Questions for Jeanne Rhea Interview for Pressed - A Creative Space
1) Tell me how you became an artist—what originally sparked your interest creating pieces?
I came from a large family and my parents encouraged creativity as soon as we were old enough to hold a needle or hammer. We reused, repurposed, reclaimed, and recycled long before it was trendy. I can remember at the age of three with a needle in hand and embroidering a daisy on a hanky.
I grew up next to the Devil’s Pulpit in New Concord, KY, where the atmosphere triggered a healthy imagination.
My childhood days were filled with reading, coloring, and exploring the woods and finding pods, insects, twigs, or rocks that I imagined could become something else. Road graders would rumble along the country roads and scrape back the soil or vegetation exposing seams of clay. I would dig out this exposed clay and sculpt dolls, dishes, veggies, hamburgers and hot dogs and dry them on the rocks in the hot sun. In 1998, nearly forty years after making these play things, I returned with nieces and nephews to the Devil’s Pulpit to find some of these creations still hidden in a small outcropping and in remarkably good condition.
2) How would you describe your style? Who do you design for?
My style has evolved over the years. I primarily paint in what I consider a bold and vibrant abstract contemporary style. Circles are very prominent in most of my work and I feel drawn to them as they represent the life cycle, the universe, energy and infinity.
I am gradually adding lots of lines and angles for more interest. I also create effects that are reminiscent of microorganisms, crystalline structures, mudflats, terraced earth, the cosmos, sea life, flowers, surrealistic landscapes and more. I paint in layers that give a dimensional quality to my paintings.
My work is hard to miss. I paint for myself first. Even if no one were interested in my work, I would still be creating something every day.
I find that those in the science and technology fields and young people are especially drawn to my paintings. They are curious about the process and it seems to be something that is new and different to them.
3) How do you think being a self-taught artist has inspired your work? Where do you look for inspiration (Who do you look to for inspiration)?
I am inspired by nature (fungi, trees, sea life), colors, patterns, fractals, photomicrography, life experiences, but mainly the creative process. I can’t think of anything that does not inspire me. Even the negative things in life are often an impetus for inspiration. However, once I am in the creative zone, I love listening to music and going with the flow. It is then that I feel like I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing with my life.
Although I am a fan of the work of many artists, I am not especially inspired by them for my own work. I am more into what I can discover on my own. I like creating with no plan to see what happens. Sketching an idea seems to take something away from the life of my creation. It works best for me to jump in and take action.
I love way too many artists to list all of them. I am drawn to Wassily Kandinsky’s and Tamara de Lempicka’s work. I listen to music and it probably influences my work more than any painter. I could listen to Leonard Cohen for hours. I love the Delta blues and a little of all kinds of music. I often listen to Les Miserables or other musicals while I work.
My entire family was creative and it was never a question as to whether one could be creative. So I tend to think that having to be inspired is a little overrated when it comes to being an artist. Instead, I think, “Just do the work!” Most of the time, the minute I walk into my studio, I am ready to explore, experiment, work and play.
4) Your alcohol ink paintings are filled with incredible vibrancy. Why did you choose to work with those materials? Could you explain how the process works?
I was working with polymer clay when I discovered alcohol inks. At that time, polymer clay was just becoming a widespread medium for art. Artists were experimenting with every possible material (even adding spices!) on or with polymer clay. I touched two different brands of alcohol inks that had different types of alcohol onto the polymer clay and I noticed there was a distinct pattern that formed from the two inks. It was magical. It took me a few months before I could figure out how and why this design formed.
At first I painted on 2.5”x3.5” pieces of polymer clay with the inks. Then I made postcards and jewelry out of the inks on clay and eventually made paintings on polymer clay up to 6”x6”.
I discovered that the substrate made a huge difference in how the inks moved and the patterns formed. At the time, I was only able to easily make polymer clay in about 6” sheets. I decided to test all kinds of substrates in order to find a substrate that would work for larger paintings. For a year, I painted on non-porous materials like Plexiglas™, Formica™ or Wilsonart™, Yupo™, or light colored metals. These did not allow for the same designs that I could get with the polymer clay, but I could make larger paintings.
