The hardy residents of the CNY region understand the grey and white palette of our winters is nature’s necessary rest—a recharging sleep between the warm glow of autumn and the color explosion of spring. But on a December night in North Syracuse, visitors to the 4040 Gallery could escape the mid-winter drab and dark, and stand amidst intense colors as a young painter, surrounded by large paintings full of saturated reds, greens, oranges and purples, held her Syracuse opening for an appreciative crowd.
Jenissa Hart calls herself an abstract expressionist painter, but the more accurate title might be “Central New York Artist.” The Rochester native has made connections to the expressive arts across the region, and as she comes into her own, refining her distinctive vocabulary, she’s emerging as an eloquent new voice in the burgeoning arts scene outside the traditional powerhouse of New York City.
While her most recent show opened this past December, this isn’t the first collection she’s exhibited.
“In 2012 I was invited to mount my first solo exhibition in Rochester at NU MVMNT. Danielle Deuel, the artistic director had seen some of my early work and thought I’d be a good fit for the gallery” says Hart.
NU MVMNT is an arts cooperative that creates creative synergy—artists inspiring each other and amplifying each other’s energy—and Jenissa’s work had precisely that effect. Kathy Diehl, artistic director of the Rochester Dance Project saw the paintings and was inspired to create a dance suite titled Dominant Voices. The dance premiered at the East End Theater for the Rochester Fringe Festival in 2013, and later was performed at NU MVMNT where Hart’s paintings served as the set for the performance.
For every artist, new materials and techniques are always important because of their potential to engender new forms of expression. Working in a new medium allows for renewal and creative exploration that can have a profound effect on an artist’s creativity. For Hart, the introduction to acrylics was just that kind of catalyst.
“For years I worked in oils. In 2007 I discovered acrylics and was quick to see the potential it had for me. I started in a figurative tradition” she says, “but my current work doesn’t rely on clear subjects. The paint is now the most important part of my process.”
A statement like that is only possible after a long education and struggle with the creative process, and Hart has traveled a hard road to get where she is today.
The journey began at SUNY College at Brockport where, in 2003, Hart received her Fine Arts degree. She continued painting for the next four years mastering the oils and subjects she had studied in her formal degree, but was soon looking to stretch herself.
“In 2007 I was introduced to the artists Darryl Hughto and Susan Roth, lifetime practitioners of acrylic painting. After some discussion, they agreed to take me on as an intern. I worked with them and on my painting for 2 years before acquiring the skills to become their studio assistant.’
Over time the relationship with Hughto and Roth has grown deeper and more collegial. Hart has graduated from studio assistant to now acting as the foreman of studio operations at the couple’s Canastota studio.
“Darryl and Susan continue to mentor me in my painting and the development of my career” says Hart. “They’re wonderful teachers.”
Hart’s mot recent work is clearly in the abstract expressionist tradition, but where painters like Helen Frankenthaler poured thinned pigments into raw canvas and tried to let the color fields emerge from an invisible process, Hart applies a different rigor, and a fresh energy.
Works like New Window (below) show her approach. The compositional control of a grid is used not to constrain the hues, but as a multi-layered contrast to the movement of both the physical paint and the chromatic scale. Colors transit fluidly while the textured substrate simultaneously freezes the artists’ hand while moving the eye over subtly differentiated color fields.
Another work, Chop Stix, (the image at the top of this article) uses embedded elements to syncopate abstracted landscape forms and control the gloss and texture of the media. The painting is energy and serenity—a leaping fish in a frothy, rocky brook rendered as a haiku of color. Like her other works, it shows an increasingly deft hand with a range of materials, something Jennissa has studied intensely.
In 2012, Hart spent a week at Golden’s Artist in Residence facility working with the professionals there to better understand the numerous acrylic materials and techniques to make intensely colored and deftly textured works. The intensive week working with the chemists and artists at Golden was liberating for Hart. The people who knew the materials best, and how to work them to best effect, helped her see new possibilities.
“I created about 10 large paintings in that week and established several motifs and processes that I’ve continued to explore. That concentrated time—devoted solely to art—clarified my desire to become a great painter. I was always compelled to create, but I now feel unconstrained and completely expressive.”
Jenissa Hart is represented in Syracuse by Anne Novado of Gallery 4040
4040 New Court Ave Syracuse, New York 13206
Phone: (315) 456-9540
Gallery Hours: Friday – Sunday 12-5 and by appointment