Meet awesome artist and all around sweet and interesting person, Jennifer Levine. More about her in a minute.
Do you ever look at people out there in the world and think, “You know, I’m pretty sure that person and I would be great friends if we could just have the opportunity to meet?” I know I’ve often felt that way about celebrities like David and Amy Sedaris, Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey and George Clooney. Perhaps you’ve had the same feeling about people you’ve never met, like, “Wow! I share their sense of humor, their view of life, even their favorite kind of potato chips!” You just know that if you could somehow just end up at the same dinner party you’d hit it off and become lifelong buds!
While some artists lead the solitary studio life, most of the creative folks that I encounter crave the human connection with other likeminded individuals. Because so many artists have to conform to “real life,” it can be difficult to live, or even participate, in a true artist’s community. I live in a beautiful part of central New Jersey where the landscape inspires, the day to day is peaceful and safe and the public schools are amazing. But, as hard as some of the creative people in my town have tried, it has proven nearly impossible to keep a gallery, a funky boutique or even a privately owned coffee shop, open for business for very long. The local politics are more conservative, the population less diverse and the professional lives lean toward pharmaceuticals, medical and other left-brained corporate segments. Sadly, our Main Street is dotted with “For Lease” signs and the foot traffic there does not really allow for the serendipitous meeting up of people who might connect on an artistic level. Joining together with other artists often requires more effort in searching and definitely driving. Personally, I think this can be frustrating.
So, one of the things I have been doing lately is reaching out to artists who at least live relatively nearby. I’m not sure if it sounds weird to email or call someone and say, hey, I think we have some things in common, how would you like to meet and see what those things are? And, I’m not sure if other artists always feel similarly as open as I do about sharing stuff from technique to life stories, but, as the common sense saying goes, I figure the worst thing that someone can say is no.
A few weeks ago, in an online newsletter that highlighted a gallery event in Montclair, NJ, I spotted the vibrant, playful, exuberant work of Jennifer Levine. I emailed her to tell her how much I loved her art and, as it turned out, she and I had actually met about four years before at an art event that I do each year in Upper Montclair. The year I first spoke with her was the year her first children’s book, Princess Moxie, came out. As best as I can recall, we chatted only about books and, at that time, I knew little of her painting. When I emailed her I told her I thought it would be cool for us to meet. She replied to my email right away and said, yeah! Come on over to my studio! So, I did.
Walking into Levine’s studio it is immediately clear that this is an artist who lives her art. Her work, much of it quite large, not only hangs everywhere but covers the surface of almost every piece of furniture. It is almost like being on a stage set for a play and your eye moves from room to room, from wall to wall and from thing to thing as you try to take it all in. Whimsical shapes, bright colors and words that reveal her flights of fancy seduce you as her two, big, twin cats vie for your attention.
We talked about art and being an artist, paints and substrates, school programs and working with children, parenthood, divorce, community and what all these things mean to the creative person. It was a cool, crisp day and the sun was streaming into her Church Street home-studio that overlooks the heart of Montclair, the town she has grown to love. She served a plate of big, juicy grapes.
Her work knocks me out.
She took me across the street to a wine shop where many of her large works are propped up along the tops of the wine racks. She said the one on the top right (above) was one of her favorites. Every employee we passed recognized her and said how much they loved being around her joyful art. Indeed.
I find her work invigorating. She is delightfully self-taught and paints without fear of being anything that the world expects of her and, I believe, without the voice of the harsh critic that I and so many of my artist friends have talked about having. You can find out more about Jennifer Levine–and see much more of her terrific art– at her website.
Connecting with other creative people, whether in person or online, energizes me and makes me feel like there is a community that I belong to, despite the fact that I don’t run into the members of it in my local (and nonexistent!) coffee shop. Sharing stories of the creative journey is a way of supporting each other in a career path that is often fraught with uncertainty and doubt. At home in Montclair, Levine believes in the transformative powers of art on the very communities we live in:
I see this connection with art and the creative spirit as “the missing piece” in my town, and in communities around the world. While we are connected virtually and through work, our families, schools and religious communities, we are often left isolated and alone in our day to day existence about town. I feel public art serves to link us quietly, yet profoundly, in our simple, day to day activities.
It was a pleasure to meet you, Jennifer! Thank you for sharing your space and time with me last week–and for the delicious grapes! I certainly hope that our paths cross again because, you know what? I think we’d make good friends.
TRY THIS WEEK: Think about ways that you can connect with new people with whom you have both commonalities and differences.