Jeanne Warren was a Runner-Up in our inaugural Jackson’s Open Art Prize 2016 with her acrylic painting ‘The Struggle’. Her painting depicts a young man with a troubled expression, gazing through a cast iron railing. The painting shows Jeanne Warren’s adeptness at painting a huge variety of textures – the shininess of a weathered leather jacket, the pin stripes of the man’s hat, the weathered hues of the brickwork in the background, hair, flesh and painted iron…. the attention to detail across the board combines to create an awe-inspiring end result. There is a soulfulness and melancholy to the portrait with an underlying sense of determination; a painting she made to sum up her feelings while homeless. In this interview I wanted to find out more about her passion for painting, and what she has been up to since being commended in the Jackson’s Open Art Prize 2016.
Lisa: How much of your time do you spend wandering the streets, searching for the perfect image to paint?
Jeanne: I love London and prefer to take my photos there when I can visit it. I do not go to London often, so my time taking photos is sadly limited.
When I am there, it can take me an entire day roaming around; or it might be a photo taken here and there, depending on whether someone strikes my imagination and interest. Obviously people are constantly moving so it can be difficult to capture someone at the right moment. Ironically, some of my best photos were taken very quickly; so quickly that I might have forgotten I took the photo until I spend time downloading them. “Waiting” and “He Sang Real Good for Free” were fortunate photographs because the main subjects were still for a few moments, although in “..Sang…” you can see the other man actually in motion walking up the stairs. “Blue” was also an easy shot although he was playing the piano.
I like to blend into a crowd so that the person/s I am trying to photograph do not see me taking the photo. Posing is a big no-no for me as it kills the reality I am seeking with my work. I only want people to be themselves doing what they would normally do on a regular day. “Three’s a Crowd” is one of my personal favourites because it is really a great shot in general.
I did my research before I decided to become a street photographer and it is definitely a legal thing to do as long as the photographs are taken in a public place, which is where I would prefer to take my photos anyway.
Lisa: What do you think painting your subjects lends to the composition, as opposed to simply presenting the photographs that you take?
Jeanne: Street photography is an art form in itself. I know several people who are street photographers and I deeply admire their abilities and perseverance. Those who excel do indeed present the photos they take and frame them, exhibit them, and sell them. Obviously I am not one of those people; mainly because I am really a painter at heart and I wanted to take street photography to a different level.
When I take a photograph of someone, that is really only the beginning of what I create. My photos are closely scrutinized, tweaked and cropped, tweaked again and again; and only then will I think they are worth the many hours it takes me to paint them. This is when the composition really comes to fruition for me.
The finished painting resembles the photo; but in actuality, one can clearly see the changes that have been made. Even the original colours are not the same; I always play with them and end up making them much brighter and clearer than the photographs.
I would like to believe my paintings have an element of reality in them…yet… are quite painterly as well.
Lisa: What are your favourite paints to work with and why?
Jeanne: I must admit I have not yet tried some of the more expensive paints yet but I am very interested in giving them a go once finances are in place. For now, I am still using paints I bought years ago as I hate to waste money that was once spent.
I use a lot of white in my paintings and use Winsor Newton Professional Acrylic Titanium White as my base colour. If I run out of a tube of my current paint (Daler Rowney System 3) I replace it with Winsor and Newton as I prefer its consistency and quality over the Daler Rowney.
In actuality, the paints I use have served me well over the years but I would most certainly like to experiment with others one day.
Lisa: Do you ever feel differently about the people you paint after you have painted them?
Jeanne: Oh my yes.
I am a very emotionally-driven artist and especially feel it in my portraits. For example, “Seeking Joseph” was a painting of a man I used to pass on the street when I was out walking my dog. His face just drew me in and one day I asked him if I could paint him.
I prefer to take my photos outdoors for portraits (stemming from my street photography I suppose) and was fortunate enough to capture his photo on a bright and sunny autumn day. He was virtually a stranger; but as the painting developed, I found myself totally enthralled with every inch of his face.
When his painting was complete, I felt myself practically moved to tears with emotion. Sadly, I never saw him again but a part of me is with him, wherever he is.
Same goes for Gary, the man I painted in “The Struggle”. That was a very emotional painting for me and I cried throughout the process.
