Almost Intangible: Jen Cole in the Studio

May 29, 2017 by

“I don’t want to give away the mystery,” says Studio Workspace resident Jen Cole in describing her art. “There is a power in not knowing everything.”

Her work is enigmatic, like that of many abstract mark-makers who favor the intaglio press for the loose, drawn possibilities of the plate. Combinations of acrylic, ink, and chine-collé on paper, Jen’s prints are sometimes patterned color fields, or suggest rolling ocean waves, or are biomorphic creatures housed in geometric frames. Leading the eye right off of the paper, they tempt viewers with glimpses of an unknowable space.

In the WSW etching studio, Jen arrived with copper plates to continue this line of imagery, but quickly changed direction and materials. After finding a drawer full of the silicon powder carborundum she moved to making collagraphs, or relief prints, from items glued to a board, with chine-collé elements. Watching her piece together these different processes on the press, it’s interesting to know she was once a production printer (who later became a jewelry artist before making her way back to printmaking). At the moment, Jen doesn’t seem concerned with editions; each of her prints are unique.

There are two types of plates in the studio. The collagraph boards have carborundum fixed with acrylic medium; when inked, they leave a soft, textured background on her prints. The drypoint plexiglass plates that Jen brought to WSW, featuring fine lines and forms, are printed onto Japanese Gampi paper then fixed to the final work during the chine-collé process. With her new prints hanging on the wall, we asked Jen to walk us through her work. 

WSW: You’ve told us that you value leaving a sense of secrecy in your art, not just for your viewers but also yourself. Is it the the subject matter, process, or the medium that  you find most opaque?

JC: “The subject—the process and medium are very familiar to me, so I use them to create a language. But having to “know” what my image means, that’s what I have a real resistance to. Sure, it means something on a literal level, but I don’t know what it is. I decided to give myself permission to have my art be a space and time where I am able to create something. It doesn’t have to hold any more meaning than the relationship I have with it or how I am challenged by what it presents.”

The Gampi paper, carborundum on board, and drypoint on plastic—this language you mention seems to have a lot of moving parts.

“Yes, I get to choose these parts and bring them together in some kind of image. I think some of that comes from the years when I made jewelry out of tiny paper collages. When I came back to printmaking, I continued using that technique.

Then there are things that I found along the way. When I look at my older work there are images that are very familiar and I don’t remember making. Printmaking is a process of holding onto and letting go of the little images.”

Many of Jen’s works recall those of Paul Klee, whose paintings are associated with the German Expressionists and later the Bauhaus school. One of Jen’s favorite artists, Klee painted during a time when the fractured color could mean anything from emotion to painterly rebellion. Jen admires the whimsical feeling of his work and the quality of his drawings, which she echoes in her prints Lines to Klee. While Expressionism and its contemporaries typically used direct mark-making methods—oils, watercolor, and drawing—Jen’s marks are those of a printmaker. Formed by plexi, acrylic, and objects attached to printing plates, the remaining marks are impressions of something just out reach and no longer there.

You’ve brought up “giving yourself permission” as an artist. Was there a time when you would not have allowed yourself to make these choices?

“It’s been challenging to come back to printmaking after a long hiatus; I’m somewhere different in my timeline as an artist and woman. I feel sometimes that I’m in an alternative universe because I was so familiar with printmaking when I stopped twenty years ago. But I couldn’t get the same feeling out of jewelry as print.

I’ve never been a interested in drawing as a literal interpretation of the world. I have to allow myself take from the outside and artists give myself more information to choose from. This is a creative process. We’re drawn to specific things and how we process them, then that becomes personal.”

Find more of Jen’s prints and photos from her artist residency on our Flickr, then check out her website!

Jen Cole is a printmaker based out of the Bay Area, CA and artist-in-residence at Kala Art Institute. She worked as a fine arts printer for ten years after completing her graduate work at San Francisco State in 1985. Having since tackled jewelry design and pastry-making, she recently returned to printmaking and joined us at WSW for a Studio Workspace Residency!