Animal Magnetism

October 2, 2012

By Amy Zurcher


Cartoon action words are the only accurate way to convey my overly-and-ever-so-dramatic reaction to one of JenMarie Zeleznak’s new works “I Have a Feeling, That You’re Feeling Less These Days.” It is this kind of feeling that is almost but not quite a doubled-over-at-the-waist-and-catching-my-breath-moment (I am admittedly given to drama, I think I mentioned that previously?). In short, Zeleznak’s work just flat out slays me in the way a superhero cartoon character might slay a supervillain. And trust me, I am not alone. At the gallery I work in (shopSCAD) we have been steadily selling her paintings for a few years now. We even sold a few to a visiting celeb you might know by the name of Ty Pennington. Ring any bells (move any buses, perhaps, would be more appropriate)?

JenMarie’s heart wrenching titles are the perfect complement to the haunting images she creates of animals that you can either swear up and down are fully alive-yes, I see it!-and actively sprinting through the air, or wait, are totally and completely dead and what we are seeing is but a hauntingly beautiful  rigor mortis creeping in. Some of her most memorable titles that stick with me are “Forget the Broken-Backed Stretch Across a Sharp Pang You’ve Never Experienced,” “I Fade From Myself and Miss You Again,” “Our Lips Searching For Answers to Questions Unasked” and “My Heart Whispers in Forms Rendered Useless.” (Morbidly magnetic, no?)

“Forget the Broken-Backed Stretch Across a Sharp Pang You’ve Never Experienced”

JenMarie devotes a near equivalent amount of effort into titling her pieces, saying that, “To me, the titles are just as important as the work. They add to the work, and the work adds to the words. I could never imagine titling something “Untitled” or “Deer No. 1.” Take, for example, this 90’s screamo band named Saetia. I could never hear a word they said in their music but I liked it. One day I looked up their lyrics to see what the heck they were saying, and I was shocked to find these delicate and emotional lyrics from such a seemingly violent band. I sometimes use fragments of their lyrics – sometimes taking parts and mixing them with other parts to form something new. There is just something about the power and emotion that I connect with on such a deep level.”

Her subjects, so far as I can tell, are almost exclusively animals. Understand before I say this next bit, I say it with a big heart of my own for all kinds of furry friends, but JenMarie shows an almost incomprehensible love for ALL animals, even ones such as a rat, that we are—either subconsciously or consciously—taught early on to despise are among her subjects in paintings and part the family-like brood she has at home. Just last night I received an email she had written from the animal hospital preoccupied, as any mother would be, over their sick child, which happened to be her pet rat, Peyton.  Even if the mere mention of “rats” puts you off and you think I have nothing, NOTHING more to read here- I hate rats and I will not read about them– please plod on with me. It is a true testament to an artist’s talents when she is able to transport us, to transcend the typically perceived ugly or mundane to ethereal beauty, to put our prejudices aside maybe just briefly to see through someone else’s eyes.

“My Heart Whispers In Forms Rendered Useless, No. 1”

JenMarie does not disappoint and delivers extraordinary detail to each of her skillful paintings.  She describes her process further by saying “I work with watercolor pencils in both a sensitive and crude manner, innately using my saliva, hands and fingers to manipulate the material.  This personal connection, much like caressing or grooming an animal, gives me the intimacy I need in the work as I bring the animal into being. The obsessive mark making, or means of rendering the animal form, mimics the fur while also being emblematic of the depth and complexity of the animal and it’s emotive form.” I admire how she floats her subjects seemingly in mid-air employing a signature background of stark creamy white in order to achieve a separate, distinct portrayal of the animals out of their natural context. This allows for a viewer to connect with the animal on a level untouched by outside influence, but rather through singularity. The animals, whether they be the rabbits above, deer, wolves, possums or even rats, are forced into the foreground by this stark backdrop and seem to be at the ready for inspection: their tufts of soft fur; their long lean limbs, the—imagined?—twitch of a nose and tilt of an ear. The singularity and intricacy of their portrayal, unobstructed by their natural or typical habitat, allows our previous prejudices to slip away into the background, leaving us alone with nothing but the—living? deceased?—creature before us and the questions that prod our innermost depths.

“I’m Sorry, I Wish Things Could Have Been Different”



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