New Work from the Sculptor/Artist Reflects Her World Travels
WORDS Annie Stoppelbein
Nestled behind her home, miles from the bustle of Nashville in historic Newsom Station, Lisa Jennings designed and constructed her own studio. The air is refreshing and permeated with the scent of earth and wood. It is the perfect habitat for the “modern-primitive” painter and sculptor, with the Harpeth River nearby and a thriving wild-life community outside her door. Lisa is quite at home in nature, as it is the source of her art. A true hunter-gatherer (with more emphasis on the gathering), Lisa collects natural treasures to create forms inspired by the ancient past. This year the artist is busy preparing for several upcoming exhibitions, whetting her sculpture skills and bringing nature indoors.
“Like Modigliani in the third dimension, Lisa’s long slender forms evoke delicacy and grace, backed by the strength of Mother Nature.”
At the back of her studio is a storage room where Lisa keeps her stock of wood. She was gifted a selection of virgin tree trunks that were dried and now amount to an indoor forest. She also has sections of hollowed trunks that curl in the most delightful way. Lisa will first use her beloved chainsaw to make rough cuts, then a drill sander, upping the grit until she reaches the ultra-fine 220 paper. Sealed and waxed, her work is highly archival.
The bridge between her painting and sculpture is her handmade pigmented paper, which she seals into the wood. The paper element lends a pleasing contrast to the organic structure. Lisa then may add something unexpected, like a quartz stone or fused bark. With the utmost simplicity and minimal ornamentation, her figures are revealed as the essence of femininity. Like Modigliani in the third dimension, Lisa’s long slender forms evoke delicacy and grace, backed by the strength of Mother Nature.
Lisa has lived in Nashville since she was fifteen, but has been a wanderer all her life. Her parents, both creative types with nomadic spirits, kindled in her a curiosity for life that still burns. Lisa asserts that travel is the greatest education. She is fascinated by ancient cultures and has visited the living museums of the world, the sites that evidence humans’ first attempts at making art. She spent six weeks in Australia, living in nature and tracking the history of the aboriginals. She witnessed the equinox at Newgrange in Ireland, a tomb older than Stonehenge, which is aligned with the sun on that day. She says, “Part of me wishes I had been an archaeologist.” From her travels, Lisa has collected relics to be reused in her art. Her studio table is covered with treasures; broken pottery, porcupine quills, tortoiseshell pieces, and more.These days she has not been able to travel like she once did. As much as she pours herself into her art, Lisa is also a devoted caregiver to Anton Weiss, her lifelong mentor who sadly has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Weiss was a prolific and celebrated artist when he met young Lisa Jennings years ago at Lyzon gallery in Nashville. It was 1997 and Lisa had just left a career in the printing industry to become a full-time artist. She says, “It was a sink-or-swim moment.” Anton was her lifeboat, and they became instant friends. “Our first years together, we would go rock hunting and look for stone in the streams of Middle Tennessee. He taught me how to sculpt, and it exploded my life in a way that I could never repay him.” However she does pay it forward by teaching workshops and sharing her knowledge with two studio apprentices. “I’m going to be okay even when he’s not here, because he’s given me these skills and I’m passing them on to people who work for me.”
Anton taught Lisa the theories and principles that she uses today. Her sculpture hinges upon the interaction of planes and lines. She is very careful to manage the flow of wood from one area to the next. In her figural sculptures, a slight tilt of the head or slope of the shoulder can alter the entire mood. “If something is not quite right, people will feel it.” It is a balancing act. If there is something square or sharp, Lisa says, there needs to be something round or soft.
Lisa’s sculptures are highly labor intensive, but for the viewer they bring peace. Her clients report that they are pacified by these living forms. Not surprisingly she has had many commissioned works for hospitals. They have a healing effect, especially for the artist who creates them. Lisa’s work is replete with her cathartic energy. The past three years have been difficult but, she jokes, her chainsaw helps her to sleep at night. Lisa is looking to the future now and continuing to explore the past. For her next venture, she wants to visit the Deep South and experience the Gullah culture of the Lowcountry. Wherever she roams, Lisa Jennings’s passionate spirit will remain an asset to the Nashville arts community.
Lisa Jennings will have an exhibit of her sculpture and paintings at Harpeth Hall’s Marnie Sheridan Gallery June 23 through September 10. See more of her work at www.leiperscreekgallery.com and www.lisajenningsart.com.