While some may argue that abstract and non-representational art is a narrative-free experience, painter Jennifer Lail might disagree. Working in oils and watercolors, the Jacksonville Beach-based artist creates works that emit visual sine waves of color fields, these torrents of brush strokes and mottled textures, all crashing into glimmering washes; even emblem-like forms that touch on the primitive and futuristic.
“I would describe my work as a novel in the making. Each page reveals something new and each chapter evolves the narrative forward,” explains Lail. When working with oil on canvas, Lail describes her style as “abstract exploration,” while ascribing an approach of “contemporary minimalism” to her watercolor work on paper.
While Lail’s work may be exploratory and minimal, it is hardly dispassionate or devoid of emotional resonance. And she’s no stranger to representational, naturalistic art; rather, it’s a matter of “seeing things how they are” through her own unique vision. Before garnering her BFA in painting and drawing in 2010, she acknowledges that being “classically trained” at UNF by “incredible professors” offered her skills at painting representational art; and recently she’s painted naturalistic work, including birds. “Neither of which speak to me like abstract art does.”
Lail’s work has its own language–albeit one that is more cryptic than easily deciphered. Ocean-blue swaths of oils crackle with white, spark-like flecks. Grays and pinks herd together, seeming to overlap and vie for dominance. Scratched lines appear like claw marks ripping light oranges and browns downward through an encroaching black background. What might seem alien, even foreboding, to some viewers is a realm of harmony and possibility for Lail. “In a way, abstract is a space and a world I feel more a part of. It’s where I find growth, discovery, peace, change, and opportunity. In my opinion, abstract art has the most potential because it breaks down all barriers.”
In a telling example of Lail’s views on narrative vs. abstract, she says that each painting actually begins as a journal entry. “I allow process and narrative to play with each other,” she says. “The narrative is clear to me but open to interpretation and perceptions of the viewer. This fact alone is another reason I love abstract art.” Lail also allows that she meditates prior to working and listens to music while painting to help reach a higher state of consciousness; where she sometimes loses track of both space and time.
“It is in this space where I find solace, healing and fulfillment.”
Through this toggling of story/non-story, Lail hopes that others will step over the lines she has blurred. “There are many ways to view things, and I get excited hearing what other people see or feel.”
Complimentary to her large-scale oils are her equally impressive watercolors. Radiuses of purplish-peaks wrap into themselves in mathematical motion; all rendering in single, delicate stroke. A thick, black paint-stroke seems to collapse into itself; rainbow-hued shapes resemble alien letters or numbers. “I go straight from one to the other, often switching daily,” says Lail, of creating with two divergent media, leading to vastly different outcomes on canvas and paper. “They each have qualities that remind me how to treat the other medium.”
The relationship between, if not within, her chosen materials is ultimately revealed in her overall work. She explains that the purpose of her last oil series, Mirage, was one of healing, even using a muted palette to lure the viewer’s eye to the horizon. “My intention was for the viewer to catch a glimpse of a space that might take their mind out of the moment. My objective with the series was a mental escape though composition.”
Following those oil pieces, Lail began creating the watercolor-based series, Dark Matter. “This is when I began to address topics of interest through minimalism. This is a series that had been in my mind for some time, and I am excited to be working in a series that truly reflects me as an artist.” Lail says her goal with working in oils and watercolors is based on a greater dialogue than a widening divide, having them “act as a play on each other rather than two totally different subjects.”
In the past decade, it’s certain that Lail has enjoyed growing success; showing her work in various exhibitions and being purchased by private collections, along with artists residencies and increasing media attention.
But it’s also apparent that she may view these achievements as more ephemeral phenomenon, however well deserved.With her oils with their frantic shards that flame with color and slumbering atmospheres, and watercolors boasting a dynamic precision, Jennifer Lail celebrates the flux. Stories offered, manifesting and un-manifesting, rising and falling, and then pulled away into the undertow of the Instagram Age. Judging by her work and ideas, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Being an open creative, I am consistently trying to evolve instead of revolve. This could be perceived as inconsistent. My intentions are to allow the change to occur and shift for evolution.”
This feature originally appeared under the headline The Color Out of Space in Void Magazine’s July 2020 issue.