Every painting, every person I paint, holds a lot of meaning for me. Whether it is someone I am passing along the street, or someone I know personally (“Pam” and Sarah in “Swept” are artist friends for example), they all are important pieces to a big puzzle and pages of a story I want to tell.
I guess you could say my heart lies with everyone I paint and those feelings are even stronger once the paintings are finally completed.
Lisa: You write candidly about almost getting into the BP Portrait Award on your blog, and you’ve entered and been shortlisted for one of our monthly competitions since the JOAP in 2016. How important are prizes and competitions to you as a painter?
Jeanne: Competitions used to be the be-all and end-all for me for many reasons.
They were a form of validation for me; in other words, I would think…am I good enough to compete with some of these amazing artists? They were also a way for me to get “out there” as an artist; to get my work seen, in other words. Competitions made me strive to improve and stretch out my self-imposed barriers. And they were a way for me to get to know other like-minded people. Lastly, they helped me feel as if I was a part of the artistic community, which is so important for a lot of us who are living and painting without others around.
The BP was, and is, a bit of a goal I have set myself. I remember when I first clapped eyes on paintings in the BP Portrait Award and was absolutely amazed with the brilliance that hung on those walls. I told myself that one day I would hang there too and I promised myself I would not give up. Almost getting in a couple years ago was bittersweet, as one can imagine. The judges did not know the story behind “The Struggle” (which was good) and it was a painting that still did well. After I found out I did not get through, I was naturally very disappointed but at the same time very pleased it got as far as it did.
I entered it in the JOAP 2016 competition after being prompted by a very dear art friend. I felt I had to tell the real story behind it as we were asked to describe the painting and I thought just saying he was some guy I painted who posed in an alleyway was not going to cut it. Being so open was very therapeutic, albeit scary. After the competition was over and the results were in, I found myself really thinking about competitions in general and if they were something I wanted to pursue. This particular competition took a lot out of me for obvious reasons, although being a runner-up was a brilliant result.
Funnily enough, even when things were desperate here financially, I never entered a competition for the money. It certainly would have helped at one time but it was never the impetus I needed to enter.
I may or may not enter any other competitions in the future other than the BP. It all depends on how I am feeling at the moment, I guess.
Lisa: Do you ever abandon paintings half way through?
Jeanne: I am someone who likes to complete what has been started, no matter how long it takes or how much aggravation goes into completing it. I rarely leave anything abandoned.
The other thing is, I cannot work on multiple paintings at a time as I put a great deal of concentration into the one I am working on and dividing my time would be too confusing and annoying.
All that said, I do have one painting that I have left unfinished but that is because it is another emotionally-charged one. I expect one day I will go back to it and finish it.
Lisa: You went through a terrible time, losing your home at the time when you painted ‘The Struggle’, yet you always carried on painting, which must have been proof to yourself how important being creative is to you. How do you think the experience of temporary homelessness has affected your painting practice, if at all?
Jeanne: I was homeless for seven months. Seven. My room was smaller than a box room and there was barely room to sit, let alone paint. I painted on my bed, easel propped up in front of it. I felt as if the biggest part of me was taken away (my art) and I was not about to give it up…so I painted. Looking back on it all, I am glad I painted because it helped get me through it.
Now that I am settled into a lovely little bungalow, my artwork is set up in my living room. Everything is as it once was; I have all the equipment I need and the light pours in through my back doors. Every day I am grateful for this.
Homelessness teaches one a lot. Or any life-altering experience does. Things and people are never taken for granted and one learns to look at life through a different pair of eyes. So this is a way I paint differently, I suppose.
Lisa: Has 2017 been a good year for you creatively? What has been your highlight so far?
Jeanne: 2017 has been quiet for me. I have really eased up on painting…suffered from a bit of artist’s block and am now working my way through it. I have become a bit insouciant about my painting and I do not like that.
Highlights…watching my art friends succeed, being short-listed for a Jackson’s competition (thank you), finding new photos to paint, and making sure I finish my current painting before 2018!
Lisa: What are you working on at the moment?
Jeanne: I am working on “Five O’Clock Shadows” at the moment…soon to be completed, hopefully before the end of next month.
Lisa: Where online or in the flesh can we view more of your work?
Jeanne: I am on social media, so you can find me on Instagram under jeannewarren333
I also have a website: www.jeannewarrenfineart.
Header Image: ‘Waiting’ by Jeanne Warren, Acrylic on Board, 33cm x 56cm, 2012