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The series of paintings, created by Jana Jacob, a female artist, depicts a young man rubbing his eyes as if attempting to see something more clearly. The images are imbued with tension and unease, conveying the young man’s struggle to understand something that eludes him.
The use of a male subject by a female artist creates a sense of inversion and subversion, challenging traditional gender roles and expectations. This is further emphasized by the young man’s vulnerable and perplexed expression, which subverts traditional depictions of masculinity and power.
The sequence of paintings appears to be arranged like a film strip, with each image building upon the last to give a feeling of progression and movement. Despite the young man’s efforts to see more clearly, his face remains partially obscured by his hand in the final painting, offering an effect of ambiguity and uncertainty.
The series as a whole speaks to the universal experience of trying to understand something that is just beyond our grasp, while also challenging traditional gender roles and expectations. The use of a male subject by a female artist adds a layer of complexity and nuance to the images, inviting the viewer to question their assumptions and biases. The title of the series is a German proverb that means directly the opposite of what the paintings convey. The phrase actually means that someone finally understood and got the sense of everything and sees it all clearly. The whole work lives from this oxymoron with the contradicion all the more intensified by the fact that the German “Wie Schuppen von den Augen” literally is about the peel or the scales falling from someone’s eyes. Which in painting gathers an extra level involving the female gaze, seeing and being seen.
INTO GALLERY, TEXT BY DANIELA BEVERVANSO, 2023
The details of the body that make each person unique are the highlight of Jana Jacob’s artworks. The artist graduated in Liberal Arts from the State Academy of Fine Arts, in Stuttgart, Germany. Later on, Jana did one year in the École Nationale Supérieure d’Arts de Paris-Cergy, in Paris. During her studies, she also spent a few months in a kind of art commune in San Francisco, USA, collaborating with the students from the California College of Arts.
“I like nudity because it is pure, it unifies us all. We are not distracted by clothes or fashion”, claims she. Her portraits demonstrate an acute sensitivity to the psychological and emotional force of her subjects. The iconic portraits painted by Jana Jacob adhere to their source – a photograph – emphasizing physical characteristics that define how we outwardly portray ourselves to the world. She shows us naked and relaxed persons, makes them in a vulnerable way and also reveals an extraordinary private side of its subject. “Many people told me that they had the feeling that the portrayed person seems familiar, as if they had known themselves since a long time”, concludes Jana Jacob.
Die figurative Malerei von Jana Jacob erforscht die Sensibilität, die durch menschliche Berührung erfahren wird. Während sie in ihrer Technik und ihrer Vorliebe für Acryl konsequent ist, wechselt der Fokus der Künstlerin zwischen dem Porträt und seinen Fragmenten.
Die in Berlin lebende Künstlerin entwickelt eine stille, aber kraftvolle Poesie, indem sie die Haut sowohl als Thema als auch als Metapher verwendet.
Unsere Haut steht nicht nur für unsere Erfahrung der Verkörperung, sie wird auch zu unserem Beziehungsraum. Die Oberfläche unseres Körpers ist der Ort, an dem Empathie entsteht. Sie ist die Barriere, die uns von anderen Körpern trennt, aber auch das Mittel, durch das wir uns mit ihnen verbinden und in Beziehung treten. Die Künstlerin beobachtet genau und rahmt die Körper in einer Weise ein, die die Grenzen zwischen ihnen auflöst und den Betrachter in einen intimen Austausch verwickelt.
Die kleinen, aber kraftvollen Werke erfordern Nähe, sowohl emotional als auch physisch, und laden uns auf subtile Weise ein, genauer hinzusehen. Durch ihre realistische Herangehensweise stellt sie das Subjekt auf ehrliche und offene Weise dar, die Werke ermöglichen es uns, uns in das Subjekt einzufühlen und eine Beziehung zu ihm aufzubauen. Der Verlust von Unterschieden auf der Ebene der Haut eröffnet dem Betrachter eine intime und verletzliche Perspektive.
Jana Jacob’s meticulously rendered portraits explore insight and integrity in the genre of figurative art. Demonstrating an acute sensitivity to the psychological and emotional force of her subjects, her deceptively-precise brushstrokes seduce and disarm. Her iconic portraits adhere to their source – a photograph – emphasizing physical characteristics that define how we outwardly portray ourselves to the world. It is the spatio-temporal complexities of her paint that keep us engaged.
Each depicted character is surrounded by muted backgrounds, which heighten the notions of sensuality and self-disclosure as well as engender a profound and fragile sense of peace. These intrinsic details are parceled up in works of mobile immediacy, complex narratives about conscious and subconscious, anchored by relentless expressions in a somewhat unforgiving manner.
Defined by their clarity and empathetic warmth, Jacob’s paintings deeply question ever-shifting human connections and draw the viewer through the endless intricacies of looking.