When I discovered Ampersand Claybord™, I was finally able to get a wide range of designs on one substrate. After ten or eleven years, a design element which I originally could make no larger than 1” in diameter, could now expand to 24” in diameter. The patterns and designs are dependent on many factors including the humidity, the temperature, the chemical and physical makeup of the inks, the viscosity of the inks and the porosity of the substrate. Working wet on wet, in many ways, it is art meets science.
5) What types of materials do you use for your mixed media paintings?
I use a variety of alcohol and acrylic inks, silk fabric dyes, acrylic paints, Pearl-ex™ or other pearlescent or metallic powders. I have just recently begun to paint with oil paints in a manner similar to my alcohol ink paintings and have been able to render a few unique patterns similar to the alcohol inks.
6) Your mixed media 3D creations are incredibly diverse. What kinds of 3D materials spark your interest? How do you come up with ideas your subjects?
This is exposing my collecting obsession. For thirty years I collected almost anything and everything that I thought I could use in an assemblage or collage. Sometimes it did not matter whether I could envision what it would become. It may have been that I just liked the patina, the shape, the color or the history of the item. In the past two years, I have been able to sell or gift many of these items and am feeling much lighter. I will use any material for my work that I feel is ‘just right’. I am not a fan of art boasting so many different pieces that I can’t imagine why it is there or what the message is. I prefer assemblages or collages that tell a story, but restraint used with the materials.
My ideas come like waterfalls. I never run out of ideas and have journals going back to the early seventies with ideas of art that I want to make. I credit this mindset of always having ideas to my mother who never allowed her children to say they were bored. She reminded us that unless we knew everything in the encyclopedia, had a perfectly cleaned room, or we just were not smart enough to find something to entertain ourselves, then we just could not be bored! There was always something to learn or do.
7) What has been your favorite piece you’ve ever created? Why?
This is a hard one. I like my gourd ladies a lot. They are me—-all natural materials. As far as my alcohol ink paintings, I almost always like the one I am working on at the moment if it is a large painting and especially if it is something a little different. I much prefer to work very large rather than small. I just made The Dance of the Jellyfish and the entire time I was working on it, I kept saying, “I love this painting.” What I really meant was that I love pushing myself and exploring new techniques and subject matter. And in the end, I loved the painting.
I wrote a non-serious curriculum vitae and mentioned that my two sons were my best creations and now that I have one almost two year old granddaughter and two new twin grand babies, I must say that still stands.
8) Would you like to experiment with more materials and artistic endeavors in the future? If so, what kind?
I am painting a little with oil paints and that is new for me. I do not rule anything out now. I had always said I would never be a painter and I would be a sculptor or assemblage artist. And now I primarily paint. Who knows? Tomorrow I may wake up and decide that I must do some fiber art again or learn to paint realistically. Whatever it is, I am sure it will be recognizable as my work since I have difficulty with taking classes and doing what is being taught. My brain is always thinking, “…but what if I did this instead of that?”
9) Could you tell me about the arts and craft co-op you were a founding member in Alaska and the Carolina Mixed Media Art Guild that you were the founder?
When I lived in Alaska, I was a single mother to two young children and was self-employed all but the first year of the nineteen years that I lived there. I had to work a lot and there was little time to be creative. So I ended up joining with several other artists and forming an arts and crafts cooperative that I was in for eight years until I moved out of state. I learned a lot about working with a group of artists and approaching my art from a business perspective. That experience was a good one.
I moved to Raleigh September 1, 2001. Then 9/11 happened a few days later. I knew no one in Raleigh. After a couple of months of 24/7 bad news, I decided to try to find other artists who worked in any media to get together to make art or promote our art. I had been online on several discussion groups about polymer clay and other art. I started there asking for those within driving distance of Raleigh to meet. The first couple of years we had informal meetings. Now the Carolina Mixed Media Art Guild has meetings the second Thursday of each month and meets at Chavis Community Center in Raleigh. We have many activities throughout the year including working as support for Art of the Carolinas, field trips, play dates, monthly demos, volunteering our art expertise for various causes, and learning the business of art. All skill levels and artists are welcome.
10) Where would you like to see your brand in the next 5-10 years?
I have difficulty thinking of myself and my art as a brand, but I get the question. I seem to think back to how I was raised… If I work hard, focus, and do what I am passionate about, I can make a living with it and it will bring me what I want in life. For an artist, this is especially important since we are not guaranteed a wage.
11) Where can one find/view/buy your artwork and connect with you?