Artist profile: Jen Drantell
San Francisco transplant inspired by found objects
MARGARET BIKMAN / THE BELLINGHAM HERALD
Visual artist Jen Drantell, 28, a San Francisco transplant born in Maryland, makes her debut at The Paperdoll, 312 W. Champion St., with a collection of love-inspired works that draws upon her fascination with found objects such as keys, wildflowers, feathers and outdated machinery.
Her exhibit, "Sweet Nothings," will be on view through March 5.
Question: What was your childhood like?
Answer: I grew up in a small farm town, Deale, right on the Chesapeake Bay. My dad was in the Air Force so I also spent a few years of my childhood in Hawaii, but the rest of my life, until I was 18, I lived in the same house on the shores of the bay. I'm not an only child, but all of my siblings are significantly older than I am, so I spent a lot of time by myself, making up imaginary worlds, drawing, reading and exploring the woods and marshes around my house. The first thing I remember wanting to "be when I grew up" was the tooth fairy, followed closely by a photographer for National Geographic.
Q: What's your educational background?
A: I went to college in Boulder, Colo., and received a degree in architecture. By my senior year, though, I definitely noticed that I was excelling more in the creative side of design - I was the kid who designed conceptual apartment buildings made of glass with 12-story car elevators. I loved building models, and always got super creative with them - using pantyhose, piano wire, and collage (among other things) to express my creative vision. When I graduated in 2002 I thought I'd never work for an architect, because I couldn't see myself being as creative as I wanted within the rigid structure of a typical design firm.
Q: And after graduating college?
A: I bounced around a bit (living in Ireland, Florida, and Colorado) and then settled in San Francisco in April 2003. A fluke train ride conversation while I was job-hunting landed me an interview and subsequently a job in the office of Lawrence Halprin, a world-famous landscape architect based in San Francisco. Halprin rose to prominence in the '60s and became famous for his "choreographing" of public spaces as interactive experiences that involved all of the senses and communed with the natural materials he utilized. His constant devotion to his artwork inspired me to go back to school to pursue a second degree, and he even helped me pay for my first semester of design school at the Academy of Art University (in San Francisco). Larry changed my view of the world and gave me the confidence to move forward with my own artistic career. He changed my life.
Q: What's fun about your art?
A: I like to represent everyday objects within my pieces, objects that I love the shape or design of, and hope to combine them in new ways so that the viewer can interact with them out of their typical context. I like to challenge my audience to view these subjects as objects without any of the connotation typically associated with them. I like to combine natural elements with the man-made, hard with soft, feminine with masculine, dangerous or scary with the cute and cuddly.
My show at The Paperdoll explores my love affair with inanimate objects - staplers, old cars, stray feathers, outdated technologies. I've combined these seemingly unimportant objects with bold colors, hearts, and 3-D elements to make viewers see them as something more than mere 'nothings' - to see them as objects that are beautiful and functional and graphically appealing. The resulting pieces are sweet and whimsical and a little child-like in their simplicity.
Q: What brought you to Bellingham?
A: In 2005 I left Lawrence Halprin's office and moved to Oakland, where three friends and I opened a small live-work gallery called The Living Room, which was devoted to showcasing up-and-coming local artists, performers, writers, and musicians. The underground art movement and the fearless expressions of creativity we discovered further inspired me, and I began to frequently exhibit my own art, and shifted my focus and studies from graphic design to fine art- printmaking (silkscreen) and painting in particular. My fiancée and I decided to leave the Bay Area last winter, mostly because of the unsafe area where we were living and a desire to return to small-town life, but also with a dream to bring some of the creative, collaborative energy we'd discovered in Oakland and San Francisco to a new community. Will, my fiancé, is a filmmaker and we hope to bring our creative energy to Bellingham and open a space similar to The Living Room Gallery here within the next few years.
Q: Do you make your living from art?
A: For the last few years I have very nearly supported myself through my art, but have always been too scared to take the plunge and quit my day job. Here in Bellingham I'm waitressing four days a week at the Harris Avenue Café in Fairhaven, where Will and I also host a monthly Supper Club - a five-course gourmet dinner featuring all local, seasonal, and organic ingredients (supperclubbellingham.com).
Q: What would be your dream come true?
A: Right now, my dream come true would be for an approved small-business loan to open my own gallery and store. I'd love to feel like I was contributing to the Bellingham art scene, and it would also be great to be self-employed and able to devote more time to creating my own art. Oh, and on a personal level I'd love to own a run-down old barn and a herd of goats.