Just three years ago, Jan Dilenschneider sold her first painting. She recently participated in the Art Paris Art Fair at the Grand Palais, one of the most prestigious art shows in the world. Her work was a highlight of Galerie Pierre-Alain Challier’s exhibition.
This is an extraordinary achievement. Each spring the Grand Palais show is seen as the epicenter of contemporary art from post-World War II to the present. The fair attracted more than 50,000 people over a three-day period.
Prior to her participation in the Art Paris Art Fair, Dilenschneider had three solo shows at Galerie Pierre-Alain Challier, located in the historic Le Marais district, and a recent exhibition at the Bellarmine Museum at Fairfield University, the most popular show in the museum’s history. Her next solo exhibition is already scheduled for October at the Sill House Gallery at the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts in Connecticut.
Dilenschneider’s inspiration comes from the ever-changing landscape around her home on the Long Island Sound. Shore grasses bending in the breeze, blue skies reflected in the cool water and extraordinary trees silhouetted against green lawns all find their way on to her canvas. At times when she is driving, she immediately pulls over to photograph a spectacular sky or colorful vegetation. Nature in all of its transformations is an integral part of her work.
She believes that no painting is created in a vacuum as we see multiple images and then allow our creative brain to go to work. To her, it is similar to dreaming as she conjures up colors, images, tensions and movement before approaching a canvas. It was the great Impressionist Manet who observed that 90 percent of painting occurs without a paint brush in one’s hand. When Dilenschneider finally begins to paint, she already perceives the outcome.
To Dilenschneider, painting is not only an intellectual activity, but a physical one as well. She takes deep breaths in front of a canvas and exercises her arms because she wants large, bold gestures, not small motions. A blank canvas never intimidates her, but in fact energizes her.
She often makes a small thumbnail sketch on the back of her canvas and then begins to play with colors, juxtapositioning complementary hues shooting up against each other to make them “sing” and “vibrate.” Then she transfers the ideas to the front of her canvas, essentially copying her vision from a two-inch format to 36 inches.
Gesture and color come together to create emotion, direction and passion. Dilenschneider achieves large, bold strokes across the canvas or softened edges through her innovative use of squeegees, spatulas, chopsticks or even her fingers. It is gesture that is the soul of her paintings, and color conveys their joy.
At times she takes an older painting, turns it upside down and begins to paint another on top of it. The shapes and colors of the original painting come through in a style that is almost Baroque in its strong sense of movement, swirling spirals, upward diagonals and strong sumptuous color schemes. These are paintings meant to dazzle and surprise.
Her creativity is most evident in a unique type of diptych that she calls “pairs” because they do not have to hung – or sold – together. She sets up two canvases and moves between them, which guarantees a fresh approach and in a few strokes determines the palette, the brush strokes and the mood of her work. She moves effortlessly between the two canvases until they nearly mirror each other, yet can stand alone, each as a distinct work of art. Paintings created in this matter were part of her show “Dualities” at the Bellarmine Museum on the campus of Fairfield University in Connecticut.
Dilenschneider recently began to experiment with vertical triptychs, which were shown at the Art Paris Art Fair. The recent works include:
Flora Against Blue Sky (Oil on Canvas: 3 canvases, each 36 by 36 inches). The work features cobalt blue skies juxtaposed with flora in gamboge yellow. Dilenschneider painted the rich gamboge yellow over the entire canvas and then covered it with dark pigment. With the canvas still wet, she used a squeegee and pulled it back and forth across the canvas revealing the vegetation beneath. The flow of the squeegee across the canvas is almost musical. A sky of cobalt blue peeks out in just enough places to evoke the feeling of light streaming through the leaves.
Super Storm Sandy (Acrylic on Canvas: 3 canvases, each 36 by 36 inches). The painting incorporates analogous colors of ultramarine and cerulean blue, violet, pink, off-white and green. The triptych captures the violent waters of Super Storm Sandy, which engulfed the East Coast in 2013. The painting is a rush of colors moving upward and swirling at the top to emulate the white water crashing against the shore.
The observer’s eye travel upward in each piece. In Flora Against Blue Sky the vegetation becomes denser, and in Super Storm Sandy the waters become more violent. What is extraordinary is that the works can also be hung horizontally with the same effect.
To Dilenschneider, both paintings are examples of how global warming is affecting us all. She believes that nature is slowing changing around us in response to extreme temperatures and climate change, and that artists have the platform to draw attention to these potential problems. It is nature unleashed in a powerful way.
She chose these vertical triptychs for the Grand Palais show because they best exemplify her use of gesture and color joining together to create emotion, direction and passion. Dilenschneider looks to impose design within chaos, and like the Expressionists she admires, convey the emotion of the movement rather than a representation of the scene.
“Painting is expression, making visible my emotion, sharing that emotion without words – only paint. The sensibility and mood in my work are expressed via color relationships either sharply contrasting or close in hue. I put color next to color and hope the viewer will see them sing together,” Dilenschneider wrote in her artist’s statement.
Her greatest inspiration is her mother, who told her to put together the lightest lights and darkest darks and work from there.
In addition to her career as an artist, Dilenschneider is also a philanthropist. She was appointed to serve on the Connecticut Arts Council. She also underwrote the Janet Hennessy Dilenschneider Rescue Fund Award in the Arts, which recently rescued a Syrian artist and her family and relocated them to New Jersey, where she is on the faculty of Montclair State University.
For additional information on Jan Dilenschneider and her art visit her website at www.jmhdilenschneider.com.