I am so excited to bring you this Why We Create interview of the abstract expressionist Janelle Jensen Fritz. I found Janelle on Instagram. She is such an inspiring artist, mother, and thinker. I love the freedom and movement in her work. Her interview is really engrossing and interesting. Janelle, thank you for being so open and vulnerable with us. I was so energized and inspired by your answers, and I’m so grateful and honored that you took the time to share them with us.
Without further ado, here’s Janelle’s interview:
1. For those who are not familiar with you and your work, could you give us a glimpse of what you do and how you ended up where you are?
I’m aspiring & inspired in the avante garde, although incidentally that means that I’m still finding my niche.
Since my childhood I’ve heavily identified with the modern arts. I am a contemporary art junkie, meaning a significant portion of my art profits are put back into building my collection of contemporary artists, especially women artists. I consider myself an encourager for the social arts on a very humble but conscientious scale. My current focus in my own work is primarily converging in narrative art both in my commissioned pieces and my personal projects. Most of my commissioned paintings are a visual representation of my clients stories, which preserve histories, convey testimonies, capture legacies, and illustrate lives. I construct paintings steeped with expressionism, idyllic memories, and deep threads of religious & contemporary iconography. My paintings draw upon symbolic root origins, often synapsing to connect a string of analogous memories which comprise a story. The specific representations convene as a composite which reflect the narrative in a non-representational, almost surreal or mythical way. My personal work also aligns with building narratives, which usually delve into religious tenets, scripture, parables, literature, history, legend, and social justice themes. The compilation of themes and symbols is often intrinsic, and results in an inherent coherency either viscerally or visually.
It has taken me nearly a decade to make peace with my meandering method towards my artist calling. My formative years were filled with art, gently nurtured by the artistic hands of my mother. Supportive encouragement with reams of paper, and kitchen-table art lessons in shading, perspective, and figure drawing. As the eldest of 6, in a highly conservative, lovingly hectic household, it now seems inevitable that my emotional escapism was story-telling while sketching. Through High School I took every art class available, and recall that the process of creative development elevated my mood, improved my motivation, and filled me with purpose. Despite this affinity for the arts, I took an art class or two in college, but graduated with a B.S. in Criminal Justice in 2002 from Utah Valley University. All the while, I suspended my creative pursuits, married my husband the summer before my 3rd year of college, worked my way through the retail-mall-circuit to call centers, and from a program instructor in a state prison to a paint-at-home-mom. The last decade has been an ebb and flow of creative endeavors, with an emphasis on honing my style, through trial and error, self-taught studies, and absorbing whatever artistic education available within the parameters of this season with my three young children.
2. Do you think creativity requires discipline? If so, what kinds of disciplines have you found helpful as you pursue your creative calling? If you could embrace one new creative discipline this year, what would it be?
The quote by Picasso “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist,” really resonates with me. I don’t think that means everyone needs to pursue the path of a fine arts degree. For many years I have felt disadvantaged because I didn’t choose to obtain a fine arts degree at the university. Yet, I feel that the course I am currently on wouldn’t be possible if I hadn’t had some of the very formative experiences of working in the social work sector in a group home and prison. This particular season of creativity is about developing my artistic voice, the season I am preparing for is the one where I plan to revisit my social justice and criminal justice background using art to reach and teach.
Each season I find it helpful to plan out my practice. Deciding on a thematic subject to study, with a particular medium. These are often seasonal studies and have included landscapes, seasonal still lifes, or a series with a conceptual narrative. In addition to these studies, I have artwork that I begin out of my own need to create from a very therapeutic and primal place. I’d consider these pieces my soul work, which fuse my physical and spiritual natures through the process of introspection, contemplation, reflection, and sheer effort. Themes of recovery, repentance, forgiveness, and resolution are present in these works. This year I played with my project parameters, by challenging myself to a more rigid and patterned concept. Using specific sizing, shape, pattern, and medium requirements, I began the #100dayproject (which I completed 25 of, and would like to resume, where I left off…sigh, life!) I would consider the completion of this #100dayproject a successful embracing of a new discipline. The geometric aspects have certainly focused and concentrated my style into a 5×5 box, versus expanding outside of one.
3. Creativity and artistic practice can be generative for our culture (contributing to growth and betterment) or degenerative (contributing to breaking it down and weakening it). In what ways would you like to see your work be generative to the culture in which you live?
This question and concept is a principle in my work. My father had a saying that he would quip when we were growing up. It was, “Be a builder, not a destroyer.” Somehow when I am creating, this phrase resonates in the process for me and is a key component in my desire to share my work. One area that I would like to explore is using my art to change the narrative of some of the degenerative issues our society faces. I haven’t completely determined what this looks like, and many of my ideas are still forming, or in rough sketch form. I hope this means that I will eventually delve into some of the social justice and criminal justice issues from my background. I have experience working with some challenging populations (adolescent females in group homes, adult incarcerated males in prison), I feel like this season is one where I am distilling and discerning where my calling is taking me, and which ideas are the ones I am supposed to respond to.
