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03.27.14
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Hunting Prize
Mr. Jennings has been chosen as a finalist for the 2014 Hunting Prize. 

Hyde School residency
Mr. Jennings completed a two month teaching residency at Hyde school in Bath Maine in October and November 2013


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04.24.08
Art Critic and Curator Surpik Angelini writes:
Jeff Jennings's art captures the exuberance of patterns in nature and personal calligraphic markings within abstract color field paintings and geometric wood constructions.
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Mappings

by Surpik  Angelini

Art Critic and Curator

 

Jeff Jennings's art captures the exuberance of patterns in nature and personal calligraphic markings within abstract color field paintings and geometric wood constructions.

 

Since the mid-70s, the artist's work has evolved in two directions. On one hand, a strong tendency toward expressionistic drawing and brushwork, which initially included the human figure and, on the other hand, equal mastery of a constructivist type of two or three-dimensional composition.

 

In fact, reconciling successfully these two opposite tendencies - the abstract and the organic - seems to be the leitmotif in the work.  Jennings's playful compositions, consisting of a dominant geometric field containing minor themes elaborated with brush strokes or markings that may look accidental, or like "found graffiti," strike the eye in  fresh and unexpected ways. These unusual qualities extend to the artist's palette of harmonious or dissonant colors, which appropriately accent or counterpoint the rhythm of his compositions. There is a deliberate virtuosity in pushing certain formal limits in Jennings's art, something that parallels similar "tours de force" in instrumental jazz solos.

 

Not surprisingly, architectural elements (clapboard facades, stucco walls, signage, graffiti) observed along streets like Burnside Avenue in Portland, Oregon and Tchoupitoulas Street in New Orleans have been major urban influences in Jennings's art. His early boatyard work in Maine also left indelible traces, as seen in his recent curvilinear wood constructions.  Even though the contextual is not frequent in the artist's body of work, it tweaks our curiosity when, for example, it is hidden in a niche filled with shreds of a New Orleans phone book, inserted within a larger color field painting, or when a man's silhouette is superimposed on newspaper cuttings, and then veiled by rain-like dabs of white paint, or the passage of time is captured in layers of color patina. There is more to Jennings's abstraction than what meets the eye.

 

There are obvious formal influences in the artist's work. From his early training in Portland, he emerges as a figurative expressionist, emulating California-based artists like Nathan Oliveira. Later on, a "cooler" tendency toward abstraction sets in. Richard Diebenkorn's orthogonal compositions seem to explode in his three dimensional frame-like paintings containing abstract frescoes. Or Mario Merz's grids and mappings, combined with Tony Cragg's conceptual objects, leave traces in his phone books, covered with wood veneer and then arranged like a stack of bricks. We also note, the artist's interest in Arte Povera, and its history of the material, when he participates in New Orleans's social experiment in the 90s, as a mass of guns from the community was retrieved and destroyed. The artist embeds dismantled guns inside the pages of New Orleans phone books. Notwithstanding, retrospectively, such experiments with conceptualism proved to be only temporary in Jennings's career.

 

The latest constructions - since the artist relocated to Houston - consist of arching curvilinear forms that are either freestanding or protruding from the wall. Subtle contortions evoke spiral organic growth. On the surface of intersecting planes, Jennings applies a variety of painted patterns using found or made up stencils: geometric, organic, identifiable ethnic designs. At times, hidden in the folds of a beautiful arching form, we might find an engaging map the artist proudly reproduces because it shows the "Mississippi's meandering change in the course of the years, before the levees were built."  This specific detail touchingly alludes to Katrina. In fact, in broader terms, all of Jennings's pieces seem to point out how our constructed geometry attempts to contain forces in nature. "We structure our world using grids, ...we seek to order the chaotic world, by mapping it," states the artist.

 

With this statement, Jeff Jennings reminds us that the tension between the abstract and the organic is a universal one. We find it in maps, in the contrast of macro and micro views of the world, solid objects versus open fields, musical notes on a pentagram ...the examples are endless. Jennings's sense of wonderment reconnects the viewer to a primordial perception: abstract yet inextricably human.                   

02.04.03
Outside and Inside
By D. Eric Bookhardt, Gambit Weekly More »
Outside and Inside
By D. Eric Bookhardt
Gambit Weekly, February 4, 2003


One of the funny little conceits of modern abstraction was that it was somehow universal and above such parochial issues as region, place or nationality. Never mind that this point of view was so identified with a place, New York, that it was known as the "New York School." No such illusions attend the abstract painted assemblages of Jeff Jennings, who freely admits to being influenced by the New Orleans environment, especially its decaying old houses and commercial buildings. So much so that amid this series of painterly abstractions is a set of sculptures that any Orleanian would instantly recognize as shotgun houses.

Despite being painted in flat, opaque hues of red, yellow, green and blue, there is no mistaking these signature icons of local life, with their obvious chimneys and front porch overhangs. Yet their surfaces are more about paint than architecture, and in that sense they serve as intermediaries for the rest of the show. Most of the other works are abstract, rectangular concoctions that protrude a few inches from the wall, and these too are all about surface, with layers of weathered, abraded, splotched or distressed paints that somehow suggest both the history of modern abstraction and the kinds of finishes one sees on some of the more derelict structures about town. Even their bland flatness suggests years of exposure to annihilating sun and rain, like a palimpsest with eroded finishes yielding to previous layers of paint.

