Interview with the artist about her work included in the “Mirage” duo exhibition with Joshua Nissen King
Jennifer Banzaca’s latest body of work can cure anyone from the malaise of the minimalist aesthetic. Rebelling against the “less is more” philosophy, Jennifer fashions her paintings with decadent patterns and color combinations that masquerade metaphors about the human experience. Curious to learn more about her artistic practice, I spoke with the artist about her paintings included in the “Mirage” duo exhibition with Joshua Nissen King on view at Voss Gallery, October 20 - November 13, 2021.
AV: Have you always created works that explode with vibrant color and abstract forms? How did your style evolve to embrace the maximalist aesthetic–bold patterns and excessive decoration that’s fun, expressive, and pleasurable?
JB: It’s been an interesting journey to “find my style” and it didn’t happen overnight. In art school I was painting in a figurative and narrative manner. This changed after college when I spent a few years making portraits and still life scenes in a more realistic way. At a certain point I thought about the artists I admire and what I would like to see more of in the art world. My creative path continues to be informed by following my interests–which led me to a bold color palette and abstract patterns found in painting, textiles, and design.
AV: Your work included in the “Mirage” duo exhibition floods the senses with vivid brushstrokes and illustrations resembling plants and aquatic life. Where do you typically find inspiration and what is your creative process like?
JB: There is a sketchbook on my desk at all times; I treat it like a visual journal where I keep ideas for paintings. My obsession with color and surface pattern continues to inspire me. It can be something really odd like a produce aisle in the supermarket–lettuce lined up just so, or a stack of red or green apples can inspire a new pattern combination that I want to paint!
AV: In maximalist design, where more is more, do you plan your clustered compositions in advance and is there ever a time when you edit out particular elements?
JB: Before starting a new piece, I create a sketch or work with something I have already drawn. I always have a rough idea of the arrangement and theme for the work before I commit to a canvas. For example, like you mentioned, my recent work has many botanical shapes embedded within the compositions. I spent time researching the symbolism and images of plants in history, and became enamored with the idea that certain plants have different meanings at different points in time.
While I was creating these paintings during the pandemic, I referenced plants that symbolize love, hope, abundance, and optimism. In Big Bloom, I used abstract chrysanthemum petals which in Europe historically represent both grief and love. The painting was created as we were just beginning to emerge from the pandemic and the combination of these meanings were relevant to what we were experiencing.
My work undergoes many changes during the painting process. Sometimes I will whiteout entire sections in order to rework them. I take portions that I like and paint over other parts until I am satisfied with the entire composition. Sometimes it goes smoothly and other times it feels like a struggle. The end result is always surprising!
AV: Are there any paintings that you feel best represent your ideas for the exhibition?
JB: There are three paintings in the show that were not officially painted as a triptych, but were created to tell a story about this past year. During the lockdowns, there was a collective feeling that we were all underwater or “in over our heads”. This inspired the painting Immersed. In the painting a cluster of abstract shapes appear as if they are underwater, suspended in a pool of a bluish-green hue. There appears to be a waterline where the tips of the organic shape break through the surface.
The second painting Into View continues a narrative about our attempts to recover from the pandemic by showing a botanical-like form reaching upward through the water’s surface–although the form is still partially submerged. This was painted during the time the vaccine was rolling out and people were feeling more comfortable going out again.
Emerge, the third work, shows the final stage of the abstract form existing above the water as a larger-than-life botanical bouquet. This painting expresses the hope for being truly free of the pandemic. Together these paintings tell a story about this challenging time; not how this year has played out in reality, but my hopeful wish for the near future.
AV: I find the backstories of the works incredibly interesting. Are there any other paintings that you would like to highlight?
JB: Memorial and Tribute were both created in 2020 as totems to the initial shock and tragedy of the pandemic. Hypogeal (below ground) reflects on the mood the lockdown evoked, the feeling of being tamped down and confined. The Happiness Underneath depicts a whirling fantasia that exists beneath the surface, just beginning to break through. Efflorescence, Prosper, and Flourish were painted with the idea of creating a “talisman” to bring good luck after such a time of chaos.
AV: Your work and Joshua Nissen King’s work are very complimentary in color palette and movement. What do you think is the biggest difference between your work? And how is your work similar?
JB: I’m so happy to be showing alongside Joshua! His paintings are vibrant, complex and lush, I feel joyful just looking at them. I think we’re similar in the fact that we’re not afraid of color. Also, we both like to create dynamic compositions with lots of motion. That being said, the way we construct our paintings is quite different. Joshua's paintings have an explosive energy; he includes recognizable objects (fish, birds, clouds, and palm trees) into his compositions more succinctly. His collage-like paintings expand outward and seem boundless–for this exhibition he augmented that effect in the gallery by literally painting on the wall!
In contrast, my compositions are more self-contained worlds where I abstract objects to reference reality in a more oblique way.
AV: After completing 15 new works for the “Mirage” exhibition, do I dare ask what’s next? Are you working on anything new in the studio?
JB: Lately I’ve been making paintings with frames that match the color schemes of the paintings. I like the idea of a framed painting as a complete object. Three of these paintings are in the current show, and I am in the process of completing another three.
AV: It’s interesting that you’re beginning to break through the confines of the canvas by extending your painting onto the frame. We’ve received a lot of positive feedback from collectors about this new technique. Do you remember the moment when you decided to try this?
JB: I won’t say the idea is new, just new to me! I can’t remember a moment specifically that I wanted to apply this technique to my work, but I know ideas often come to me indirectly. I might see something on a walk, in a store, in a movie, or simply reading a book. Often I just want to try something to see what will happen. The key is to make it my own, to give it my own style and sensibility.
AV: Do you have any advice that you would like to share with fellow artists?
JB: Years ago I remember someone telling me to take your art practice seriously. At the time I didn’t get it and thought it sounded so stuffy and humorless. Now I understand it’s about taking pride in your craft and showing up for yourself to achieve what you want to do. I’ve learned to take myself seriously–while also being seriously goofy!!
The “Mirage” duo exhibition is on view at Voss Gallery through November 13, 2021. Artwork included in the show is available online.
Jennifer Banzaca (b. New Jersey, 1969) is a painter and designer living in San Francisco, CA. After receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Art Institute of Chicago, IL, Jennifer worked as a digital designer for print and animation in New York, NY and San Francisco. In 2004 she resumed her painting practice and continued her studies at the Art Students League and the New York Academy of Art. Jennifer exhibits throughout the Bay Area and was recently an artist in residence at the Skopelos Foundation for the Arts, Greece. Jennifer is represented by Voss Gallery in San Francisco.