In Celebration of Jennifer Packer


The Eye Is Not Satisfied with Seeing

Moving forward every month I want to celebrate a different Black Woman Artist and this first month is Jennifer Packer. I first came across Jennifer’s work a few years ago when I saw her first solo European exhibition, “The Eye Is Not Satisfied with Seeing”, at The Serpentine gallery in London.

Jennifer is a New York based painter, who studied at the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia and went on to get a masters from Yale. Her paintings are often full of references, literature, history, art, even conversations with friends infect her work and imbue it with layer upon layer of meaning.

Memory and Grief

Blessed are those who Mourn (Breonna Breonna) 2020

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” Matthew 5:4

The title of the painting refers to Breonna Taylor SAY HER NAME who was murdered by the police in her home on March 15th 2020, this piece was specially commissioned for the exhibition in London and completed a few weeks before opening. The figure and the background are treated with equal sensitivity, the space is just as important to Jennifer as the subject and when she was painting she was thinking specifically about Breonna’s home and what was left behind after her murder. If you see this painting in real life it’s monumental and you feel yourself being sucked in by a collage of details.

This staggering, mural-like work is a response to the photographs of Taylor’s house after the shooting: the victim’s things – saucepans, photo albums, a night-stand – are interspersed with bullet rounds. Traces of a life remain.”

Jennifer has stated that the composition of this painting was inspired by the French painters Maurice Denis and Pierre Bonnard who often painted reclining figures.

Memento Mori Say Her Name (2017)

Jennifer painted these flowers for Sandra Bland SAY HER NAME, another woman murdered by the police. Sandra Bland was arrested in 2015 for a minor traffic infraction while driving, the next day she was found hanging in her cell. Officially her death was ruled a suicide by the state, however, there is a lot of evidence that she was in fact murdered by the police whilst in custody and that her murder was covered up. Sandra Bland’s murder led to widespread protests. Jennifer was particularly affected by seeing the media coverage of Sandra’s murder and wanted to paint something for her, a memento mori.

Vision Impaired (2015)

In this monochrome piece Jennifer aimed to create a painting where the person is seen less as a physical being in the space and more as a feeling, the feeling that someone is there but that person is rendered unknowable by the abstraction of the piece. Jennifer has said this painting was inspired by photography and the memory of a feeling.

Graces (2017)

In 2021 Jennifer was awarded the Rome Prize by the American Academy in Rome, an annual prize awarded to thirty recipients across a wide range of disciplines. Winners recieve a fellowship in Rome where they’re given an apartment to live in rent free, free food and a $30000 cash stipend. To be considered you have to submit a proposal for a project. Jennifers winning idea, titled, “Fantasy in the Hold” and will explore, ‘social, political, and psychological implications of landscape and architecture on conceptions of individual, collective, and national identity, in relationship to African diasporic communities.’

‘Rome was so complicated . . . . I experienced some really unique kinds of racism and isolation that threw me off my game entirely. I tried to get ready—I even took Italian before I left. (laughter) When I got there, I felt completely alone. I had physical exchanges that were really unpleasant. I was kicked by a woman multiple times in the cafe at the end of Via Flaminia in Rome. I thought I understood what racism looked like, but I was surprised that I couldn’t combat it with my intelligence, my dress—

Jennifer’s connection to Rome goes back to 2006 when her painting teacher Stanley encouraged her to spend some time studying abroad so she could experience what it’s like to be Black in a country apart from America. Whilst in Rome she was subject to a racism she had never experienced before.

In an interview with Cultured Magazine, Jennifer expresses that it was seeing Caravaggio’s Saint Matthew series in Rome that inspired her to believe that she too could be painter.

The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew-Caravaggio (c. 1599-1600)

I felt connected to his deep, dark representation that seemed almost blasphemous and also seemed to contradict all the other optimistic images that were in the church and in the city. There’s this break between the entropy you feel in the city and the beauty of the images presented. If you go from church to church you see incessant glorification. Suffering isn’t depicted as painful, like in works by Ribera or Mexican religious painting. It’s more superficial or circumstantial. Even if you go to the Sistine Chapel and seeMichelangelo’s Last Judgment (1536-41), people are literally going to hell and it doesn’t look so bad. Caravaggio’s work was so much truer than any other images that I’d seen; it felt human.

Jennifer packer on the influence of Caravaggio

The light in Carravaggio’s paintings is remarkable especially because he was painting in a time when light was not as easy come by as it is now, light therefore was valuable. Jennifer inspired by Carravaggio likes to flood her paintings with light thus giving the people in her work explicit value.

Fire Next Time (2012)

This diptych is actually one of Jennifers first paintings and the way she explores light and colour is really interesting, the fans around the room and the person slumped on the desk, along with the red and orange colours make the room feel sticky with heat.

When asked when a painting is finally finished Jennifer said it’s like a relationship, you wake up one day and you’re like right, that’s it, I’m done.

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