Los Angeles and a new identity

A spring day in LA. It rained the night before and the streets are glazed in sunlight, reflecting the sky and sunlit palm trees. Running a couple of minutes late due to typical LA traffic, artist Jenn Porreca knocks on the door of my Redondo Beach apartment, where we have pasta for lunch. Jenn reports that, up until this moment, she has been racing from one place to the next, giving interviews, having photo shoots and speaking to people that are interested in her work. It has been only a week since Jenn inaugurated her new solo exhibition at the Luna Rienne Gallery in San Francisco (see our slideshow), but this new body of work has already generated a wave of attention throughout the art scene of the West Coast. Her paintings institute a sensitive contemplation on what looks at us from the past, a longing left of earlier times, an unbroken yet unfulfilled promise. Taking a break from this hectic artist life, we take off for a stroll along the almost empty banks of Redondo Beach to talk about her new life in Los Angeles. The thick clouds are beginning to disperse, releasing shy beams of golden sunlight that flood the beach. This is where we start.

“Usually, I am a shy person, but I have learned to deal with it by now.”

I ask her how things have been going since her recent move from San Francisco to Los Angeles. “My life has been crazy and I have been working hard to prepare my new show. Now I just need to recharge. My working rhythm made me work late at night. This is the first opportunity I have had to relax and I haven’t been to the beach for quite some time. This is a good thing, I am happy to be here.”

The Walk

We take off our shoes and walk slowly down to a lifeguard shack. Jenn recounts that she lived in Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia and Philadelphia before coming to San Francisco, where she spent the past 15 years. I am curious how she relates her biography to what is happening today. “There have been good days and bad days. But the things I´ve experienced made me who I am today. My art is the very document of every step I have taken so far.” This statement leads us to discussing the English poet John Keats, who states that as a person evolves, their identity is shaped through the interaction with the world around them in his famous letter from 1819: “call the world if you Please ‘The Vale of Soul-Making’ (…)”.

Jenn’s artwork has always been a sincere documentation of her life, and she refuses to provide any interpretations of her own body of work: “It is not my job to evaluate my art and myself as an artist.” She has frequently been asked to do just that in other interviews, and she has always refused to engage in this type of conversation. “That is the critics’ job, not mine”.

As the public discussion related to the taxonomy of lowbrow art within the arena of the visual arts evolves, Jenn’s work occupies an overlapping area between the two, initiating a conciliatory exchange that alters the present criticism. This allows for a deeper look into her work, beyond a mere decorative reminiscence of the Toulouse-Lautrecian age. As we walk along the splashing waves, she mentions Breton’s study of automatic line drawings, a Surrealist technique designed to help release a free stream of consciousness through the expression of the subconscious mental capacity of cognitive thinking through forms and relations. Jenn’s spontaneously drawn lines hold the observer’s attention. Hence her paintings are subtly governed by a founding framework or structure that originates from the study of forms and geometry. While only some of the new pieces from the Love in Absentia exhibition show a focus on the abstract body of geometric relations, this artistic technique remains inherent to her work as a whole.

The wind picks up and we are the only ones left on the beach. I ask her what she does to relax, whether she goes for walks or sits in coffee shops. “I usually only have time after a show, so I stay at home. I do things around the house, nothing special really. My mind needs to rest. I do not go out much, but I do pick up my phone though”, she smiles.

Night Drives

I ask her if she could show us a place that she really likes in LA as we walk back, seeking shelter from the rising wind that is coming in across the churning sea, through the abating daylight. “To be honest, I haven’t had time to get to know the city yet.” During periods of long working hours and intense focus she has found her own, rather metropolitan way to settle into in a place where the streets suffer from extreme traffic congestion during peak times.

“The best way to understand where I am and get to know the streets is by driving through it at night. I get in my car and drive down to the Pacific Highway all the way to Redondo Beach. I turn on the radio and gather my thoughts. At night these vast streets are empty, no traffic, no people; everything is still. Los Angeles is peaceful and comforting then.”

When the surroundings shut down another, deeper consciousness arises. “The whole city is standing still except for you, you’re the only one moving. I love that.”I ask her if she knows To Sleep, again by the Romantic poet John Keats. She does. It carries a beautiful anachronistic allegory of Jenn’s nightly drives:

Then save me, or the passèd day will shine
Upon my pillow, breeding many woes;
Save me from curious conscience, that still lords
Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole;
Turn the key deftly in the oilèd wards,
And seal the hushèd casket of my soul.

Jenn’s next show is coming up in September. Until then, she will continue to drive through the streets of sleeping Los Angeles to make it home.

Jenn Porreca’s Homepage: www.porrecastudio.com

Luna Rienne Gallery: www.lunarienne.com