I have determined that through my art I am passionate about helping others to feel a sense of wild wonder about life, the type which stimulates a sense of freedom. I then attempt to take that and open it up to a form of introspection, which then provides a catalyst for healing. These continue to emerge as recurrent themes in my work.
4. What, at your deepest level, drives you to create?
From the time that I was a child, I knew the language of art. I understood that it was a part of who I am, where my inspiration comes from, how I commune spiritually, the way in which I see the world, my life perspective is and always has been through this artistic lens. Ideas, are in constant flux. There is almost a form of competition that exists within my individual creative sphere, meaning that somehow the ideas and desire to create understand that I am not capable of bringing each one to light. There have been many seasons of my life where I have just shut the door on them. The reasons for this dismissal are complex and variable. It wasn’t until recently I understood this in the form of a biblical parable: the parable of the talents. The servant who receives only one talent, allows fear and his own inability for vision to stunt his opportunities. He doesn’t even see the “talent” as his. He calls it “thine.” He adopts no co-creativity, no partnership, nothing. He buries the talent, shuts the door on it, gives up. I realized for the first time that this desire to create, to make art, to paint, to develop my abilities and talents was for ME from THEM, my Heavenly Parents. It is one of my conduits to divinity, one that gives me access to mental introspection, emotional healing, and the ability to connect my physical and spiritual through an act of practice and progression. I finally feel a sense of that same wild wonder for my own creative endeavors, allowing myself the freedom to explore it, understand it, and honor it without any self imposed peremptory has been the key to re-opening this door.
5. What does the process of creating look like for you from start to finish/ how do you tackle a creative project?
My paintings and my mixed media have different processes. Actually, each project has a different course. I suppose I could categorize my work into two different methods. I would title these a free-flow approach, and a formulated approach. A free-flow process I recently began was an abstract oil painting based on a bargain bin botany score in the floral department at my local grocery store. It was a surprisingly eclectic and unique arrangement to find outside of a florist and at discount at that! The colors and textures reminded me of “Indian Summer” this season between summer and fall. I knew it was going to translate into a painting as I placed it in my basket. I brought it home, trimmed the stems, arranged it in a vase, and placed it in a focal spot in the heart of my home. I lived with it for a day, enjoying it, absorbing it, and that evening I brought it up to my home studio. I chose a playlist which fit the mood I wanted to conjure, prepared my palette based on the colors of the bouquet, and gave myself over to the canvas. These types of free-flow works are therapeutic, I especially like the under-painting stage, allowing the mood, and emotion to direct the brushstrokes, and movement of the piece. It is as if I am painting through those themes of freedom, introspection, and healing in a successive and repetitive process. I have learned over trial and error, when to end a painting session. Knowing when to end is just as important as beginning. Abstract expressionism is not always intuitive, it is easy to begin overworking a painting, perhaps I am still feeling the emotions, yet the connection between the emotion and the canvas has lapsed. Learning to discern whether that soulful connection between mind and hand is still functioning is a delicate, yet pivotal point in my creative process. Some works call for layering, and I even add sanding, scraping, and washing techniques to a painting. I consider these layers part of the introspection element, sometimes we misdirect our freedom, or give our wild wonder too much latitude and we need to revoke and refrain it. I suppose I try and honor these themes and find a way to reconcile them together in my artwork.
In contrast my formulated works take much more planning, organization, and preparation. These include most of my commissions, especially those which portray a story or season of my clients lives. These begin with a consultation and where I preferably sit down with my client compile a sort of personal history from a time or season of their life. If we aren’t able to meet then I provide an email query which steps the client through the process of relaying the various scenes they want depicted or captured. I gather poignant memories, listen for phrases which reveal a scenic visual, hear as they unravel the legacy they want to preserve. I then take my notes, and sketch a composite that represents their story. I use symbolism, abstract expressionism, and take special care to include iconography which reflects their faith or culture and represents their experiences. I ask that they provide pictures of any inspirational design elements or vibes they would like me to blend in. I like to reference any lyrics, poetry, or prose that has significant or special meaning to them. It is an eclectic but very personal piece. It is one that can be used to share their story with friends and family who visit them, it is a piece that will evolve with them, revealing nuanced layers and effects year after year. I approach these paintings in layers. Building their story in the same way a story teller does with dramatic structure yet with visuals and emotive movement. As I begin laying down the final layers, and move into the denouement of the narrative, I then give the client the opportunity to make any amendments. It is an interesting intersection in the creative process,one that many artists would have difficulty with, and many don’t allow for. Some artists have specific creeds of creativity which make it impossible for them to invite another into that sacred space. Essentially I’m allowing them to be part of the process, and that can be quite a sensitive place to give others access to. Yet, I have learned to make a place for them in their story. It is fascinating to see how different personalities approach this step, and it is such an honor to be given the opportunity to create something with such innate and representative qualities for another person. If I approach it from that angle, I am able to shelf my pride and respect that this is closer to a collaboration than just an art commission.
