Jenna Pallio, a working visual artist and elementary art teacher at ASM, recently wrapped up her well-received solo exhibition Textures of Time at 809 Gallery, a contemporary art space in Milan. Delving into the topics of memory and nostalgia, this particular series combines imagery and surfaces from her home state of New York and her current home of Milan.
To make the over 30 works, Jenna employed a watercolor on photograph technique whereby photographs of textures, namely walls, roads, fabrics and other surfaces, are covered with watercolor paint. The artist then shapes the final image by using cotton tools and water to remove some of the paint – a kind of subtraction that reveals the textures below. The end result is a densely layered work that appears freshly excavated.
She came to this unique technique after much experimentation, a process that was motivated in part by her students. "I'm most inspired by [the kids'] innate nature to experiment and try new things," explains Jenna. "Their risk taking is so completely natural when it comes to materials – I'm just a catalyst to their exploration in the art room. I have often said while teaching painting to an early childhood class, 'I have been trying to mix that color for years!'"
This exhibition featured her watercolor works made using the removal technique – the medium may be new, but she's well acquainted with the method. "I prefer never to begin an artwork with a white paper or canvas. It honestly scares me," says Jenna. After working with a charcoal erasing technique in college and then moving on to a similar practice with oil paintings, where she removed the pigment with turpentine, she began applying the removal technique to more experimental materials such as wax and smoke while in Venice for her NYU masters program. "I removed the smoke by wiping it away with cotton and erasers and the wax by shaving away the surface with razors and other sharp tools," she explains.
After the birth of her first daughter, Jenna found that it was less feasible to work with materials of this sort. So, rather reluctantly, she began painting with watercolors after her husband gifted her a set for Christmas. "Watercolor is famous for being a medium that is difficult to manipulate and control," she says. "And it is virtually impossible to erase, or so I thought."
Old family photographs have long been a source of inspiration for Jenna, so one day, after many failed attempts at erasing and pulling away watercolors on paper, she had the idea of painting directly on a photograph. "I began to play with the idea of using a photo as an actual medium," explains Jenna, "instead of only a visual reference."
In these works, the photos act as a backdrop and canvas, providing only textures and never a figure or a scene (a surprising revelation, as many of her works appear to be photographs of figures or scenes at first glance). Jenna then completely covers the photo with watercolor paint, and after it dries she uses Q-Tips and cotton dipped in water to "draw" the final image. "It has been challenging to describe the technique," she says. "When people see 'watercolor on photo,' most automatically think is it a color tinted photo." To give visitors a better sense of her process, Jenna decided to display a time-lapse video of her creating "Tunnel Vision," one of the works on view, alongside her paintings.
The works themselves fit under one of two categories: the narrative "MemoryScapes, Roads, and Moments" series and a flower-focused series. The former shows images from Jenna's life in the U.S. and Italy while the latter uses nature to explore the symbolism of life and death. Perhaps most compelling are the narrative paintings such as "Naviglio In Lace," where the Naviglio Canal in Milan emerges from a family member's sheet of delicate lace fabric. While the background textures aren't as prominent in all of her narrative pieces, each scene is imbued with nostalgia for a particular place or moment in time. That feeling is only heightened by the color-drenched, and at times haunting, textures, which seem to embody the murkiness of such resurfaced memories.
Jenna recently returned to work after the birth of her second daughter and is happy to be back in the classroom. "As an art graduate from both a bachelors and masters program, I have partaken in many stimulating conversations and critiques about art," she says. "But there really is nothing as invigorating as talking about a Frida Kahlo painting with a 5th grade class or a Kandinsky image with 3rd graders or Van Gogh's 'Starry Night' with my kindergarteners."
Jenna Pallio, born 1976 in the Bronx, New York received her both her Bachelors and Masters degrees of Art from New York University. Jenna's work has been featured in solo and group shows in the United States and Europe, and she has participated in several international artist workshops and residencies. She lives and works in Milan, Italy where she has resided for the past 12 years. You can see more of her work at http://www.jennapallio.com/.