MAKERS: Jenniffer Omaitz
“I am so happy that I stepped out of my comfort zone. In the evolution of artists and painters I admire, change is part of their career dialogue.” I can see that Jenniffer Omaitz isn’t afraid to try new things, as she shows me around her Kent home I spy examples of her early work – works that look very different from what it is in her studio today. I think it was Matisse that said “creativity takes courage” – a fitting motto for Omaitz, as she seems to be constantly testing her limits. From large-scale sculptural installations to hand-marbling papers, her practice is, for lack of a better word, bustling.
“Work should constantly evolve throughout ones career,” she explains. “From an artist/maker standpoint– risk-taking is essentially growth. I have taken some pretty big risks with going from painting to sculpture to painting again. I am at a point where painting and sculpture become one and they significantly inform one another. I don’t see them as separate practices but conversations that allow for evolution. It allows me to see potential and cross-pollination from one art process into another.” And this is evident when taking a look at the new work hanging in her painting studio.
I’ll admit, the work of Omaitz’s of which I am most familiar was from several years ago, when she was making black paintings with what looked like delicate dancing electrical charges of neon colors. Her current work is much more structural, contained, geometric, and, well sculptural – as you can see when looking at the new paintings on her studio wall.
In them I see Omaitz wrangling shapes into balance, toying with structure. I ask what inspired this new direction in her paintings, and she cited the influence of artist Kevin Appel and a bit of architectural philosophy:
“My work began to shift when I was on a month long residency at the Vermont Studio center in 2013. I had one of those ‘Aha Moments’ after a long studio visit/conversation from Appel. The work has evolved ever since Vermont. I became interested in the combination of gesture, architectonic shapes, mark making, boundary, elevation, color and flatness all at once. I have always been interested in perception and things phenomenological; both in everyday experience and painting. This is a conversation that is still happening in the work.”
It’s a conversation that I can see unfolding on these new canvases – complex dialogues of spatial dynamics. In Omaitz’s compositions, you can see her laying a groundwork of form, only to have the structure shift to the tune of her deliberate mark making, while the mass of these objects is constantly interrupted by reminders of the object’s flatness.
The largest of these paintings, on the far left, is actually an older painting that she has re-addressed using some of these new ideas. While I couldn’t tell what the original composition looked like, this re-imagining of the canvas with its new geometric structure really does call to mind architecture. Specifically, the good kind.
Ok, so maybe that’s subjective, but I can’t help but see a language of form unfolding in these compositions that seems to be striving towards something better. Maybe they’re not quite there yet, but they’re striving. It brings to mind the progressive architect Le Corbusier, who also believed that form and structures could convey ideas:
“I perceive your intentions. The stones you have erected tell me so. They behold something which expresses a thought – a thought which reveals itself without word or sound, but solely by means of shapes which stand in a certain relationship to one another. These shapes are such that they are clearly revealed in light. The relationships between them have not necessarily any reference to what is practical or descriptive. They are a mathematical creation of your mind. They are the language of Architecture.” (Toward an Architecture, 1923)
Like Le Corbusier, I can see things revealed in the relationship/tension between Omaitz’s forms and her mark making, as she explains, “the new paintings play off an internal, rather formal logic that balances and exploits tension of chaos and order.”
Omaitz primarily uses acrylic paints, “currently my favorite tool is a large flat brush combined with one of the combs I use for mark making. Painting alla prima and using these tools allows a fluid instantaneous moment to happen in the paint.” A technique that clearly she has used to her advantage in these new canvases, as well as tape – “I use lots of tape – custom tape that is special for the type of paintings that I make.”
I knew that Omaitz also makes marbled paper, but I was surprised to see the technique popping up in some of her new paintings.
The entire undersurface of the panel is marbled, revealed only through gaps between shapes. She showed me several unpainted panels that were already marbled, many of them absolutely lovely enough to be compositions just as they are.
Omaitz has a separate summer studio for her paper marbling – a technique that she has only recently undertaken: “I took a class at the Morgan Paper conservatory a few years back and was hooked ever since. It’s balance, it’s color, it’s pattern, it’s history, and all that is magic just floating on water. You have to have a steady hand, focus, good timing and tremendous skill to work this way. I’ve been working on ways to incorporate this into paintings, but I’m just at the beginning of this transition. I’m hooked and totally enjoying the exploration.”
Omaitz uses these hand-made papers to make journals – specifically, coptic stitched sketchbooks with waxed linen thread.
The papers themselves are stunningly beautiful – each one entirely unique, and extremely complex. I’m not a marbled paper expert, but some of her techniques seem to be incredibly advanced – far beyond a simple comb. In fact, they remind me of 3-D digital illustrations, but I know they were made by dipping this piece of paper into a metal pan filled with magical fluids, each design that emerges one-of-a-kind. In a way, I’m glad I don’t know exactly how these patterns were achieved, I like the mystery.
Omaitz is constantly shifting gears, as you can see, and has not given up on her installation work either. Organizers of Akron Soul Train, a planned residential artists’ village outside downtown Akron, just named Omaitz one of three artist fellows. While still in the planning stages, a village of rail cars, shipping containers, and tiny houses will likely provide Omaitz the opportunity to explore some of these new ideas on an even larger scale. I don’t know what that will look like, but I can’t wait to see.
Jenniffer Omaitz will be included in the upcoming Faculty Show at the University of Akron Myers School of Art, opening August 31st. To see more of her work, please visit the artist’s website – and to purchase sketchbooks, journals, and stationary made with her marbled papers, please visit www.jcmarbling.com.