Beautiful beasts: Q&A with Jaclyn Conley

This week Joe Bun Keo catches up with Jaclyn Conley. A 2004 graduate of the University of Guelph MFA program, Conley accepted a tenure-track position in 2010 at the Hartford Art School where she currently teaches painting and drawing. In 2006, she was selected for the Aldrich Museum’s Radius Program for emerging artists.

Jaclyn Conley, A Donnybrook, 2012, oil on canvas, 40 x 34 inches. Images courtesy of the artist.
JOE BUN KEO: This work isn�t pet portraiture or realistic renderings of farm animals. Your work isn�t novelty decor honoring a love for horses or dogs. The animals are the storytellers. Animals are no longer beasts that are lesser than humans, rather they are equal or even more significant than the subject matter for work. What�s your take on there being a difference or distinction between and humans and animals?
JACLYN CONLEY: I question this distinction without coming up with a firm conclusion.  It�s not an easy task to sum up an individual or what it is to be human.  Essentially humans are a species of animal and yet there remains a separation.  There are certainly traits that overlap between species.  Our tendency to anthropomorphize is not entirely a bad or irresponsible thing and whether we�re humanizing the animal or animalizing the human we�re getting at what it means to be a social being.
I�ve found that the potential for empathy, a fair goal for art, comes easier using the subject of animals rather than human figures.  Although distinctions of race, gender, social status, age etc. can be interestingly implied with animal figures they don�t pose the immediate barriers that they can in depicting human figures.  As a painter I enjoy the freedom of working from images of ultimately anonymous animals; I don�t know if you can do this with individual people.

Jaclyn Conley, Done Over, 2012, oil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches.

JBK: The animals seem to have wandered onto your composition. They seem to have stumbled into a still life without a live model. When an animal enters the worlds of humans, the sense of chance encounter seems to complete the world where there once was a void. How does your work relate to coexistence?

JC: The depicted animals are generally situated out of place.  I like the idea of the peaceable kingdom and the whole history of images to take on the subject.  The impossibility of it is implied and so we�re left with what to do with the unavoidable strife on both large and small scales.  This isn�t unique between animals and humans and again I like to think of the animals as implied human figures caught in moments of aggression, passion, anxiety and play.  

Jaclyn Conley, Soft Center, 2012, oil on canvas, 40 x 48 inches.

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JBK: You depict domesticated and predatory animals. Humans adopt animals as pets, but some animals are capable of putting humans in their place. Conflict and friction between the two realms ensues. Do you think about being a human who paints animals that may be stronger and more significant than the more �intelligent� and �sophisticated� human being?

JC: Ultimately these are paintings, so going back to the nature of co-existence; I tend to see humans as having the upper hand in this arena.  Humans dominate over something like image-making.  For animals it�s irrelevant but if you believe that there is potentially power in imagery, like most aspects of the modern world, humans are the ones setting the terms.  More broadly, this is the case with the types of animals that I tend to depict; those especially exotic, child-like and mostly mammalian ones that play the roles in so much of our story-telling.  There are groups of animals, species and organisms that, perhaps with less complicated strategizing, continue to be in a position of control.  I�m not sure how intelligence and sophistication play into it however; it�s such a human thing.

Jaclyn Conley, The Volcano, 2012, oil on canvas, 40 x 34 inches.

JBK: The paintings aren�t rendered precisely. There are brushstroke blurs that indicate action and confusion, alluding perhaps to chaos. A crisp representation would imply comfort and stability, but your work is a little unsettling, even when the animal seems to be resting and at ease. 

JC: I�m glad that they do have this effect.  The paintings are planned carefully but are made very quickly and responsively and this is largely why they take on the look that they do.  I�m more engaged with making and looking at work that requires some �filling in the blanks�.  The paintings begin as propositions to myself and for them to remain active it�s important that they aren�t totally resolved in one way or another.  

Jaclyn Conley, Spotted From The Neck Down, 2011, oil on canvas, 36 x 40 inches.
 JBK: Tell us about what�s next for Jaclyn Conley? Are there any upcoming exhibitions or other creative opportunities?
JC: I�ll be taking part in the group exhibition �Figure Eight� at Artspace in New Haven February 7 through March 19, 2013 and from November 16 through December 21 I have a series of paintings titled �Hammer and Tongs� at Artspace Torrington in Torrington CT.

Jaclyn Conley, The Ballyhoo, oil on canvas, 2010, 30 x 24 inches.

Jaclyn Conley, You Make Me Feel Stupid, 2010, oil on canvas, 24 x 24 inches.


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