would be where I am at in my work today if it wasn’t for my intense undergraduate experiences. My graduate studies so far are already developing my work further. I was a shy, outspoken person with absolutely no self-esteem and no self-confidence. My art education has helped me develop “thick skin” and has given me the opportunity to have my own voice and believe in my own voice.
This process was - and still is - tough and something I have to do - for myself and for my work. In the end I am coming out a strong-willed person with something to say, and my work reaps the benefits of that.
What advice would you offer to other emerging artists?
Make sure you are doing what you love and immerse yourself in it. If you’re not, then what’s the point? Be honest with yourself and your work, and you will find great things will come of it. Participate in exhibitions, and seek out opportunities. Form and solidify working relationships with organizations and institutions, galleries and the community. Make connections - make as many as you can in your community and beyond.