The second artists weekend and this time devoted to our fabulous Jana Jacob, will be open from 6th – 8th of August at the Haze Gallery. Captivated by the endless aesthetic and formal possibilities of the materiality of the human body, Jacob makes a highly sensual and tactile impression of surface and mass in her monumental acryl paintings. Subjects are imbued with a sculptural yet elusive dimensionality that verges on the abstract. In recent paintings, she renews her enduring figurative investigations by depicting bodies embracing and intertwined.
Die Werke von Jana Jacob sind zurückhaltender, aber nicht weniger eindringlich. Ähnlich wie sich der italienische Maler Giorgio Morandi in seinen Stillleben auf einige wenige Flaschen und Gefäße konzentrierte, ähnlich wie der deutsche Künstler Peter Dreher in einer seiner Serien Tag um Tag ein Wasserglas malte, sonst nichts, so beschränkt sich Jana Jacob auf das frontale Brustbild und postiert ihre nackten Modelle durchgängig auf deren Sofa. Dabei entsteht eine beinahe meditative Stimmung.
“Ich schlurfe hier abends rein und bin heilfroh, kein Gesicht mehr machen zu müssen”, sagte Roger Willemsen über den Moment, nach Hause zu kommen. Über den Moment, in dem wir uns nicht mehr inszenieren, in dem wir keine Kraft mehr für unsere Rolle im sozialen Theaterspiel aufbringen müssen – über den Moment, in dem wir ankommen. Zuhause.
Jana Jacob fängt genau diesen Moment ein. Sie besucht Menschen aus ihrem engsten Umfeld, Menschen, mit denen sie in einer Beziehung steht und bleibt so lang, bis diese die Künstlerin und die Kamera vergessen. So entstehen Fotografien, die Menschen auf ihrem Sofa porträtieren – eindringlich, intim und nackt.
Diese Fotografien bilden die Grundlage für Acryl-Gemälde, in denen die Künstlerin mehr einfängt, als das Licht der Wohnung, die Textur des Sofas und die Geschichte der meist ungeschminkten Haut. Es ist dieser Blick, dieser Moment, in dem nichts mehr zu tun ist und die Stimmung, wenn alles von uns abfällt.
Jana Jacob malt in ihrem Zuhause. Die Gemälde entstehen in ihrem Wohnzimmer und so werden sie im Laufe ihrer Entstehung auch ein Teil des privaten Lebens der Künstlerin und ihrer Familie. Während sie die Modelle im Moment des Ankommens, des Feierabends, des Nicht-Mehr-Beobachtet-Werdens malt, bleibt genau dieser Moment der Künstlerin selbst verwehrt. Ihre Arbeiten beobachten sie und ihre Familie beim Abendessen. Beim Frühstücken. Und beim Serie-Schauen auf dem Sofa.
So ist die Reihe ein gegenseitiger Besuch von Modell und Künstlerin, den beide Seiten in seiner Schonungslosigkeit ertragen müssen. Es ist nicht nur die Frage, wem wir uns pur und uninszeniert offenbaren – sondern auch die Frage, wer diese Offenbarung ertragen kann.
Denn die Reihe zeigt kein Glück, keine Schönheit, keine Extase und kein Extrem – sondern den fragilen Moment der Freiheit, wenn nichts mehr muss.
Tell us a bit about yourself! Where are you from? When and how did you decide to become an artist?
I was born and raised in the very south of Germany in a small town. My mother is German, and my father is Thai. I grew up with my single mum and later on with my younger sister. We always moved around a lot. I almost don`t remember living in one home longer than two years. Also, even when I was very little, we used to travel a lot around Europe and visited my family in Thailand, so I always felt more like a world citizen.
I never had this one moment when I decided: I want to be an artist! It just happened. Ever since I was a young child, I was painting a lot, my mum told me she would always bring tons of watercolors everywhere on our travels, and I would sit and paint on my own for hours. And I always loved building and creating things, no matter what material; wood, clay, fabric, wool, paint, anything.
My path of becoming an artist probably manifested when I started my studies of Fine Arts at the Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Stuttgart, Germany. I remember in my first year. We did classic large-scale drawing studies with coal on paper and a studio model. I loved that. Later on I did one year abroad at the École nationale supérieure d’arts de Paris-Cergy in Paris, France. There I focused on video, often used myself as an object. For one series, I asked random people to tell me a secret in front of the camera. In some way, my most recent work refers to that idea of revealing yourself in front of the camera or, more generally, in front of the unknown spectator. During my studies, I also spent a few months in a kind of art commune in San Francisco. We collaborated with art students of the CCA. However, it was only when I settled in Berlin that I finally rediscovered my first love of painting. So here I am.
How would you describe what you create? What are the fundamental messages you want to get across with your work?
