Two years ago I attended a Creative Mornings talk in Seattle. The topic was "Anxiety" and the speaker was Jennifer Ament, an artist whose work both professionally and socially I had long admired, and someone that had become a casual acquaintance through mutual friends. Jennifer's presentation was revelatory in way that resonates with me still; she was honest and transparent about her creative journey. And not for the sake of it being trendy or "on brand" for the moment, she was open simply because she did not know how not to be. My fandom grew in that hour and the following year I asked her to be on a panel I was moderating about career pivots. She, once again, was open about everything from career timing (she did not start selling her work until her late thirties) to the financial realities of being an artist in an increasingly expensive city.
Jennifer's first solo exhibit, "Night is Day, Day is Night", is currently open at ZINC Contemporary in Seattle. It's also her first time working with paint and color, all things I know her followers and collectors will be eager to see. I spoke with the artist about this exhibit, how her political passions and interests inform her work and being open to personal and professional evolution at every age.
You have been a working artist for 10+ years now, but this is your first foray into paintings and really, color. What inspired this shift? How was it working with new materials and a brighter palette?
I was pretty resistant at first to work with color as my printwork and encaustic paintings were mostly neutrals, but I had a friend and amazing muralist suggest that I should think about incorporating the bold images of my print work and murals into my paintings. And, then Laura from ZINC suggested I might try some images from my murals as well, and that sort of gave me the push in that direction. ZINC has a lot of artists that play with color, and I thought I would start with a little on most, and then there are a couple of paintings where I couldn’t stop. I still prefer soft colors, and most of my paintings reflect that, but then a few I went all out.
The exhibition, now showing at Zinc Gallery, is titled "Night is Day, Day is Night", will you share the impetus for these pieces and how the series came to be?
Just that everything is so backwards right now, Day is night, Night is day, up is down, down is up, I feel like we are living in an place where we have to constantly escape reality. Whether it be using our phones, shutting ourselves out of daily news, isolating ourselves at home and ordering everything through amazon so we don’t need to leave, dreaming of being a Kardashian, not ever being satisfied with enough. These pieces reflect escapism to a place of forced illusion as a method of survival. A place of hope, and goodness, and acceptance, and truth, and where superficialities don’t exist.
You are not one to shy away from politics and social issues in your work. in fact, you founded Artists For Progress and have raised over $50K since the 2016 election for various organizations whose existence has been threatened by the current administration. Are the same type of themes integrated into "Night is Day, Day is Night”?
Absolutely, they aren’t overtly political, but there subtle messages of how the culture is evolving - from body shaming to how we are lacking of truth in our government, and the desire to escape that, or diving into helping to change that.
Do you feel an obligation as an artist to use your work and your platform to bring about social and political change? Have you always been this passionate and involved in the political process? And if not, what changed that for you?
My passion to engage in politics was sparked when I was a teen and Reagan was president. Conservatism reigned, and fear and disdain for anyone who was different, especially musicians, was seen as a real threat in our country. There was the thought that rock bands, and basically anyone who listened to sexually explicit music were satanists. Nancy Reagan had her “Just Say No” campaign which sent people who carried a dime bag of marijuana to prison for 20 years. Tipper Gore started a movement which was called the “PMRC” (Parents Music Resource Center) that created the parental warning stickers on records and cds, she focused on everyone from Judas Priest to Madonna to Prince and attacked freedom of speech. As a person who was obsessed with bands that pushed those limits, and who grew up in the punk rock music scene, we all banded together to try to fight this. As the years went on and it felt like every president was the same and didn’t really change much I sort of lost my enthusiasm for politics. Until the Obama era, which was a very exciting time. That was a nudge back into the political world in a supportive way. Then when Trump was elected everything changed, and a fire was set inside me that literally felt like a surge of power and fire under my skin. I immediately went into action and started Artists for Progress where I asked all of my artist friends to contribute a piece of work for a public auction, and around 200 people showed up just from hanging posters all over capital hill and posting on Social Media. We raised a huge amount for the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. It was amazing.
How have you and your work evolved since you started your career as an artist? What do you most look forward to in the work to come?
I started with printmaking forever ago with no intention of selling anything, I just wanted to make prints for my house and my friends. And then friends of friends kept asking for some and that’s when I made a website and it sort of took off from there. Then wanting to experiment in other mediums, I took an encaustic painting class and became obsessed with that, and luckily for me both were successful. Then I was asked to do some murals, and painting with acrylic became a new thing for me. Now I am so grateful to be having my first solo show at Zinc Gallery open now and going through March. As a person who has never taken myself seriously, I feel lucky, and stunned that I am even making money at this - I want to encourage others to start wherever they are in life, something new. It fills my self-worth and empowers me in so many ways.