Random Note II, a mustard-yellow panel shot through with abstract crackles of crimson and gray-green, is like an infrared image of the surface of Mars, or perhaps something left behind at a construction site. But Four Lines #1, a series of long narrow painted rectangles like abstract porch posts or modernist totems, is more explicitly suggestive of art. That is because the rectangles are painted in bright contrasting bands like coral snakes, although the usual weathered effects prevail here as well. But Four Lines #3 complexifies matters by confronting the viewer with a crosshatched, dull grayish painted facade, while the sides are a bebop symphony of syncopated colors distilled from swirl-pattern bowling balls, tequila sunrises or what have you. Oddly moving. While Jennings' often flat and sometimes bland colors take some getting used to, he seems to be embarking on a fairly promising direction.
02.01.03
Analyst on the Loose
By Marian S. McLellan, New Orleans Art Review More »
Analyst on the Loose
By Marian S. McLellan
New Orleans Art Review, January/February 2003

MY FELLOW AMERICANS, can you tell me what the physical space of color structure is? Or do you frankly not give a damn? Well, say and feel what you may, but I do think we Americans best start contemplating the place of color in a world besieged by darkness.

Oh, it is true that Jeff Jennings over at Marguerite Oestreicher Fine Arts may not be worried by the mass destruction looming over America, being that he is an art teacher at Louise S. McGehee School for girls. Girls, after all, are not yet threatened by the current threat of draft reinstatement. But it does seem that Jennings is placing his heart on the line of color in his current exhibition of three-dimensional paintings at Oestreicher, at a time when narrative and representational art are in full swing. That's what makes his exhibit of free-standing house forms and wall-mounted color structures so important. Jennings wants us to focus our attention on color.

These are good intentions, but Jennings is very specific about the colors he wants us to latch onto, mostly the quietude of primary and secondary colors. Even orange never gets very loud. And when he presents us with several paintings that are remindful of a black chalkboard embellished as they are with white, squiggly lines, his objective is not so clear. But Jennings is as straightforward as a man can be in the series of small shotgun houses, rectilinear color treatises, and vertical buttresses that redefine the place of color.

You may want to recall the artists of yore who were so sincere in their intent on giving color its righteous place as subject and concept. But even Frank Stella's curved constructions are not in keeping with Jennings' tactile foreground and background lines. Put simply, Jennings' most successful offerings, the wall-mounted color structures, are a physical explanation of line placement such as we'd find in Minimalism and Color Field Painting. Think of a particular painted line that is supposed to be superimposed over another to imply occupation of the foreground, then you will know where to find Jennings' approach.

There is no way around the artist's emphasis on the architecture of color. That may be the precise reason for the neat row of six identical shotgun houses, each displayed on individual white ledges that jut from the wall. Constructed in the manner of children's simplified block formations, they vary only by color. The casein on wood Blue Shot Gun House is representative of the lot, this one unevenly painted in pale blue. Whether we are to view the small houses as Minimalism after Judd where the function of form is to blend object and objectivity into the realm of subjection, can only be attested to by Jennings, for what happens with his paintings seems to be another story.

Then, the reason for three-dimensional paintings seems more based on the physical arrangement of color, which I suppose is also, at times, like Judd. But Judd's works have always been characterized by their pristine quality. Jennings, by comparison, is a mess, but a good mess so that we can say that many of his wall pieces are expressionistic assemblages that bespeak rather loudly of Hofmann. The triptych Random Note #25 is a color study of physical lines and space using a variety of colors set against a dark background.

Jennings' love of tactile dimension is overtly apparent in his series of blocky, three dimensional lines. Four Lines #1 is what that title implies. A row of four vertical blocks juts from the wall, each roughly painted in Hoffmanesque colors and squares. And there you have it, an analytical artist on the loose.
01.10.03
Jennings' work reflects the city
By Doug MacCash, Times Picayune More »
Jennings' work reflects the city
By Doug MacCash
Times Picayune


Fans of painter/sculptor Jeff Jennings' work will not be surprised by his current exhibit at Marguerite Oestreicher Fine Arts, but they will be delighted. The 35 small pieces are a continuation of his attempt to meld two distinct influences.

On one hand, Jennings, who teaches art at Louise S. McGehee School, is in love with the appearance of New Orleans' antique architecture. Its textures of cracked and peeling paint, exposed wood grain and the sometimes jarring color combinations are dear to his heart. "My material comes from here," he said. "I want to absorb my surroundings and put it in my work. You can see the passing of time, the history of the object. You can't divorce yourself from that."

But Jennings isn't satisfied with local color for its own sake. His aim is to blend the literal appearance of the Crescent City with pure abstraction. "My work is still about surfaces," he said, "but I've moved away from architecture. I'm not trying to replicate it any more. The work in this show is a little more abstract..."

Jennings' new work is quietly excellent. His painted wooden rectangles, vertical wooden columns and empty wooden squares (abstract windows) are gorgeous formal designs that can be enjoyed for the combination of shape, texture and color alone. Or they can be appreciated as poetic symbols of Big Easy architecture. The upstairs room of the gallery, which has been painted a warm gray for the occasion is crowded with Jennings' varied shapes, resulting in an abstract environment that, if you use your imagination, could be a distilled version of an old New Orleans neighborhood.