Stories from the Inside

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A conversation with Jennifer Webster, recent MFA graduate

Gallery 400's spring curatorial intern, Marie Pfaff, recently sat down with MFA graduate Jennifer Webster to discuss her work in the MFA thesis exhibition As We Recompose.

Upon entering the MFA thesis exhibition, As We Recompose, visitors were welcomed by an oil painting on cotton batiste by MFA student, Jennifer Webster. Her piece, Wresting Place, is a play on words; an intersection between serenity and chaos. This dichotomy is present throughout the entire piece. First, by the razzle-dazzle stripes that create delineations around the handkerchief; although they frame the painted cloth, the pattern is not in a continuous line—there are holes throughout the black and white motif. Second, the piece of crumpled cloth hones the viewer’s attention to the center of the painting. The different, intermingled patterns feed into the soft balance lying between.

Emerging from her experience as a graduate student, Wresting Place was created during a pivotal time in her artistic career. Webster states that while being in her studio, she was “telling my wife that I didn’t know in which direction to push my art, and as I wiped my tears on a crumpled handkerchief that was in my pocket…I looked closely at how the two patterns intermingled together. They perfectly represented where I was in my life.” She held in her hands the answers she had been searching for and her art underwent a transformation.

Jennifer Webster Wresting Place
Jennifer Webster, Wresting Place, 2017, 57 x 46 in., oil and prismacolor on cotton batiste.

The painted cloth once belonged to her grandmother and was a keepsake that she held dearly. The material that was once soft and dainty had become hard from use. In addition, the brushstrokes in her painting have sinuous lines; they appear fluid. By making her lines look like water, Webster further engages the overarching dichotomy in her piece: still waters are calm whereas choppy waves and storms may be chaotic. In her opinion, for her art to thrive, she needed the mix between order and chaos.

Through her program at UIC, Webster has found ways to diverge from traditional painting and create art on other media; her work left the canvas. She articulated that being a graduate student helped her break down the barriers of habitual thinking. Working in a pressure cooker in which she was meant to create, process, and analyze her art critically pushed her to explore further than she had before. Webster believes that art-making has become a cathartic experience and one in which one can unlock the emotions that lie restless in her mind. It is through her creations that she finds ways to communicate sadness, loss, death, and the human condition.

Jennifer Webster was born in Chicago and grew up spending equal time in Lakeview and the Southwest Suburbs. Webster’s painting practice begins with a collaged-collective of pre-imagined visualizations. As the painting-on-surface process begins, the interior becomes externalized, resulting in a transformation of elements, the painting revealing something new in its realization. Her method of creating mirrors the content; it is a dance of revealing and concealing, of covering and uncovering, physically and metaphorically. She draws inspiration from razzle-dazzle, surrealist and early modern literature, the history of painting, animals and the natural world, collage, patterns, and the handkerchief.
by Marie Pfaff, the Spring 2018 curatorial intern at Gallery 400. Pfaff earned a BA in Spanish Language and Culture from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada in 2017.