Jennifer Gunlock builds trees out of trees — well, pictures of trees out of pictures of trees. Her practice as a mixed media collagist enacts a mediated rewilding of compromised landscapes, chronicling and deconstructing the cyclical encroachment of human habitats on the arboreal realm and nature’s inevitable revenge. Captured at a moment of poise between architectural and ecological devastation and feral verdant comeback, Gunlock’s fractal, organic landscapes are constructed of studio materials as well as her own photographs of the world out there today — even as they envision a potentially survivable tomorrow. She is a recipient of this year’s Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant, which is quite a big deal actually, and will now spend the next year creating the project.
L.A. WEEKLY: When did you first know you were an artist?
JENNIFER GUNLOCK: I was in denial for a long time, because as a child I didn’t display any overt talent. I was always sensitive, though, and a bit of a loner with my head in the dreamy clouds. In my last year of high school I was doodling copiously in my notebook and began drawing portraits of rock stars who were the current objects of my obsession. I came to realize that the drawings really weren’t that bad, and I soon began to self-identify as an artist. The day before my first college class I called home to announce I was going to be an art major. It was with this phone call that I made the commitment to go on that scary, life-altering journey.
What is your short answer to people who ask what your work is about?
My work is about the collision between nature and the built environment, and it wonders what the planet’s landscapes might look like after our species has vacated. It celebrates the perseverance of trees and encourages viewers to pay more reverent respect to the visibly inanimate beings with whom we share our space.
What would you be doing if you weren’t an artist?
In this life, nothing else feels right. In my next life, oh I have plans! First, I’ll be an aerial acrobat, then when that short career is over, I’ll be a storm chaser. Intense athletic training and a scientific background are on my list as career prerequisites.
Did you go to art school? Why/Why not?
I earned my MFA 20 years ago at CalState Long Beach. That program was all about breaking down one’s art “religion,” so to speak. It deconstructed my previous assumptions about the preciousness of art, why and how I’m making it, and what am I trying to say or achieve in my practice. It was then up to me to pick up the pieces and begin again but with a clearer focus and agenda. That intensive program was a huge growth spurt for me in both my practice and as an adult in general. A huge shout-out of appreciation goes to my committee chair Marie Thibeault, who today I consider one of my great mentors.
Why do you live and work in L.A., and not elsewhere?
I grew up in Claremont, a sweet little suburb on the outskirts of L.A. When I was young, I figured whatever big city that my small town happened to be orbiting would be where I’d end up. I sometimes kick myself in wonder and gratitude that my local metropolis just happens to be one of the major art centers on the planet and one that contains a hugely supportive community of artists.
When is/was your current/most recent/next show or project?
As a new recipient of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant, this year ahead is devoted to locking myself in the studio to produce a series of 6-foot portraits on panel, each dedicated to an endangered tree species. At the same time I will be translating those portraits into a series of animations. The animations will be projected onto unconventional surfaces like the exterior wall of a brick building or against the trunk of a living tree.
Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what?
Yes, music is a must. It’s a motivator to get my body moving and my brain in the working-mode of the present. In addition to my own eclectic mix of tunes, I periodically go through artist-specific binges. Some past binges included Fever Ray and Bat for Lashes, and I gave myself a good YouTube Dylan education last year. Lately I’ve been going down a passionately dark Nick Cave rabbit hole. If I’m stuck on music choice, there’s always Henry Rollins on KCRW to set things right.
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