For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, I am often drawn to art that chronicles urban decay. I particularly love the abandoned buildings that dot the waterfront in San Francisco and the artist studio buildings that have taken root in that landscape, from the Noonan Building at Pier 70 to the Shipyard at Hunters Point. It is not clear if Jenny Robinson’s choice to locate her studio at the Shipyard was cause or effect. It is clear that her work is deeply rooted in that, and similar, urban landscapes.
With particular emphasis on the ordinary features of her city surroundings, Jenny chronicles the “cycle of decay and renewal” that impact our bridges, highway interchanges, billboards and, my favorite, the under-maintained industrial buildings. She notes that “by exploring the dichotomy of these often abandoned structures, at once monumental and fragile, unsightly yet beautiful, I aim to bring attention to the drama of the over-looked and abandoned corners of the world”.
Jenny’s journey began in Borneo. Her father was an expatriate engineer. She spent much of her childhood growing up there; and later, traveling between Southeast Asia and Britain when she, like many children of expatriates, attended boarding school in London. From early on, she exhibited a facility in drawing. She carried a sketchbook everywhere, fascinated by the differences in light and shadow. From these early experiences. she developed a taste for travel that persists to this day.
In the 80’s, she formally entered art school in West Surrey. There she was exposed to every possible medium and technique. Britain was a great place to study art. All of the material costs were covered. Art students could freely explore their world and find their voice. Jenny found that printmaking (and to a lesser extent, photography) was where her creativity best flowed. That was where she took her “foundations”. After college, she worked in the commercial art worlds of design, illustration and animation. In the later, she had quite fortuitously made a connection through a friend with film and video producers. She worked on films creating special effects. The work was project-oriented and it paid well. With each project, she would save up; then use her savings to go traveling. As was her habit, everywhere she went, she carried her sketchbook. She would also bring a camera for “back-up” photographs. The art that she produced was, in her own words, “popular, but a little too romantic”. Before she became a captive of her own success, she changed directions. The early work had focused on light and shadow, but it was, in her opinion, overly pretty. She started to sketch grittier, urban subject matter; and her color palette began to focus on the ochre’s and gray’s that dominate her current works.
Jenny’s work continues to evolve. At first, she tended to rely more heavily on the photographic references. Stylistically, the work was very detailed. More recently, she has made a conscious decision to rely more heavily on the sketches. The result has been work with a more painterly quality. Technically, the work has also evolved. Printmakers are, according to Jenny, a very generous community. They attend workshops together and share techniques. So her work is always growing technically. I am particularly intrigued with her current printmaking technique, which owes a lot to both monotype and dry-point. She actually creates her images on cardboard, illustration board to be precise. After creating the image, she seals the illustration board with varnish. She then carves into that sealed “plate” from which she prints, in a process similar to dry-point. This allows her to create the detailed drawing of the infrastructure which is her subject. Then, to achieve the more painterly quality, she adds the color washes in 4-6 passes, in a technique that owes more to monoprinting.
Jenny has taught at the Academy of Art and Chico State. She is currently a resident artist at Kala in Berkeley. She teaches workshops regularly at ICA in San Jose and at the San Francisco Center for the Book. She also participates nationally in various residency and workshop programs, including this past summer at the Cabrillo Arts Summer Santa Cruz Workshops. She has exhibited nationally and internationally. Currently, she has gallery representation at Davidson Gallery in Seattle & Warnock Fine Arts in Palm Springs. This weekend you can see her work during San Francisco Open Studios Weekend Four. And, her studio is also open by appointment.