About the Artist
Jen Shepard is a painter, sculptor and installation artist originally from East Texas who now lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Jen’s work is about exploring the mysteries of the universe and imagining separate and parallel realities and worlds. She’s deeply interested in particle physics, spirituality, the afterlife, ghosts, weather phenomenon, metaphysics, divination, and all things mysterious. Jen is also a graphic designer, art and design educator, and occasional curator. She holds an MFA in painting from the University of Texas at Tyler and also achieved her MS in graphic design from Pratt Institute. She has taught and curated at Pratt Institute and has been awarded residencies at The Vermont Studio Center (2019), The Wassaic Project (2016, 2018), and The School of Visual Arts (2009). Recent exhibitions include A Hole in the Sky, a solo exhibition at Urbano Cellars in Berkeley, California (2018); Forces of Nature, an online solo feature on Spotte Art's Artsy page (2018); The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, a 2-person exhibition with Daniel Weiner at Automat Gallery, Philadephia, PA (2017); Vagabond Time Killers at The Wassaic Project, Wassaic, NY (2017); Particular Process at Lorimoto Gallery, Ridgewood, NY (2017); Primary Gesture, as part of Pratt Institute's alumni exhibition at Pratt Institute Steuben Gallery, Brooklyn, NY (2017). Her work was also recently featured in the Pratt Alumni booth at Untitled Art, Miami (2018) and can be found in the Morgan Lehman Gallery flat files and the Fidelity Mutual Corporate Collection. Additionally Shepard’s work has been featured in the Tiger Strikes Asteroid New York flat file (2018). Shepard is non-exclusively represented by Spotte Art and is a contributor to The Coastal Post.
with Joe Brommel, August 2018
On your site, you talk about your work as “portals into another world.” Can you say more about that? And maybe how that's played into some pieces you've shown in Wassaic? I’m thinking of Moonrise Horizon Planet Nine from last year’s exhibition, in particular.
I’m really interested in all these new discoveries with space and particle physics; how they've actually discovered that there's a strong likelihood that there are other dimensions all existing simultaneously, things like that. And since coming to Wassaic for the first time, I’ve started to think about the thin line between what's real and what's not real. Because we’re starting to find out that some of the things that we thought were fantastical and totally unreal in the past are actually real. New Age-y people talk about things like “manifesting energies,” so I’ve been thinking about that, and playing with this idea of manifesting the things that are in the paintings. What is the plane of a painting? What is that framing device? Is it a portal into another world? If you were to step through, would what’s on the other side be this other world that you're viewing from the outside?
Last time I was here was the first time I started to play with objects in conjunction with painting. I had the paintings standing up almost like they were anthropomorphic, and objects bordering the installation. So it's this idea of: did you pass through this world and this object was left behind? Or is part of that world beginning to manifest in our world? Moonrise Horizon on Planet Nine is me having fun with the idea of what that other world would like. Focusing on that part of it as opposed to the picture plane part of it.
It’s something I've continued to play with. Things have become less abstract, more literal and silly.
Another thing that comes to mind when talking about crossing into another world is Through the Looking Glass. Does that have any influence on your work? Or is that mostly a passing reference?
It’s a passing reference. But I do think about The Hugga Bunch, this really stupid movie from the 80s where all the kids pass through the glass. I wrote a proposal where I used that reference. It’s just a messed-up kids movie from 1985 or so. Do you know what I’m talking about?
[Laughs] I do not know what you’re talking about, but I know that type of movie.
Yeah, like it’s so bad that it’s good. A Hugga Bunch doll was just a fat baby that was kind of fluffy and plushy. And this movie’s really bizarre because there was no CGI yet. There's this whole thing where the kid is holding a little baby, and then all of a sudden it goes through the mirror. And there’s this moment where it’s totally surreal, where the baby’s head is like halfway through the glass, and you can tell they just cut it there. [Laughs]
I think the sub-genre there is “Kids Cross into Magical World Filled with Scary Puppets.”
Exactly. That notion gets into my work. I make silly stuff, but there’s always something uncomfortable about it — something a little dark.
At open studios, Adam Eckstrom came through with his daughter, Holiday. She’s like three years old. And I go “Oh, she's gonna love this.” And he goes, “Oh, we'll see. She’s either gonna love it or be scared to death.” And that’s the thing. If you discovered a new world it’d be as scary as it was exciting, right? How childlike would we feel if we actually did cross into another dimension?
I’m a big horror movie buff, actually. I love old Italian horror movies. They’re scary, but also hilarious; there’s this line there, this comedy element that comes in. In the fall of 2017, I had a two-person show where I got to do a small installation. I ended up making this severed head rotating on this rock, and then realized it was a reference to this Lucio Fulci Movie, House by the Cemetery. And the lighting stuff that I do is definitely influenced by Dario Argento’s Suspiria.
Lately, I’m letting a lot of that stuff get into my work more. It speaks to other things I’m talking about. The uncanny, the unknown, the supernatural.
Studio photos by Verónica González Mayoral
Installation photo by Walker Esner