Fully realized is an art reviewer’s phrase that fits works that have a sense of completeness sort of like a person who is comfortable in their own skin. This phrase works well in describing the mixed-media works currently on display at the Dare County Arts Council in Manteo. Local artist Jenna Frey Saunders opened her one-person exhibit this month consisting of twenty images created using a combination of acrylic paint, cloth, and mixed mediums.
With nature and architecture her inspiration such as fish, birds, deer, and coastal cottages, Saunders expertly combines a variety of techniques, mediums, and concepts to create cohesive eye-catching work. She pairs collaged patterns and painterly strokes with realistic images. This results in arresting art that reveals the artist’s knowledge of color, composition, storytelling, and ability to evoke emotion — all elements that make for fine, original art.
At first glance, you see a chickadee perched on a tea cup. Hmm… a delicate, simple work. A close study reveals the skills of an artist who carefully chooses to work in complimentary color and group all her imagery at the top half of the canvas with two thirds of the bottom picture plane done in a flat blue-green hue. It’s a brave move to leave such a large area free of content but the top half with its red striped cloth backdrop, delicately patterned teacup and feathered friend balance the vacuous space perfectly showcasing a strong understanding of edgy yet intricate balance.
Over and again in her work Saunders employs collaged patterns with painterly areas that tease and attract the eye only to release it into a fantastical scene reminiscent of Chagall’s allegorical paintings. Never is the use of pattern simply decorative, but always purposeful. In one work, a sky above a cottage is filled with collaged shapes in reds, oranges and yellows. The shapes are compressed in a shallow area lending tension to them and the overall composition. Its intensity reads like a pending storm yet its colors are strangely cheerful. This theme of contrast is employed over and over in the picture to great effect.
In the same work, a greyish-green cottage on stilts extends from sky into neutral colored water. The pattern in the sky is lively and appears to be moving. This is contrasted beautifully against the strong, still vertical shape of the moody colored and weathered structure that rests its pilings in near still water. The expert use of contrasting color, patterns and strokes and placement of forms work together to form a magical and mysterious story.
Saunders brings to her work a BFA degree in art education from East Carolina University, the same school her mother attended. She recently was named Art Teacher of the Year by the national art magazine, Creative Outlook. After eleven years of teaching at First Flight High School, she decided to “invest in her most creative endeavor” — focusing on her childhood sweetheart husband and her two children and nurturing her art from the home. She outlined her goal in her artist statement for her show: “to be an example to her children by showing them the importance of creativity and how the arts shape everyday life.”
While close study of her work verifies that she is a trained artist with a full understanding of the full basket of creative tools at her ready, her pieces are not academic in any way but fresh and original. The elements of picture-making are tools she uses so deftly, they are almost invisible and melt away into joyful and colorful scenes: barnyards with roosters, a chickadee on a teacup, schools of colorful fish — fully realized works of art.
Mary Ellen Riddle has been writing the Coast’s art column for more than 20 years and brings to her work a BFA in painting from East Carolina University and a profound passion for the role the arts play in society.