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Go See Local Artist Jennie Ottinger at Johansson Project's Latest Show

Johansson Projects shows are always worth a peek -- here’s a look at the latest, opening Friday, July 7, at the Oakland gallery: “ibid.: featuring Jennie Ottinger.” I caught up with the Bay Area artist, who received an MFA from Mills College and a BFA from California College of the Arts and has shown in SF, Los Angeles, New York City, and Dallas.

How did you come to develop your paintings?


Jennie Ottinger: I used to work larger and exclusively in oils. I would get really caught up and overwork them because I felt like if I were working on a large, stretched canvas, it had to be a certain way and I guess I didn't really trust myself.

It was almost like performance anxiety, but rather than freezing I just labored the pieces to death.

But I have kept a sketchbook since art school and I noticed that I didn't have that feeling when drawing in it, so I started drawing and watercoloring outside of my sketchbook.

I made a lot of small scale almost throw-away pieces, which totally freed me up because if I didn't like it, I could make another in the same day. I'm back to using oil along with gouache and pen, but even the oils are small and on canvas paper, so there is still an informality.

What role does storytelling play?

Narrative is really important in my work. I make a ton of pieces and treat them almost like found footage by grouping them together to make stories and associations. I read once that when people  see two or more images near each other, they find a way to connect them.

I really like to move pieces around in and out of groups to see how they affect and change a story. One shift can completely change the story and make something sweet become threatening.

How would you describe your process?

I try not to think, which, sadly, isn't that hard for me. I don't want to edit myself before I've made something so I try to just let go. Once I make a piece I post it on the wall in groups.

For each piece, I make a little pencil sketch at 1/16 scale so that I will always have it even if it sells. I might have some worrisome hoarding tendencies.

Where do you get the sources for your works?

I like documentary images. I don't use many candids. Even if they seem that way, they are posed. I like the straight-forward, "this is the way it is" sort of presentation of images from those sources.

I also use a lot of historical photos documenting life in a certain town or school or something. The images are usually trying to show something for the records.

I just bought a bunch of photos from the San Leandro Chamber of Commerce at the Alameda Flea Market that are so great. They are documenting either something totally mundane like a parking lot or something momentous like an award ceremony.

What are your feelings about Bay Area figuratives -- do you see yourself as being part of that lineage?

I went to CCA and learned to paint there so I was exposed to it when I was developing. I think it's sort of in the water.

I can definitely see the influence in the looseness and the flatness of Diebenkorn or Nathan Oliviera, but I don't feel particularly drawn to Bay Area figurative art.

What inspired the title of the show, “ibid.”?

I make several versions of most of the images because of the hoarding problem I mentioned earlier. Also I love to use the same piece in different groups as an experiment to see if their meaning changes.

The direct translation of ibid. is "in the same place," and I was interested in how the same place can be so different depending on the circumstances or the perspective.

What inspires you?

Marlene Dumas, Goya, Laura Owens are three that immediately come to mind. They all have a levity that I strive for without being silly.

Any other projects happening now and in the future?

I'm working on a show called "Prey by Proxy" about animals at the zoo who attack their keepers. I haven't started the work yet and have no idea where I will show it, but I'm very excited about it. The next thing is a group show at University of Texas, Dallas, opening Sept. 25, curated by John Pomara.

“Ibid. featuring Jennie Ottinger” shows Aug. 7-Sept. 18 at Johansson Projects, 2300 Telegraph Ave., Oakland. Opening reception Friday, Aug. 7, 5-8 p.m. First Friday reception is Sept. 4, 5-9 p.m. Hours are Thursday-Saturday, noon-6 p.m. and by appointment. (510) 444-9140, johanssonprojects.com