Nicole Jenny draws inspiration from the natural world – not necessarily the world we see with the naked eye but the natural world that’s been revealed through the microscope, the telescope, by spacecraft, and by the particle accelerator.
In her show at Gallery 1313, Jenny presents a series of richly painted abstracts. The exhibition includes several decentralized, ‘all-over’ compositions made up of swirls, star shapes, and other marks as well as a few multi-coloured tunnel-like paintings that converge to a central point.
Although there are no overt references to specific subject matter, the imagery feels familiar. Have we seen something like this in Scientific American or Astronomy magazine? The visual language is loosely based on scientific subject matter. Crystals under a microscope, organic details, nebulae and galaxies, the surface of other planets and moons, and views of the earth from space – you can find hints of all these within this body of work.
She says of her work “I’m interested in straddling the perception that we have of the world around us with our evolving understanding of the universe beyond our daily reach and experience.”
The title of the show The Beauty of Mathematics: The Nature of Reality provides another clue to Jenny’s thinking. Throughout history artists have been interested in how numbers and proportion underpin what is considered to be beautiful and harmonious. Concepts such as the Fibonacci sequence, the golden mean and fractal geometry have their basis in nature and occur in crystals, organic patterns and in the growth and proportion of living things. The beauty of mathematics – the rules that seem to underlie beauty in the world – is a hidden structure that artists have sought to illuminate. It’s in this sense of uncovering hidden worlds that we can’t see directly; of exploring images related to things that technology has revealed that Jenny is probing in the beauty of mathematics.
Installation view of Nicole Jenny, The Beauty of Mathematics: The Nature of Reality, Gallery 1313
Now on to the specifics. There’s a generous amount of paint on these surfaces. It’s been applied in several ways: with conventional brushstrokes, with stippled brush marks, and in some cases, it looks as if colours have been blended on the surface with a palette knife although only brushes have been used. Often the same canvas will go through several iterations – unsatisfactory paintings are simply overpainted and added to until the artist is happy with them.
In Solid Rain the surface is full of finely detailed smears that, up-close, look like photos of the earth’s surface from space. The crisp edges between colours also evokes something crystalline, bearing a resemblance to images of basalt under a microscope.
Nicole Jenny, Solid Rain, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 18” x 24”
In Spiral, the colours are applied thickly with a brush. The vortex geometry and diminishing brushstroke size suggests depth while the even brightness and surface texture pull us back to the materiality of the surface. The image reminds one of photos of the interior of the CERN Hadron collider, a far-off galaxy or an illustration of the distortion around a black hole.
Nicole Jenny, Spiral, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 24” x 30″
In ‘Swirls’ the paint has been built up in several layers. The image shifts and changes. One can imagine seeing a vibrant coral reef or perhaps the layered, colourful clouds in Jupiter’s atmosphere.
Nicole Jenny, Swirl, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 30” x 36”
Nicole Jenny’s interest in science provides her with a fresh new visual language to explore. The ideas and images that modern science produces will continue to be a rich and sustainable seam to mine. Jenny emphasizes that these are paintings inspired by science, they are not scientific illustrations. Her work is first and foremost rooted in the act of painting. It’s the traces of the action and the fun of making them that really lights them up.
Text and photo: Mikael Sandblom
*Exhibition information: Nicole Jenny, The Beauty of Mathematics: The Nature of Reality, January 2 – 13, 2019, Gallery 1313, 1313 Queen Street West, Toronto. Gallery hours: Tue – Sun, 1 – 6 pm.