6. How has social media influenced the way you view yourself as an artist? What do you find most helpful/most difficult about this aspect of your creative process?
This has proven a difficult aspect for me. I do so well in person, face to face, but somehow I haven’t been able to translate this ability to connect in the same way via Instagram, Twitter, or Snapchat. Don’t get me wrong, I have tapped into some amazing communities and have made some great connections with other artists. I have a couple other artist mothers who seem to be at the same season of their life and creative journey and they are incredible. It is truly wonderful when you feel a connection and begin finding common ground and delve into more intimate territory with another person in these forums. Especially as there are soooo many cirlces, and soooo many artists doing amazing things within their sphere and influence, which means if you don’t have a few kindred spirits that seem to really understand what you are doing, saying, and making then you can easily feel lost in largeness of it all. Don’t despair, your peer review group is out there, it just takes some concentrated effort to find them. That is why all those creative communities are so critical! I so appreciate projects like “Why we Create” and other spotlights which give lime-light to such a wide range of artists and audiences! Props to you Kelly for this endeavor!
7. Do you have any routines that help you get in the rhythm of creating?
I’ve really evolved in my routines. Mothering three young children has stretched me, and makes me more adaptive in what I would consider my creative warm-up. I use times like carpooling, or while I’m breastfeeding, or while I’m swimming laps to either plan my next move, or next painting session so I can maximize the time once I am in the studio. I have not found a way to paint with my children in the studio with me. I think I’ve made peace with that. I had an artist friend tell me that even though there may not be an “ideal” studio session, it is okay to have a set of parameters within which I excel. Do you know how much that helped me?! I think with social media we see all sorts of artists, a variety of mothers, different types of children, and we see something working for one family and wonder why it doesn’t translate into ours. As if some key of implementation is lost for us, when the truth is our home is ours, our children are ours, we are not them, and they are not us. I love that we can share ideas and be supportive to each other. I also love that I may need a completely different set of circumstances in order to create. I create with my children, but when I do so, I like it to be more free-flow. I want to be present with my children in our making space. I cannot work on a formulated painting in oils while I’m doling out tempera paints, wiping up spills, scraping up a crushed oil pastel off the ground, I hope you hear my tongue in cheek humor, but truly, I save those types of personal narrative commissioned pieces for naptime, after bedtime, perhaps on the weekends when my husband is home.
8. Do you have any advice for those early on their creative journey?
Be patient. Just like many paintings have layers, so does this journey of finding your place on the creative path of your choosing. There are the “ugly layers”, the layers you labor, struggle, and weep over,there are layers that you love to create but don’t like to look at, and there are those that make it all worth while, the epilogue of a harmonious aesthetic. There is a quote from a religious text called the Doctrine and Covenants that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints uses. From section 64:33, “Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great.” I think this relates to so many aspects of life, but particularly in the learning curve which exists in the formative seasons, I believe through the consistency of creating, when a season of momentum arrives, you are all the more prepared to embrace it.
9. Where can we look forward to seeing you next? Are you working on any exciting projects?
You know, I just really appreciate this opportunity to share this season of my creative calling. Even though I’ve been creating consistently for nearly a decade now, after a few years hiatus, I am very much in the emerging stages of paving my artistic career. I was gratified and humbled to express myself and explain my art. A couple years ago, I began my art Instagram account which I used as a chronicling of my emphasis to infuse an artistic perspective into my daily grind. I use Twitter and Snapchat under the pun-intended spin on my last name @artonthefritz. This year I committed to obtaining 20 rejections to submissions, competitions, publications, etc. Rejections are inevitable in the art world and it has been so liberating to phrase these so called failures in a positive light. The “yes”, can only occur after the vulnerability and the query.
As for new and exciting, my next steps are mainly goal oriented.
I’m taking a gestural drawing class this fall from the Museum Academy at our local art museum, in hopes of gauging the ability of my family to rally in the spring for me to start college art courses to fulfill the art pre-requisites for a Masters program in Art Therapy.
I also plan to practice and fine tune my portraiture in oils, in hopes of tapping into some of the parenting networks I circle. Developing my own stylistic portrait style,and using it to provide parents with keepsakes of these whimsical, special, ephemeral seasons of childhood makes me incredibly excited.
I am gratified to have recently joined the Alabama Women’s Caucus for Art, and am looking forward to becoming more involved in my local art community.