In the cramped space of a studio, filled with paints, canvases, camera equipment, old and new paintings, and a computer, is a woman of about twenty six years of age, about five feet and six inches, with blonde hair and blue eyes, who is always exploring the world around her. Canadian artist Jen Mann, in a documentary titled ‘The Self Practice’ directed by Cameron Bryson, talks about her artistic process, her works and the words behind her solo show titled ‘Q & A’, which was hosted at Toronto’s Neubacher Shor Contemporary in 2014.
Mann’s colourful and vibrant oil paintings, with photorealistic and surreal imagery, attempt to capture the many questions that Mann as an individual faces in her life. Her artistic works derive their inspiration from not only the world around her, but from the various relationships in it and the way that people interact with each other, as well as the ‘dishonesty’ of it all. As Mann describes it in the documentary,
…there’s definitely cynicism in my work, maybe something comforting but also something off-putting, painful…there’s a sickness and a beauty to it, that draws you in…kinda like it draws you in just to hurt a little bit.
While acknowledging that her work includes vast amounts of cynicism, it makes it all better by ‘making you laugh at yourself, or maybe me, who knows.’ Such overtly cathartic overtures contribute to the surrealistic as well as the vibrancy of the line of work that Mann creates.
Jen Mann graduated from OCAD University in 2009, with a BFA degree in printmaking, before dabbling with the medium of oil on canvas inspired by her ideas which are digitally designed by her. Her process, poignantly captured in every shot of the documentary, include her photographing herself against a neutral background, mostly with a coloured light filter on her figure, which she then works around with digitally and paints the modified photograph onto a canvas through the medium of oil paints.
Mann’s unique artistic conception comes from her dealings with her life and what it means to her and how she relates to the things in it. She talks about the concentration of her work on the self. Mann mentions how, as an artist, she wouldn’t be able to make work about something which she couldn’t relate to or understand. Mann also talks about her fascination and love for colours, calling them the magic in the grey area between black and white; colours, for her, are all of the emotions, adding the imaginary element to an otherwise realistic painting. Dealing with the question of the self of the artist within the artwork she’s producing, Mann talks of the freeing of the artist as an individual through their respective medium of art.
The artist is always asking for someone to love them, like, look at my work and you’ll know me…the true me.
In the documentary, Mann talks of the artistic inspirations, processes, as well as what she believes to be the driving force behind doing a self exploratory show about the issues she deals with in life, and the relationships she has with people and things that consequently determine factors which shape the ideas and what we think of and understand ourselves, how do we understand others, as well as how we project ourselves onto others—denoting a certain cynicism which Mann spoke of and through which she views life. Mann considers art as the ‘continuing of creation’. What being an artist feels like, she says that,
…the continuing search for inspiration is, I guess, the ever elusive and alluring element to being an artist.