Painter Jenny Morgan talks about the process behind her nude self-portraits

Categories: Visual Arts

Morgan's Brooklyn studio.

How do you feel about painting yourself nude? And knowing other people are going to see it?

The harder part is photographing myself. It's usually not that pleasant because you really have to review yourself. But then I just detach. I have to view myself as, "This is another body." This is not the body I get dressed in the morning; I still weigh myself and have all of those same everyday thoughts on who I am. I just put myself in a different category and detach and see myself (in the work) as body and skin. If I didn't detach, I don't think I could do it. I would be too critical.

Once the image is drawn, and it's on to painting, it's not like it's me. It becomes this convenient body to practice different things on. It's prevalent in the work because I'm so available at any moment. (Laughs.)

I can't imagine standing in front of that kind of work and talking to someone about it.

(Laughs) Obviously, when I have studio visits, I hide the photographs. But, like, I had a visit the other day -- some friends from Denver had come out to visit -- and I had just started a huge six-foot canvas of me. I'm standing there talking to them, while my breasts are just drawn, and there. (Laughs.) It's why I have to detach and be like, "They're not thinking about me naked, that's not happening." (Laughs).

Do you consider yourself a photographer? What is your relationship to that aspect of the process?

I recently did a visiting artist trip to a school in North Carolina, and it was the first time I had worked with undergrad students. I was critiquing their work and looking through their process. I also went through this thing they did -- you're a painter, but you need reference photos, so you have a crappy digital camera, and you're snapping shots the best you can.

In grad school, one of my main influences, and a woman I later started working for, was Marilyn Minter. She asked to see my reference photos, and was like, "These are awful. You need to get a better camera." That's why I actually called Sarah (Cass) -- I didn't have a good camera at the moment and I needed to impress this professor. I needed to get some good photos going. That was a turning point; when I worked from those high-quality photographs, I realized that you are no better than the thing you're looking at. When you're that kind of painter -- a painter that needs to be visually stimulated and it doesn't come from your brain - that's when I got a better camera. I really focused more on developing that skill, instead of just thinking about the painting.

I still don't consider myself a fantastic photographer. I barely understand my equipment -- I'll tell anyone that. It's not a big deal, but I know how to work it in the way that I need to. I'm getting better at just dealing with the subject matter in the way that I'm not just the painter but also the photographer. It's definitely a developing dynamic. But it comes down to as long as I have what I need, I just focus on the painting.

You're showing at Plus Gallery in Denver - a space that you have had a long and deep relationship with as a painter. What's the back-story?

Number one, it's my relationship with Ivar. During my undergrad, he was a real champion of my work. And I think it's rare to have someone see that little nugget of what you could potentially be, and to really reward the young work that you make. When I look back at the work that he was seeing and showing and selling at that point, I think 'oh, it was so young and naïve and I can't believe I made it.' But when you look at the scope of the work, it starts to make sense. I just give him so much credit and I am so blessed that he has been in my life and been so supportive for so long. It's natural for me to keep working with him, even as I have shows here in New York and grow in here.

It makes sense to foster that relationship. Denver just feels really good to come home to. The art community is really closely connected and very intelligent and aware. It's rewarding to be able to go back and feel that energy. It's hard to explain; in New York, it's so big and there's so much pressure and competition. To go to a community where everyone really supports each other -- I mean there is always competition - it reminds me of how I started with art, and how at the core is a positive, beautiful thing. There's no crazy pressure and pretentiousness around it. It reminds me to be in it for the right reasons, and not to get caught up in the chaos that comes with the scene.

Kith And Kin opens Friday, June 1, at Plus Gallery, 2501 Larimer Street, with a reception from 6 to 10 p.m. For more information, visit the gallery's website.

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Location Info


Plus Gallery

2501 Larimer St., Denver, CO

Category: General

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