Jennifer Celio: Defining A Community
Jennifer Celio. Photo by Sander Roscoe Wolff.
Jennifer Celio is a Long Beach-based fine artist whose work blends the surreal and the real, abstraction and association, and uses various media and techniques to produce images that grab the attention, and evoke a sense of wonder. She’s just started a residency in the Ralston Family Learning Center, located in the basement of the Long Beach Museum of Art. There, she’ll be exhibiting some examples of her work, creating a new large mixed media painting, and taking time to speak with visitors. On May 19, she’ll be doing a free artist talk at the museum. The residency runs through May 29.
Long Beach Post: Tell me about your upcoming residency at the LBMA. What was the selection process, and what will you be doing there?
Jennifer Celio: They select artists not through an application process, but rather through research and recommendations. Lisa Marsh, the director of Education and Visitor Services at the Museum, invited me to be a resident.
Lisa March: Jennifer Celio’s work is witty and invites the viewer to reflect upon the situations that inspire her mixed media pieces. With over 10,000 students touring the Long Beach Museum of Art (LBMA) each year, the artist in the Ralston Family Learning Center needs to encourage a dialogue about art with a multi-generational audience. Having Ms. Celio’s finished and unfinished work helps the viewer understand the process, practice and philosophy behind the work.
When choosing artists for the residency program the following factors are taken into consideration, relationship to the Museum, or a connection to CSULB. Ms. Celio was in a past exhibition at the museum and a current Long Beach resident. The selection of an artist is done by a committee and the artists are genuinely surprised by being selected. We ask that artists not apply.
Inside the Ralston Family Learning Center. Photo by SRW.
Jennifer, what does this residency mean for you, professionally and personally?
It’s certainly an honor to be asked to do this. Especially since it is by invitation only. I was awarded a one month residency at Yaddo in Saratoga Springs, NY in 2014, which was the first time doing a residency for me. But to be asked to be the Artist In Residence at a museum is another big recognition for me as a professional artist.
A residency for an artist is kind of like a gift to yourself, as well. It’s good to get outside of your comfort zone within your studio space to interact with others more, and to see what the unique space you have to work in might inspire within your art. Admittedly, it’s a bit intimidating to me, in the sense of working in a space where people can see and watch me. I am used to the solitude of it.
What role does living in Long Beach play in your work?
Long Beach and the greater Los Angeles area factor into my work heavily. The urban environment in general is a huge source of inspiration. I come up with most of my ideas while I am driving around the city—a bit of graffiti, the texture of a weathered building, the backdrop of industrial buildings with the sky. In my current work, it’s less of the literal imagery that makes its way into the compositions, but rather how it sparks an idea for a symbolic or graphic design use.
In my previous body of work, the crazy detailed pencil drawings, I utilized imagery and settings from Long Beach quite often. I have been told that my work has a vibe to it that speaks of Southern California in general. I guess that makes sense, and I don’t mind if my work speaks of a certain place in the world. I’m a native of Southern California, and I think my experience of that makes its way into my art.
I wanted to ask you about that shift. You were doing these intensely detailed renderings that must have taken ages to complete. Your new work uses some elements of that, but feels much more immediate. Then, there’s a sculptural component, as well… How did that shift happen? What inspired it, and how has it changed how you work?
I had basically reached the limit of what I wanted to say with those drawings. I had found myself thinking about mark making and how to say things within the works that wasn’t going to happen with the pencil and the cross hatching. I found myself wanting to use color and watercolor paints again for at least a year leading up to the switch.
I felt the need to work with more abstraction and surrealism, and that led to shifting how I visualized and composed the work towards a mix of paint and drawing materials. One basic change in how I work is that I now work on multiple pieces at once. For practical reasons-to let paint dry on one, so I move to another. With the drawings it was always work on one and see it through until finished. But I also like having multiple pieces going at once—they can influence each other, or it’s nice to see how different they can be.
“Hitched to everything else” — Photo courtesy of the artist.
The recent work that I’ve seen consists of multiple hexagonal pieces, assembled into larger structures. Do you see these collections as a single work, or multiple pieces that can stand together, or alone?
The hexagonal pieces installation is meant to be both a single unit as well as individual pieces that can stand alone. Within the installation are smaller arrangements, some of which are made up of two to five panels that create their own unit. I liked the hexagon shape as a substrate for this reason-as a symbolic means of defining a community or entity that contains individuals.
My personal memories, and the way they weave within and overlap with a collective memory, inspired each piece. The hexagon installation for my current show was approached with that overarching narrative, but a lot of the actual imagery was not pre-planned. I let the process carry me along and see what would come from making one piece, how it may spark something for the next one.
Narrative has always been important for me in my art. Whether it’s a figurative painting or a surreal dystopic environment in pencil or a mix of both elements in one piece, my approach is always with a story in mind. I find that incorporating imagery that has some basis in reality gives myself and the viewer something to grab onto, in a sense. Something that conjures up their own memories and experiences and creates a connection between them and me.
New work by Celio is also currently on display through May 21 at Haphazard, a gallery located at 1543 Sawtelle Boulevard in Los Angeles. The exhibition is titled “Hitched to everything else.”
Celio will be working in the Center during the museum’s public hours, which are 11am to 8pm on Thursdays, and 11am to 5pm on Fridays through Sundays. Admission to the museum is $7, $6 for students and seniors, and free for members and children under 12. Admission to the museum is free on Fridays thanks to a sponsorship from the Los Angeles County Arts Commission.
To learn more about Jennifer’s work, visit JenniferCelio.com. To learn more about the LBMA’s programs and collections, visit LBMA.org. For information about haphazard’s exhibitions and featured artists, visit Haphazard.co.
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