Jenni Freidman is one of those artists I've always admired for her consistent dedication. I was super fortunate to be able to attend art school with Jenni in the - cough - 1990's at Hartford Art School in Connecticut, where she now teaches. (Lucky kids!) And, she was as steadfast and committed then as she is now. While her work has changed over the years, she never fails to bring poetry to the process. And, damn, if this gal doesn't know how to rock a party dress. (See Exhibit A above.)
Jenni, how would you define creativity? Wow! Isn’t that the question! Right now I would say being able to solve problems of all kinds in non-traditional ways. Thinking in an abstract way, finding your voice and having the courage to stand by it. I am sure I would have answered differently 10 years ago, and if you ask me in 10 years I will have another answer.
Tell me about your journey to becoming a printmaker. What is it about printmaking that called you to it? I had no idea what printmaking really was when I went to school. I took a class with Jim Lee as a freshman and just decided that what ever he was teaching the next year, that’s what I would take! It turned out to be an introduction to etching course and I fell instantly in love. There is something really wonderful about taking particular steps to reach a goal that is very satisfying to me. It sounds so cliché, but the process was really exciting! There is a magic in the making that I don’t find with anything else. There is part that you can control and part where you have to let go. That balance is really good for me in making my work, and in my life.
When do you feel at your creative peak, or most inspired? Inspiration comes in lots of different ways and in different sizes. My daughter Nona is a huge inspiration, she acts with CRAZY confidence in almost everything she does and it has given me more courage to take risks in my work. Also, I work best always with LONG stretches of time, where I can really immerse myself in what I am doing. Those times are sacred and special, I don’t find them very often. My creative juices flow more like fits and spurts now.
I find, however, that work creates work, so the more time I can spend making, the more time seems to open up, and more ideas start coming.
I am at a really exciting point in my work now. I am just at the beginning of something new. I feel tentative a bit, but mostly excited to see what happens.
For a long time nature played a big role in your work. Can you talk about that? I love natural forms and phenomena. I feel guilty a lot, because I act more as an observer than an active participant. I am not a camping girl, and I am terrified of bugs. But I love to look and to learn. I have always been able to find a metaphor or a kind of explanation for what I am feeling in my life in the forms of the natural world. It has helped me make sense of things both in times of darkness and in light.
Your recent has been more colorful and, perhaps, more about pattern. You've also started integrating other materials into your prints. Can you tell me about that shift, and what you're uncovering with the mixed media process? Yes! I mentioned before what an inspiration my daughter is for me, and in lots of ways. I would have NEVER described myself as girly before she was born. It seems though, that she changed me. Maybe it was all the adorable clothes and toys, maybe it is that she was ALL princess when she was very young, but it could be just becoming a mother, but I am all pink and sparkle now.
I took up baking, scoured stores for adorable aprons and started looking at things I would have never thought to look at, much less be inspired by before. I would go into candy stores, just to look. I started obsessing over fabric designers, color, texture and pattern. It got to the point where I found that what I was inspired by had nothing to do with the work I was making. I decided I had to make a radical shift and teach myself how to find PLAY and JOY in the work and in my life.
It is the first time in my life I went after something like that. The melancholy in the work was inherent in me, it was easy after a while, which is part of the reason I needed to stop. It wasn’t where I wanted to be anymore.
The manipulating of the prints really came from spending time with you in Rhode Island. I had been fascinated with cut paper and embroidery for a while, but felt like I wouldn’t let myself do it. You gave me permission, and the rest is history! THANK YOU!!!* It is just starting and I have a long way to go, but I love the object”ness” that the sewing and cutting create. It allows me to layer in a very physical way. (*Interviewers Note: She's giving me WAY too much credit here. She's nice like that.)
You are also a professor at University of Hartford's Hartford Art School. How does teaching inform your art making, and vice versa? I love my job, and it’s like a dream come true to be able to teach at the Hartford Art School. The students challenge me all the time to learn new things, both technically and conceptually so I can be a good resource for them. They open my mind and help me to examine and re-examine what art is all about. I don’t think I would ask those questions on my own and I LOVE being part of the community. It’s like a second family.
I mostly try to keep my art making separate from my teaching. I want students to find their own way. I, of course, have my biases, as we all do, but I try to keep them in check so I can help them explore their own subject matter.
You recently had a solo show in NYC - Congrats! What was the like for you? So many artists hold that experience as a pinnacle of career. Was it everything it's cracked up to be? It was and wasn’t. The best metaphor I can make is to my wedding. We planned for a year, had all the details attended to, and made sure everything would go off without a hitch. It was expensive and over in an instant. What I learned about the wedding was that it was a blip in the span of our relationship. That what happens before and after that one day is far more important. It is important to do it, because it’s a marker, but it is only a moment in a big line of moments.
If you are worth your salt, you make love and art last for more than just a moment.
What are your influences or favorite artists? My favorite artists change all the time, depending on what I am trying to deal with in my work. Right now I am hugely inspired and humbled byLeslie Dill. She speaks in poetry and her work is weightless and heavy all at once. I cry every time I hear her speak, it goes straight to my bones. I love Agnes Martin and Vija Celmins. There are countless friends whose work I have in my home that light me up on a daily basis. I drink and eat from pieces made from artists' hands and sit now typing surrounded by work of my students and friends. Feeling pretty blessed, actually.
Any advice to aspiring printmakers? Do it because you love it. Make the best most honest work you can. Don't be too hard on yourself. Take lots of risks. Share your work with others.
Jenni Freidman makes prints and drawings, as well as limited edition books. Her work has been shown in exhibitions across the United States and abroad. She teaches at the Hartford Art School at the University of Hartford, and lives in West Hartford with her husband Brian, daughter Nona, and their dog Vinnie. More info about her and her work can be found on her website HERE.