Jennifer Whitten – American hyperrealist painter

Jennifer Whitten

We had the opportunity of having Jennifer Whiten, an American hyperrealist painter living and working in Melbourne, present for us at our Enderby Studio Art Program class.

Jennifer completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts: Washington University in St. Louis and is currently undertaking a Master of Contemporary Art: Victorian College of the Arts.

Much of her recent work has used images of young girls in otherwise ubiquitous everyday situations such as cooking in the kitchen or dressed up in fancy dresses, common day stuff apart from that their faces are dominated by these massive mouths that obliterate all facial features. Jennifer described how each of these mouths form the shape of the first letter of a word and therefore carry hidden meaning which perhaps someone will unlock. The girls are all communication, and chatter, perhaps as they discover their everyday world and the language that represents and negotiates it.

Large areas of the works are left in flat ‘pop’ colour, negating the overall illusion of space and representation. These areas sometimes go as far as to suggest absence or a hole. These areas not only break up the cohesion of representation but suggest a sense of something beyond, another dimension perhaps. This other plane contrasts with the everyday banter of materiality which otherwise pervades the images. As she expressed an interest in the theory of the 4th dimension during her talk, perhaps Jennifer is looking beyond the limitations of a commonplace material existence and the limitations of how that existence is described.

Jennifer Whitten 1

Jennifer discussed her work, her technique and her position as a hyperrealist painter undertaking her Masters degree at Victoria College of the Arts. She spoke about finding her way through the current dominant visual arts culture which in Australian institutions heavily emphasises new media, installation and conceptual art. Jennifer spoke of the legacy of Modernism which reacted against the history of representation in art and that this reaction persists against the style of work she practices. Despite these difficulties, following a successful recent exhibition Jennifer has noticed a more open attitude to her work.

Jennifer has spent much of this year painting on glass and perspex rather than the previous wood panels and when I visited her a few weeks ago, she had a large panel of thick perspex suspended from her studio roof, upon which she was painting a life-size self portrait as Ophelia. It is an impressive piece of work requiring a wet on wet technique whereby the highlights are pushed through the existing wet paint. Jennifer prefers to work on areas of the painting wet and will sometimes work for days without stopping, to achieve this. I will post about this work as soon as it is finished.

Marco Corsini

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