An Artist Website for Jenny Stofer’s Plan of Concentration
Thinking With Others:
Explorations in Philosophy and Painting
PDF of my Plan writings, including “Thinking With Others,” my artist statement, and my exhibition proposal.
My work springs from the rather common project of identifying one’s most persistent and matterful motivations. What can and can’t self-inquiry tell us? Does it help with anything? People, places, situations, and feelings show up quietly in my work, identifiable by slight particularities, like a subject’s certain purple jacket or tilt of the head when regarding what’s in front of them. Oil paintings of family photographs and people painted from life are done in harmonious muted hue fields. Oil and mixed media works of remembered situations are done in silent frenetic lines. The blankness in the faces, and backgrounds in the paintings reflect a realization I sometimes come to after exiting a state of myopic self-reflection where I tend to reside: I may be out of perspective. I am living in a fantastic world centered around myself. And that doesn’t do me any good. Sketchbook-sized watercolors and graphite drawings of common things, orange roses in vases, birds, white churches, gently rolling hills, and young women. A quilt of blue family clothing has irregular stitches made in various moods–Sometimes I was worked up about the quilt, or maybe something else (euphoric, morose, nervous, incensed). Next to this quilt is my grandmother’s quilt. The drawings and my grandma’s quilt are part of the same culture and tradition. They are quite rectangular and worried about how successful they are at neatness and one-point perspective. Exhibiting artifacts and other representations of my family’s visual culture in a place like my family’s habitat is both evidentiary and performative. These objects are too humble and their content too personal to be on display. Even in a nontraditional exhibition space, a show is anything from anonymous. But reasons for reserving this work become moot in light of the desire for relationships. Betting on empathy is very worthwhile. Anything an audience could learn about me through this work corroborates what you already know about any human: I have an internal life that is often preoccupied by the self and the relation of the self to others, especially those with whom we have familial and-or emotional bonds, and what our interconnected future might be. This exploration of my family’s traditions, and my tradition’s condition as it rests with me, is taken on self-consciously and un-sacredly.
The bulk of my study in visual art was in painting and drawing. I have five oil paintings for this show from my time at Marlboro. Three are of my family and two are of friends at school. They are personal, the blank faces and figures a representation of the distance between my perception of them and their mind. The paintings locate people in common locales, where we would be together, and hopefully show the wear of time and circumstances on the relationships. I claim to know most of these people well, and I see them in a completely different light than I used to. My memories of them and my memories of these places are intertwined, and we change with our changing landscapes. I hope a viewer would see the depth of care in thinking about and interacting with these loved ones and that people would think about their own closest relationships, what they know and don’t know about people, what their hopes and fears are about their relationships.
This last year, I also started to look at the material culture of my family—our art and designed objects. This physical history, besides the paintings, drawings, and quilts that I have chosen to include alongside my work in this exhibition, includes the barn my dad designed and helped the contractor build; the way my mom arranges the clothes on the clothesline each wash; the way she, and now I, cut and style our hair; the house built by my maternal grandma’s three-greats grandpa; the carpentry of my paternal grandfather; and the tubas my dad builds, and the hard, sour biscuits my paternal grandmother made for supper with my grandfather every day. These objects and practices of making alle speak to my parents identities and, by extension, mine. They reflect our shared values: purity, love, kindness, work, German-American and British-American identity and culture, simplicity, responsibility, sincerity, and forgiveness.
I have small, yellowed drawings and watercolors torn out of sketchbooks that my mom and great-grandmother filled over their lifetimes. They are balanced figurative works, with soft, harmonious colors, for the most part representing what they experienced daily. I envision the drawings hung spaced out evenly and not too neatly, sometimes in stacks, sometimes as they might be in a living room, to show connections between the works. I want to make the connections between my response works and the older works obvious. Some drawings will ideally be displayed on transparent surfaces with light passing through them. The first of these is the two Simple barns should be overlapped. The bottom edge of the watercolor barn my maternal great-grandmother, Gertrude Springer, made, should be tucked behind the top end of the imitative graphite drawing I made. The overlap echoes that which remains the same through generational changes in knowledge and attitude. The second work that should be displayed on a transparent surface are a few of my mother’s drawings and paintings that have her children’s colored pencil scribbles on the other side of the paper and mingle together with light passing through them. Displaying drawings on windows may also reveal where the work, its peaceful harmony, and its meanings end, and the “rest of the world,” begins. I and the drawings, as creations of my mother, can relate to this outside world, but started with no knowledge of it. The most interesting relationship of the work to the view out the window might be a nonsequitur to the pastoral churches and barns and cute, innocent animals and houses, to something that couldn’t be in the same world as these drawings, but is, in fact, inhabited by the children and grandchildren of people who might make drawings similar to these. I’m imagining a view out a city window to a concrete wall, or into a bland housing development, or overlooking an industrial sector.
Besides all the artworks of my mom’s that I have now and any more that are found by chance, I will include one or a few of my mom’s acrylic text paintings on sanded scrap barn wood that say things like “WELCOME” or “Our Happy Home” or “Make a Joyful Noise” or “happy Easter.” They will be placed in conversation with my three text paintings, two of which are taken from the Bible and one of which is a question Mom would say to me in middle and high school that I thought a lot about and influenced my arrival at this subject: “WHY BE NORMAL?” The “NORMAL” referenced is the cultural norms of Iowan youth that I desperately wanted to emulate. The text paintings and the figurative paintings would be hung on separate walls if possible, stacked evenly.
I made a lopside, asymmetric quilt of my own clothing that is mostly soft blue and gray. The clothing that comprises it was given to me by my mom and grandmothers. The cross in the center of the quilt is made from a crewneck sweatshirt,my maternal grandma gave me in January 2019. I also plan to show a quilt the same grandma made and gave to me when I graduated high school with maple leaf blocks in a symmetrical pattern. I intend to hang to hang them close to the ground, so they are present as objects as well as images. Ideally, I would have them back-to-back, dividing the space, my grandma’s quilt facing the watercolors and drawings, and my blue quilt facing the oil paintings.
The last element in the exhibition could be painted text on the walls, present around and behind the works, either by painting directly onto the gallery surfaces or by covering the area of the gallery displaying the oil paintings in thin white paper covered in text. It would be small, in my own handwriting, and intermittently legible. I want visitors to notice the physicality and narrative weight of the text and its surface in relation to the images, and how words and images are discounted or elevated by their surroundings.
I want the viewer to think about what might be in the gallery if it was their own mothers’ “unproductive” work represented. What would their family’s material history look like to others? I hope they wonder if all their own small, unfinished or ungrand work could be displayed with just as much celebration.