You spoke to me about the relationship that painting and flowers have with loss. I wonder if you could flesh this out here.
Painting's most difficult task is probably contending and collaborating with real human loss. How do we make images that acknowledge pleasure and its complicated relationship to trauma? There are similarities between how they—both painting and flowers as auxiliary objects--highlight and mitigate distress and create a form against erasure. I think they are both organized around the presence or potential appearance of a wound. The funerary bouquet has its advantages over painting, because its primary mode is to articulate loss through beauty and generosity and to bear witness shamelessly. Beauty functions differently with painting. I think of painting as a much more self-conscious and suspicious mode, forcing one to contend with historical precedents and privileging what is difficult.
The bouquets in your paintings seem to turn away from the surface of the painting, almost to neglect it ... they wilt and disintegrate visually, they fold away from the viewer. Can you describe the way you see the relationship between viewing surface and the floral bodies you paint?
There is something particularly profane and unbelievable about realism. I'm suspicious of what such a fixed and unyielding mode produces. The more I approach realism, the further I feel from the true emotive quality of the things I'm depicting. I think emotional information is often housed in the image’s resistance to a fixed identity. For me, doubt is the most crucial interruption in the work. It affects how the images begin and decay through the process of painting. I tend to paint the thing and then undo the image in service of the paint itself, in the hopes that the unravelling will make both the surface and the image feel more true. I think about the most convincing tromp l'oeil paintings in this way: that the compelling aspect of the work is that moment when the image comes undone, breaking down from a visual space into a physical surface. The possibility of that exchange between image, object, experience, and awareness is really interesting to me.
You are quoted as saying that your paintings are about resistance to transparent meaning; maybe this is a refusal to believe that telling it straight can work to communicate all forms of human experience. Why is this resistance important to you?
I like this use of the word "straight" to describe a manifestation of communication.
For a lot of us, our identities are housed in our dynamism and our ability to pivot and deviate in various modes. Literalism can fail to highlight the presence of duality produced through loss, metaphor, memory, etc., all of which are essential to our stories. In this way, "telling it straight” becomes adversarial to complicated, individual truths. I believe that through engaging with resistance there is a pushing toward something truer, more complex, and long-lasting. Metaphor is a good example of this process of forcefully measuring the proximity of unrelated or opposing things in order to lengthen each one’s individual potency.
Jennifer Packer with NM Llorens
Jennifer Packer (born Philadelphia, 1984) received her BFA from the Tyler University School of Art at Temple University in 2007, and her MFA from the Yale University School of Art in 2012. In 2012-2013 she was Artist-in-Residence at The Studio Museum in Harlem, and from 2014 to 2016 she was a Visual Arts Fellow at The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA.