MEET JENNIFER ROCHLIN
Traditionally trained as a painter, Jennifer Rochlin migrated to ceramic work broadening her painting practice by taking on three-dimensional forms. Jennifer predominantly works in terra cotta clay, constructing vessels through coil and slab methods. The materials and practice she employs in creating her ceramic works, honor traditional ceramic practices, yet obfuscate conventional notions of ceramic forms by distorting the structure and imposing images that connect the pieces to contemporary culture. The textured surface Jennifer’s ceramic pieces assume, are inherently symbolic of the arbitrary nature and endearing variance of the human body. Jennifer has defined herself amongst the global community of ceramicists; her works possess an unpredictable quality, distinctly unencumbered by traditional constraints.
Tell us about a notable memory from your upbringing, relating to anything, maybe something that continues to shape the way you think today?
When I was around seven or so I remember that my mom let me melt all of my crayons onto a piece of cardboard. I don’t remember if it was my idea or hers but I loved that I could use a material that is used for drawing and make it more sculptural and tactile. I feel like I’m doing the same thing with my ceramics.
You began working with clay later in your life when you were teaching and were abruptly told by school administration to build a ceramic program from the ground up, how did it grow into something more than a school program for you?
I started the ceramic program at the high school without ever working with clay. The first year was pretty comical as I was learning how to throw pots and hand build as I was also trying to teach it. After I left my job, my friend was hired and I spent a summer up there making tiles. Mostly because the space was air conditioned and my studio wasn’t. At first I thought it was something separate from my painting practice but I was employing similar painting techniques but just doing it on the clay instead of the canvas. I started to think about how I could incorporate the tiles into my work and I started to make collages where I would include the ceramic pieces. I became really addicted to the marks that I could make with painting on the clay and I loved how unpredictable the results are and it just naturally evolved into using only ceramics in my work.
Do you have any rituals or consistent processes for creating your art?
If I can, I like to walk out my door and go for a hike or bike before I go into the studio in the morning. I love listening to the sounds of the creek and being in the mountains and that usually inspires me before I go into the studio to begin working.
You use terra cotta clay, and construct your ceramic works using coil and slab methods. Can you tell us a bit about your choices in employing these traditional forms of construction?
I love the color that I get from using the red earthenware in my pots and I usually start with a slab base built up on a mold and then coil the rest of the pot. My hand is very evident in my work and the coil building technique lends itself to the misshapen forms that the pots evolve into. Each one takes on it’s own shape and that often helps inform what is painted on them.
What themes are you working to convey in your reference to popular culture?
When I use images from popular culture in my work, I’m usually interested in themes of heroism and strength. Whether it’s Bruce Lee, Wonder Woman or the local mountain lion (P22) that lives in Griffith Park they all are heroes to me because they kick ass and have extraordinary strength and determination. Qualities that I admire and I draw on their strength when I feel that I need it.
In contrast, your rendition of The Birth of Venus on the face of one of your ceramic vessels connects to a different pocket of cultural knowledge. Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, is a globally shared and admired artwork, what is the significance of this painting for you?
The shape of the pot that I painted Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” on felt like a women’s body to me and therefore the shape really dictated what I wanted to paint on it. I wanted something that was very feminine so I painted shells and flowers and the shells led me to “The Birth of Venus” It was the first time that I appropriated a famous artwork on my pot and I really enjoyed copying it and giving it a new context.
Your expressive painting gestures revealed in the under-glaze and glaze, both compliment and juxtapose the sgraffito drawing method you employ in your ceramic work. Have you always worked in gestural painting style, or has your technique transformed since you began working on ceramic forms?
The sgraffito drawing brings a level of drawing to my work that I really never had before. Usually the work was directly painted on and not drawn out. So the drawing gives the work a more scratchy raw feeling that I like and it connects it to the expressive forms of the pots. My painting style has always been expressive and I like the contrast between the line drawings and then layered gestural paintings on top.
What is something you are yearning to experience?
I just started surfing last year and I love it, but it’s very difficult. I think I’m yearning to be able to catch a lot of waves in a row. Haha.
What is something you have loved for a long time?
I’ve loved being in nature since my early twenties and it’s something that I crave on a daily basis.
These pieces seem so personal to you, given the amount of time you spend building and conceptualizing the art, what would be the ideal home for one of your completed works if you could have any control over where they end up?
I just found out the other night that one of my pieces was displayed in a collector’s living room close to my friend Caitlin Lonegan’s painting. I love her work and visa versa and it made us both happy that our work could be viewed together in a home setting. But of course, I would love to have my work in a museum and hopefully the curators would display it in an interesting context.
Maimoun comes from the Persian language word, meaning to welcome guest into your home. If you could invite anyone to dinner in your home, who would it be?
Jennifer's upcoming show titled "Super Bloom" at Geary Contemporary opens April 25th, with opening reception from 6-8pm.
INTERVIEW BY ARIEL BLEAKLEY