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Jenna Faye Powell

The RBC Canadian Painting Competition interview series

Painting by Jenna Faye Powell
Paintings courtesy of Jenna Faye Powell The Ideology of the Sublime Wilderness II, acrylic and oil on canvas (137 x 137 centimetres).

Jenna Faye Powell lives in London. She received a BFA from Western University, and an MFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design.

Tell us about your work flow.

It’s a cumbersome, time-consuming process, but also satisfying. I build miniature dioramas, photograph them, and spend hours filtering through hundreds of pictures. Then, I project a photograph on the canvas, and finally paint.

What inspires or influences you?

Just strange day-to-day things. For the last few years, I’ve been obsessed with Wes Anderson movies. I feel like we have a similar aesthetic—really awkward and beautiful colour pallets—and both deal with whimsical subject matters that can sometimes come across as offbeat or spooky.

Your work that’s been selected for the RBC short list comes from your Welcome to Chesterfield series. What can you tell us about it?

This fictional city of Chesterfield was invented to contain my obsessions and the narratives I’ve been interested in over the last few years: domestic architecture and colour, middle-class lifestyle, what it means to grow up in the suburbs, and the strange, sublime things that can happen in suburban territories.

Is there anything that surprises you about this body of work?

I invented Chesterfield to get away from reality and autobiography. I was making some paintings off of imagery from where I grew up in Sarnia, and I found myself tangled in Sarnia’s histories and stereotypes. But, I realized that you can never get away from the autobiographical. All those things slowly crept back into these paintings and, in the end, Chesterfield is really just a reflection on my history.

Painting by Jenna Faye Powell
The Ideology of the Sublime Wilderness, acrylic and oil on canvas (137 x 137 centimetres).

What do you think this year’s short list says about where painting is in Canada right now?

It says everything in that it doesn’t necessarily point to one dominant theme or mode of thinking. Generally, I think young painters are sick of hearing about this morose idea of the “death of painting,” or even the dichotomy of “abstraction versus representation.” Painting now has become this open field for people to address what they find interesting as individuals. They’re bringing their own history and lexicons to the table.

What are your ideal working conditions?

Ideally, I’d have two to three cups of coffee, about two hours of new music, and eight to ten hours of straight, uninterrupted painting time. I have an amazing studio downtown right now. The only thing that I really miss is the camaraderie of having studio mates—being able to work with a particular group of people, ask questions, and pick their brains.

Much of art today is seen as a reproduction. Does that affect the way you work?

I tend to work large, in many layers of oil paint, and end up creating this huge, super shiny piece of work. It’s a nightmare to photograph, but that would never stop me from making the work. That being said, I’ve recently started using cold wax as a finishing medium. It leaves this iridescent, amazing, hazy, matte finish which makes the paintings a lot easier to document.

What’s the art scene like in London?

As cheesy as it sounds, I can’t help but feel that there’s some magic in the air, that things are changing and evolving in London. There is a revitalization going on, and it’s attracting creative types back to the city.

This interview has been condensed and edited for publication. See all fifteen finalists at TheWalrus.ca/cpc.