Oh, this is hard to put into words. I try to create a very private and personal portrait of a person, in a moment when they are all by themselves and drop their outside-world-masks. I aim to display the moment they let go. But it’s not only about an arbitrary image of this situation. It is also about the mood which I experience with them. I try to capture all of it by choosing the palette of colors, the size of the canvas, and by intensively examining their expression. The outcome doesn`t necessarily transport happiness or beauty but rather a sense of peace.
There is no fundamental message I want to get across. I am more interested in what this kind of depiction evokes within the spectator. The range of reactions was pretty wide so far. Some find it sad or feel that the model looks annoyed, bored, tired, or severe. Many people told me that they had the feeling that the portrayed person seems familiar, as if they knew them for a long time.
You paint a lot of nudes; what do you hope to communicate with these?
I like the nudity because it is pure, and it unifies us all. We are not distracted by clothes or fashion. The spectator doesn’t put the person in a social box because of their clothing. Also, what I find exciting are all the little details of the body that make each person unique. The traces of life that you get a hint of.
I portray people in a way that they usually only show to their loved ones. I show them naked in a relaxed posture without posing for a perfect shape. This exposes details that the model may usually try to hide. They make themselves vulnerable in a way, but this courage of revealing themselves and being seen that way demonstrates a lot of strength in my eyes. And I am very grateful that those people trust me this much. That they show this private self to me and allow me to paint this special moment.
What appeals to you about the human figure and about painting from life?
I am very interested in the human psyche, the universe that hides behind the eyes. I am fascinated by how this little universe of emotions, thoughts, habits is visible in the individual expression of the face, the posture, the shape of the body, and the tension of each muscle. But also in the surrounding. I always paint the people in their homes on their sofa. And I love to really display the specific texture of the sofa fabric, the incident light from a window, the texture of the wall behind those people. All this shows a little glimpse of their world, of their home. I labeled this series.
HOME/when there is nothing left to do. Obviously, because I paint the models in their own four walls, but also because the state of mind I am trying to capture only exists in places where we feel at home.
How do you paint the female nude without it being sexualized?
I guess it’s the way I stage and display those women. I don’t want them to make a sexy and most advantageous posture on their sofa, but rather how they would sit when they are all by themselves, most comfortable but naked. I wait until they relax and get into that certain stage of mind and body, and you start seeing that in their facial expression.
One thing I find interesting and, of course, also a bit sad is that many women painted happened to be a bit uncomfortable with the outcome of the painting. Not with the technique, but it was rather hard for them to look at themselves like this.
I guess it’s because this is not the way women want to be perceived by the outside world. They have more social pressure always to be perfectly beautiful.
I also have memories of me walking on the street, and random men would approach me and tell me that I should smile. It always made me so angry that women should smile or show a happy face to make others (especially men) feel good. But in a peaceful state of mind, we don’t necessarily look happy. For me, this relaxed facial and body expression shows those women in a very authentic, honest, and therefore strong way.
Can you tell us about your process?
In general, I am choosing the model. They are always people that I know, that I like, who interest me, and that I am related to in some way. I ask them if I can portray them. That is the first step, and nobody has declined so far.
And then I visit that person in their home, equipped with my camera and tripod. We have a little tea and a chat before we start. People are always a little bit nervous, and so am I. Then we start shooting on their sofa. As I mentioned, I ask the person to undress and to sit in a comfortable posture. Most people don’t want their genitals to be seen, so they find a comfortable and natural position without exposing too much. And then I wait until they forget the camera and let go. That’s the moment I am looking for.
I take a number of these pictures and choose one as an outline for my painting. I try to display the expression of this special moment, filtered through my own eyes and perception. It usually takes up to three months for one painting, and I don’t start a new painting until I finish one. I guess I am pretty monogamous with my portraits. I like to really focus and be with each portrayed person at a time.
What have been the key influences in your work?
I admire the works of Lucian Freud and Egon Schiele. I love how they both painted people very expressively, radically, and in a somehow unforgiving manner. My way of painting is pretty different. I paint with acrylics and not so spaciously. And, of course, they painted live with the model sitting in their studios. Especially from Freud, I know he often painted a person over months. I love how they manage to transport the individual expressions and in Freud’s paintings, especially also the atmospheres of the surrounding. To me, their paintings appear very vivid, touching, and also disturbing sometimes. For me, good artworks need to have that effect.
What is the latest project to been working on?
In my recent works, I focus on details of human body parts. Parts that are usually not exclusively shown on paintings like knees or a part of afoot. I choose uncommon perspectives, put them out of context, so it is sometimes even hard to guess which part of the body could be. I like this kind of confusion or sometimes maybe even disturbing associations this can evoke. These are smaller paintings, and I work very differently than I would on portraits. I set myself a short time frame of two to three hours only to force myself to avoid painting too precisely and getting lost in details. I like them to stay rough, such that you can see the single brush strokes. This way, they stay vivid. I like this as an opposite pole to my larger long-term portraits. But I guess each has it’s own quality.