Spirit animals and cosmic powers are just a couple of the concepts dissected in the dreamy, nature-filled universe created by Canadian artist Jen Mann. While studying printmaking at Ontario College of Art & Design, Mann spent her time concocting reality-based images using copper plated etchings. In the mere three years since graduating Mann has moved to a quiet area outside of Toronto where she has constructed this dreamscape in several collections of oil paintings. The fantasy world represented in her work reads as a soul-searching haven ripe for endless exploration. I got the opportunity to dive a little deeper into this magical realm when Mann agreed to take a break from her usual painting and gardening to chat with Working Class about, well, painting and gardening.
WC: Your paintings featured in this issue are all from the ‘Fera’ collection, which focuses on spirit animals. What inspired this theme?
JM: Having grown up surrounded by a forest, I’ve always felt a close connection with nature. The series is about inner wildness, and is a look at the more raw and untamed aspects of ourselves. We often forget to think of ourselves as animals, and we deny a lot of our natural impulses and instincts. At the time I was painting these I felt stuck and stifled. The animals were a form of expressing this wild and raw aspect of myself I felt I couldn’t express any other way.
WC: Has your spirit animal come to you yet? If so, what is it and how has its emergence affected your art?
JM: I don’t know if I have a particular spirit animal. Although, until last year, I had never noticed hawks before, and now I see them everywhere. I have always loved deer, though.
WC: Do you identify yourself as being a ‘spiritual’ person?
JM: I am certainly an introspective person, and I would say I focus a lot of my time exploring spirituality, life, and its meanings. I think that comes out in my work. I think naturally we put a lot of ourselves into what we do.
WC: Your latest collection, ‘Gathering of the Psyche,’ touches upon the philosophy that everything is the same. Are there any particular philosophers or spiritual teachings that have had a marked effect on your work, and ultimately your outlook on life?
JM: Since I was little, I have always questioned life … not as in depth as I do now, but spirituality and different existential beliefs have been with me since I can remember. My mom has always been interested in spirituality and that exposed me to a lot of different ways of thinking about life early on. Only when I went to university and took a course called ‘Existentialism’ did I have a name for what I was thinking about. Maybe this is terrible, but I took less note of the philosophers in the class than the specific ideas and how they related to my already growing beliefs. I sort of merged what I could make sense of with other belief systems, found what I could relate to and formed my own ideas.
WC: You focus more on women in your paintings than men; the ‘Toxic Love’ collection in particular tends to illustrate this in the way it addresses feminist issues. Is there anything specific that motivates you to engage in that dialogue?
JM: Painting females is a natural medium for me, since I understand the world as a female. ‘Toxic Love’ is about our destructive love of beauty. The plants are all common flowers symbolizing feminine fragility, virginity and ideals of beauty. The plants also all happen to be toxic, giving a serious undertone to the paintings. As a society our obsession with beauty has created a lot of self-confidence issues with young and adult women who can become sick over their outer appearances. This idea, that we are supposed to look, act and dress a certain way, is unrealistic. Beauty can also lead to vanity and ‘poison’ the inside of a person. I love finding ways to use nature as a muse, and I loved this toxic and beautiful duality.
WC: Are the women in your paintings modeled after people in your life?
JM: My process has changed over time. I often get models to come to my studio and we’ll do a quick photo shoot for source material. I then edit, add and change things in Photoshop to appropriate the girls for a painting. Some of the girls I know, others I don’t.
WC: On your website you mention that you enjoy gardening, a purpose of which is to connect a person to the earth and the process of creating life, which can be very magical. What is it that draws you to gardening specifically and do you think it helps with the creative process of painting?
JM: I love creating, and you are dead on … it really is magical to garden. In the summer I have a huge veggie garden, and it really just makes me feel good to go outside, get dirty, and come out of all the muck and hard work with beautiful ripe vegetables. I think it’s just another form of creating something beautiful. Some days it’s the break from painting that helps in the process; this is one of those breaks.
WC: Is there anything you’re currently excited about?
JM: Lots of new work, always excited about that. Spring is coming, so gardening soon! Also I just recently became a member of a pretty sweet new international artist collective called PRISMA. I will be getting to do collaborations with some artists I admire, and putting on some awesome PRISMA shows, as well. We have a show in the UK opening in November 2012.
WC: Do you have a favorite work of yours, any piece that you hold closer to your heart than others?
JM: Probably ‘My Dear,’ I’m holding on to her. I can’t imagine letting her go yet.
Click here to see more of Mann’s work.