We visited Jaclyn Conley in her airy, high ceilinged live/work studio that she shares with her husband who is a sculptor, and Boris the cat. Seeing her large-scale oil paintings in person was a pleasure, as well was spending a sunny Saturday morning with her. Jaclyn allows the viewer to get lost in these works that combine subjects such as prone figures (sleeping or recently deceased?), animals, and domestic elements that combine into an open-ended narrative.

Her paintings tell stories that draw on personal memories and references to art history, but the exact stories are left up to the individual viewer to interpret. She works quickly on these paintings, finishing and moving on to the next one within a few days or a week, to keep her creative and emotional interest fresh. She uses rich tones and colors, but often leaves a portion of the canvas white, incorporating its luminosity into the composition.

: What was the evolution of you becoming an artist?

Jaclyn: I’ve always made things; it’s always been something I put a value on and found important. I’ve always found a place for that in my life. I’m lucky that’s I’ve gone through art school, and I’ve been able to keep up that process of making continuously. When I stop painting, I get a bit nervous. Art-making is not necessarily valued or seen as being part of essential life, but I think if you establish it as being important to you, you can make it happen, you can have a studio practice. I think my studio practice has also been a product of the people I’ve met, the artists I’ve come to know in Brooklyn. This kind of exposure to working artists really influences your own work; it brings a life and purpose to your own work that you wouldn’t have some where off in the woods. So something I’ve come to really value is to have an audience, and you have to build that audience yourself.

NNNY: Describe your studio practice.

Jaclyn: My imagery is derived from a whole lot of different sources. A lot of my process is looking at different pictures: jpegs, photographs, all other people’s photos, things that aren’t my own. And pulling from them, culling from all kinds of imagery and bringing it together, in a way that invents a narrative, or changes the perceived story that I’m getting in the photograph. It’s taking from other people’s stuff, and serving it up with some of my own stuff, making a new narrative, scenario or event. It’s not fixed; it’s not a specific story I’m trying to tell, but creating an illusion and letting the viewer interpret things in their own way.

I’ll start with something that is from my own past or memories, realizing that my memories are put together or compiled, and then respond to images that I’ve found, and usually there’s some kind of art historical references that comes into it. And then the animals roamed into it, which brings further content, but for me it’s really about a response to different images that creates something else. So I never want to start with an image and have it pre-determined. I want there to be some sort of evolution, and that’s what keeps me interested. 

Some of my work is about coming to an understanding with death. I’ll portray a reclining figure who is maybe sleeping or maybe dead. And connecting the idea of closed eyes, interior visions, closing off the senses in order to perceive them, using that as a tool to understand things. It’s not explicit, but seems relevant to me. The paintings got a lot more playful when the animals came in; initially it was to use a figure that wasn’t gendered or aged or from a specific place, but was some kind of presence, and they really brought it outside of reality. There was some other kind of space being talked about; it’s not a real event but imagined or in another space.

Recently I’m working more with just animals; the figures have gotten pushed out of the paintings a bit. I’m bringing the animal into the home, and implying family dynamics, that’s where that was coming from.

: What successes and difficulties have you had as a foreign–born artist in New York?

Jaclyn: You don’t have the same kind of social cushion that you have if you were a citizen here, so that’s a challenge. I don’t ever feel like I have roots here, which is good, because I think it’s a good thing to be uncomfortable as an artist, that’s where things get interesting. But it is hard making a living. I think you rely a lot on the artists you know and the people you come in contact with to get by and to keep you motivated. I think that New York especially, in terms of culture, has a lot of opportunities for international artists; maybe not in other areas of life, but in art, I think there’s an appreciation for different cultures and different perspectives on things. Having this concentration of people who are all working towards similar goals and who have the same kind of interests, I couldn’t have this anywhere else. I’m lucky that I am able to be here and be exposed to these things.

NNNY: How has moving to the United States influenced your art?

Jaclyn: I think I may be more aware of social things, political things, than I would have been. I grew up in Windsor, Ontario, which is just across the border from Detroit, so I’ve always thought of myself as almost American. I’ve always had access to American media, and I was physically there a lot of the time, so I really didn’t think there was much distinction between Canadians and Americans. But I was really surprised being here, especially lately, you notice distinctions between the two countries. I think I’ve come to understand patriotism in a different way. Considering a country’s history and the national lore, or the historical narrative that a country builds for itself and how it’s people identify to that, that has been really clear in a way that I wouldn’t recognized if I was always living in the same place and not interacting with a different government and social structure on a daily basis.

It’s nice to know I can always go back to Canada, and I really do appreciate the way the government supports it’s artists; in the states its’ a different art market. It creates a different art, which can be good or bad, but there possibilities that are unique to both places, and there are things in New York that you couldn’t access anywhere else. So as much as I really do appreciate the things that artists living in Canada have, it’s good that I’ve had exposure to the way things work here at well.


For more information on Jaclyn Conley please visit her website: www.jaclynconley.com


© 2010 Non-Native New York

Selected Artists