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Blazing Essences
Jane Jennings at the JGlenn Gallery


By Paul Dorn
Davis Enterprise art critic

Art review
Jane Jennings: Circumstantial Evidence
Where: JGlenn Gallery
603 4th Street, Davis; 757-2292
When: through Mar. 3
Hours: 10 am - 6 pm, Tuesday through Saturday

In the latest Lasse Hallstrom film Chocolat, the protagonist (played by the always delightful Juliette Binoche) sells the local villagers her seemingly magical cocoa-derived concoctions, which induce a variety of pleasant and passionate responses. Aided by exuberant chocolate bliss, the villagers transcend their narrow provincial traditions and begin renewing and enjoying their relationships with each other. A whimsical fairy tale, Chocolat is but one of many cultural examples of our enduring desire for some happy substance that will take us to an elevated psychic state. We continue seeking that chimerical life-transforming "magic potion." Sometimes we succeed; more often we experience self-abusive failure. Success or failure, the experience usually makes for interesting conversation over hot chocolate.

Based on the visual evidence of her recent pharmacological explorations, Davis artist Jane Jennings succeeds. With eclectic influences ranging from Feng-shui to botany to color theory and even her canine companions, Jennings creates bright, distinctive images alive with color, humor and energy. Her most recent paintings, on view through March 3 at the JGlenn Gallery in downtown Davis, explore Jennings' response to a group of medicinal flower essences from Australia's bush country. These (legal and over-the-counter) essences, which she ingests by placing a few drops under the tongue, purportedly help her achieve a desirable energy balance and conjure up images suggestive of aboriginal artifacts from the great Down Under.

"Two years ago I was working in my studio, experimenting with watercolor on bisque-fired tile," says Jennings, a Kansas-native who trained at the Kansas City Art Institute and later at the University of Iowa. "I had also been working simultaneously with the Australian bush flower essences, for myself and also my dogs. Over time, I began to see clear images in my minds eye, which expressed the emotional and physical characteristics of some of the bush essences."

With an intuitive feel for color honed over more than 30 years of painting, Jennings uses shades of orange ("the color of the heart, warm and welcoming" she suggests) as the ground for most of her Australian bush flower images. Amidst this bright field, which also hints somewhat of an arid climate, Jennings creates rectangular figures suggestive of the torso or a container, to which she relates various forms from her distinctive visual vocabulary. Arrows are a bold form, conveying a sense of movement and energy. Eyes indicate consciousness; fissures offer a sense of desire or appetite. Numbers have an edgy formal quality of definition-literal, figurative and metaphorical. Eye-catching coils and spirals become power spots, areas of activation that energize the scenes.

Several images explore the theme of relationship. "Flannel Flower," for example, presents two stylized figures facing each other, the cracked pinkish shape on the right leaning attentively, suggestively toward the other green-blue figure, which leans away defensively with ears drawn back and arms raised in a protective posture, surrounded by a protective coil suggestive of inhibition. Between them is a floral shape-offered by the more assertive figure, perhaps?-which may serve as a connective agent. Is the painting meant to suggest some primal "essence" of male predation and female proscription, a theme explored by many artists, not least of all Gustav Klimt?

A different relationship between forms is suggested in "Gray Spider Flower," where two forms face away from each other, separated by a heap of flowers, which emanate radiant waves. Is the emitted energy, depicted with "squiggly" lines, the result of decay or combustion? Were the plants cast away, the sad waste of their beauty connecting the figures, pulling at their limbs?

Her humorous six-tile ceramic painting "Dog Rose of the Wild Forces" fashions a yin-yang style interplay between the a dog's snout and a cat's upper body, a flower blossom emerging cheerfully from the exchange of forces, more "squiggly" reptile-like lines attracted by some suggested magnetism. Jennings' whimsy is further suggested by her many humorous titles, for example "EB B Flyin" or "Waiter in Disguise With Diamonds."

With "Guarding Two Treasures," Jennings moves from her predominately orange palette, creating drama with the heavy, flat-black ground, on which she outlines a discernible glossy human figure in white. Informed by Jennings' recent studies in the field of bio-geometry and ancient Egyptian iconography, this image features a leisurely meandering line running from the chest, through the stomach and on to the genital area, suggesting areas of vulnerability, power and definition.

"Babylonian Exile" is a striking four-tile painted ceramic work, featuring a citron-like shape floating in a blue field, connected by a thin thread to a large glowing orb in the bottom left, which is marked with the numbers 586 BCE. This was the year of the first fall of Jerusalem and the expulsion of the Judaic tribes to Babylon; the isolation of the yellow orb and the implied longing for reunion with the darker sphere suggests something of the Jews' plight.

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Last modified March 22, 2001

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