Jennifer Pazienza finds deep inspiration on The Ridge.
by Maggie Estey
I stare at paintings all day, every day, and I’m sorry to admit that I can get ambivalent sometimes.
I was just a touch early for my meeting with Jennifer Pazienza. I did a quick walk-about in the Gallery Passage on the street level of the Fredericton Convention Centre, where the artist and art educator’s latest show, Rooted in Love, now hangs. It’s an exhibit of medium-large-to-very-large landscapes, and combination still-life-landscapes, inspired by Jennifer’s home surroundings in Keswick Ridge, 20 kilometres upstream from the city. I am the manager at Ingrid Mueller Art + Concepts, which represents Jennifer in Atlantic Canada.
I made sure the installation was intact – nothing crooked, no tags missing – and I perched on the bench on the Eastern wall to stare at my phone. I heard heels clicking and looked up to see a group of about five government employees about to sweep by, on their way to a meeting or something. I looked back down. The clicking stopped. I raised my head again. The women were arrested and suddenly agape a few feet away from me, in front of the epic Winter Sky 2.
Conceive of the sky. It is air and space above us. It is breath and expanse. Here were these professional women, drawn out of their routines, divinely distracted, silent but for their audible breathing before Winter Sky 2, as if they hadn’t seen the sky all winter, or possibly ever; as if there weren’t huge windows right behind them to show them the beautiful Spring day outside.
“Oh my God,” one of them sighed.
I stare at paintings all day every day, but now I was actually seeing Jennifer’s.
The work in Rooted in Love was completed between Spring of 2009 and Winter 2015, and shows a palpable range of emotions. From the daylight-super-nature Winter Sky 2, with its vaporous clouds and snapping blue, to the implied anxiety of Scurro, with its darker palette and borderline-frenetic streaks of earthy pastels. The space at FCC has turned out to be a sound space to house these emotions, running free and larger than life on their four-foot, six-foot, eight-foot canvases.
“The space is big enough for them,” Jennifer said. “There is air and there is light. This space confers a way of being on the paintings and there’s a way that people can engage with them here. They can get far enough back to see a whole work. They can get close to the work without alarms going off. The paintings can breathe here and people can breathe with them.”
Jennifer’s work is about space, and freedom and love, in a time when human life feels increasingly walled-in and building-centric; many of us feel that our houses or apartments are our sanctuaries, and that the greenish, fenced-in bit beyond the walls is just… exterior. A sort of limbo between the private and the public that we must shovel in the winter, mow in the summer, and rarely contemplate beyond that.
Jennifer’s own living space goes well beyond the physical structure that houses her cherished kitchen, and her spacious enviable studio with the high ceiling and ample windows. You never seem to hear her say, “I’m headed home” – it’s “I’m on my way back to The Ridge.” It’s a way of relating to one’s neighbourhood, for lack of a better term, that I have not encountered before, and I tell her that. The Ridge seems a pet name with her, The Ridge is like a person she lives with, just as bold a character in her day to day life as her husband, Gerry, or her dog, Mela. The Ridge is also the context for what she tends to paint.
Jennifer told me her strong, spiritual connection with the area was not instantaneous, but that the groundwork for it was laid in her first encounter with the house that would become her home in 1993, long before she retired last July from her position as a University of New Brunswick professor.
“We walked in, and I didn’t even want to look at Gerry,” she said. “I didn’t want to see that he was not as in love with the place as I was, because if I was in love with it and he wasn’t, I didn’t know what we were going to do.”
Thankfully Gerry was in love with it too, and they moved in that Spring. But the brush strokes in the first paintings she made in that house, surrounded by the bucolic beauty of The Ridge, are light and tentative, more like in a watercolour than her preferred oil paint. It turns out that Jennifer is not a person who just moves in and starts painting the place like she owns it. She cites Harvard professor Elaine Scarry’s On Beauty And Being Just, and says there is a permission that occurs between the painter and the land.
“Only slowly, because of looking and watching what was happening out there, a relationship ensued between that place and me.”
There is a patience and a faithfulness that is apparent to me in this approach.
I can identify similarities between Jennifer’s painting practice and a spiritual devotion. Jennifer said that is no coincidence.
“It’s yoga off the mat,” she said. “When I’m painting, everything else falls away. [The paintings] are like prayers, where I can show gratitude. The Ridge is as close to paradise as you can get. What a privilege it is to be doing this work.”
Rooted in Love continues at the Fredericton Convention Centre until Canada Day weekend. The Gallery Passage is open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Saturday.