Southern Vermont painter Julia Jensen’s oil and encaustic paintings are now on display at West Branch Gallery in Stowe.
Tari Swenson, a partner at West Branch, joined VPR to talk about Jensen’s paintings and how they try to help artists find a balance between having their art be seen and having their art sell.
Swenson says that the gallery is actually composed of four separate galleries, which she says allows them to offer more solo shows for artists. “And, outside we have a sculpture park that abuts the west branch of the little river, so I invite people to come during the summer …” she says.
Jensen, a painter from Putney, loves to paint landscapes, Swenson explains. “Mostly of Southern Vermont and Cape Cod. She says her work is all about the relationship between the external and the internal,” says Swenson. “For example, one of her paintings of a sand dune with the sky above it and the sea in the distance and the lines are kind of blurred, as if you can feel the heat. So the internal response to that … might be of a reminiscent memory of that place, or of a yearning to experience that place in your future.”
Swenson says that Jensen has mostly painted in oil, but has moved into encaustic. “Encaustic is beeswax and damar resin and it allows the painter to blur the lines even further, create layers, add dimension,” describes Swenson.”So the artist can go back in, create lines, really thin lines, add maybe pieces of music scores – something that you’re not sure you’re seeing at first and then you get up close and you identify it.” She says that Jensen’s pieces are small vignettes that appear to be landscapes from a distance, but when you get closer, they are total abstraction.
The gallery partner says that when they first started West Branch, their love was abstract painting. “We really went far in that direction until we realized that people were walking in and looking like deer in the headlights, and they would look at these huge abstract paintings and walk right out,” she says. Swenson says they added more representational work that drew people in and kept them in longer. “We did notice that they did eventually mosey over to the abstract pieces and that allowed us to talk to them about the abstraction and then they really got into it, so that was a fun process to see,” she says. “I have a keen eye towards abstraction – I still love it – and artists like [Jensen], I think are a great mix in between representational and abstraction.”
Swenson says for Jensen, it’s about her work being seen. “All artists want their work to be seen more than anything else,” says Swenson. “And the artists who go into making art in order to become wealthy, their art is probably not all that great, you know?” She says artists should fine the right venue to show their work, which helps find a balance between being seen and behind sold. But there is much more to it, she says. “The more sincere answer is that all artists start with an emotional need. They have this drive, this creative sense of being, that when they see something they have to paint it and they have to put their spin on it. The life of a painting … it starts with this emotional integrity of the artist,” says Swenson.
Swenson says a lot of emotion goes into every painting that no one else gets to see. “Then the artist puts it on the gallery wall and then that continues, because the viewer who comes in and sees it also has some emotional response if they are relating to that painting,” she says. “And this is all this joyous, kind of emotive experience. And then when you get down to [the end of it], there’s that tiny little piece that is where the money exchanges. And that’s the only thing that isn’t all that emotional.” Swenson says that’s when a commercial gallery, like West Branch, can really be of great help to an artist.