Ugly Magazine Interviews Jenny Morgan

Interview by Stephen Anderson 

The work of Jenny Morgan, a New York artist born in Salt Lake, has drawn a lot of eyes in recent years. Her portraits of friends and acquaintances combine photorealism with vivid color and striking visual interventions, creating figures that are engaging and cryptic at the same time. Her work has appeared in Playboy and on the cover of Juxtapose, and was named one of the top 100 fall shows worldwide by Modern Painters in 2013. Her show Full Circle, currently on display at CUAC in Salt Lake City, runs through January 10th.


What is your work routine?
My routine varies depending on whether I am getting ready for a show or taking down time. I get to my studio 5 to 6 days a week and work 4-8 hours depending on how many pieces I have going at once. In terms of ritual at the studio, I always clean right when I arrive and leave the space as a total mess.


Your work involves very strong, vibrant colors. Where do they come from?
I am influenced by imagery I scroll through online and color combinations I see in my environment. Red has been a consistent theme in my work for years and for me it relates both body and spirit.


What is your attitude towards realism?
My attitude towards realism is always shifting. There are very few hyperrealist figurative painters that I am drawn to I don’t look to that genre for inspiration. If I’m honest, realism is the aspect of my own work that I most want to get away from and yet it is still the most natural and nurturing way for me to paint. This inner battle and tension is at the core of the development of my work.

Hands seem to play an important role in your paintings. Tell me about how you see hands.
Over the past few years have been asked this question within almost every interview, which has allowed me to take a deeper look at why I have portrayed hands the way I do. From a technical standpoint, I am attracted to the figure-ground relationship and pull the hand from the body by differentiating color and texture and allowing the hands to feel as if they belong to another being. That detachment or alienation occurs differently within each portrait and can take on multiple meanings.

How does your approach differ when you’re painting yourself, as opposed to someone you know?
The self-portrait is always a place for me to feel totally free and a safe place for me to experiment and explore with technique and improvisation. When painting myself, I use it as a way to work through whatever is going on in my life in a very direct way. When painting someone else, I am thinking about the individual more directly and our personal connection. It is often harder for me to truly let go with these other portraits out of a feeling of responsibility to the sitter. I never want to offend or hurt someone with the way I portray them. But, as I grow with the work I can feel that restriction and hesitation lessening and trusting myself more.

What do you want to get done in the next year?
I want to take a long and non-work oriented vacation. I also want to push my subject matter more. I am now working on a body of work for my solo show this May in New York at Driscoll Babcock Galleries and I can see a huge tide change approaching. I’m not sure what it means yet or how it will manifest, but it feels like a pivotal shift.