Kadira Jennings | The Painter of Visual Song
By Chelsea Koressel
As an artist grows into her work, she must learn to trust her talent and have faith in her art. Many artists fall prey to their own ego, or wilt under criticism and self-doubt. Although Australian artist, Kadira Jennings always felt great passion for her art, she had to learn to believe in herself and her talent before her work began to flourish. Jennings spiritual landscape paintings identify her as a New Romantic painter, and show her skill in conveying the emotion of a landscape. Jennings’ work brings us back to nature.
Raised in New Zealand and England, Jennings had the advantage and influence of dramatically diverse landscape scenery. Her childhood experiences set the stage for her deep artistic desires. “The period from six to nine years of age had a huge impact on the rest of my life,” Jennings recalls. “Certain events and many happy memories-family picnics in the mountains that surrounded the town, swimming in the icy mountain streams straight off the snow, learning ballet, instilled in me a deep and profound connection with the New Zealand landscape that has continued till this day.”
Many artists are also taken with nature and try to replicate it as accurately as possible. Jennings, on the other hand, makes it a point to connect with the spirit of nature in her paintings to create, “visual poetry of the landscape,” as she so cleverly describes.
In spite of an early interest in art, Jennings began denying her artistic self when, at a very early age, she had a negative experience in Catholic school. “Early in life I made a decision that art was not my thing,” she says. “Driven by the experience when I was eight, of my teacher, a nun, watching me draw and then proceeding to comment on everyone else’s work but mine. I took that as outright dismissal — my drawing was terrible.” This perceived rejection was enough for Jennings to repress and deny her artistic skill through much of the rest of her elementary education.
At the age of fifteen, Jennings spent some time with her brother during a school holiday and happened upon a watercolor paint set. She decided to paint with the set and discovered an enjoyment out of the experience. “I didn’t decide to be an artist at that point,” Jennings states, “but I think the idea gradually grew upon me over the next couple of years, as I tried to figure out what to do when I left school. As I didn’t seem to be interested in anything else, I applied for art school and was accepted.”
Though poised to develop her artistic talent, her opportunity to pursue art was postponed when she left it behind to raise a family in Australia.
Years later, after a solo trip to visit her parents, Jennings re-discovered her artistic side once again. “At a loose end, I was fossicking [rummaging] through my dads workshop in his garage, when I found my old oil paints from art school days,” she recalls. “I got them out, got hold of a canvas and did a painting. It was this experience that got me fired up to paint again. When I went back to Australia, I set up a space on our verandah and began painting. It was the only space where I could be alone and work. We lived there for 3 years and I painted out on that deck in the heat of summer and the cold of winter.”
This spark of creativity furthered Jennings on her artistic path of discovery and self acceptance. She explains, “Looking back, I see that my art has been profoundly influenced by the journey of my life. For many years I struggled majorly with even owning that I was an artist as I never felt like my work was good enough.”
Despite these self-doubting demons, Jennings went on to enter a competition in the 90’s that entailed a unique take on landscape painting that she calls “fractured landscapes.” These pieces combine layering of different landscape images in one painting and creates quite the visual effect. This work was featured in a solo show in Sydney in 2000, but not too long after, her style and subject matter took a dramatic turn.
After the death of her father, Jennings did a series of figurative paintings that also incorporated landscape and her mixed feelings of grief. This was followed with an even darker period for her artwork when one of her children began struggling with mental illness. At this time of great emotional strife, Jennings stopped painting, and didn’t pick a brush up for several years. After taking much needed time to help with family, Jennings started painting again in 2012 after an inspiring moment. “I saw an exhibition by Annette Bezor in Sydney and was very taken with her work,” she recalls. “This led to a journey of fracturing the very surface upon which I was working.”
Although Jennings no longer works with the technique of fracturing, she finds her current work with developing a more intuitive approach to her work, to be very fulfilling. She elaborates, “My technique has changed this year as I’ve developed a deeper connection to my work and where I am going with it. I am now exploring – still mystery, but not so much the obvious mystery of a cave’s depths, but more the mystery of shrouded landscapes, as in the recent works developed from misty Rotorua hot pools. Watching figures slowly reveal themselves through the work is fascinating. I think these figurative landscapes, also represent a metaphor for the shrouding of the soul and the gentle uncovering of our true potential.” Her many concepts that involve drawing forth nature in the human is illustrated within her own experience.
She furthers, “The landscape has always been a major influence in my work. This is why I keep returning to New Zealand. In fact it is only recently, i.e this year, that I’ve realised that New Zealand is my muse – it draws me back again and again. The emotional connection is so deep. I feel the landscape in by bones, my very soul. Even though I do paint other places, the connection to those places is not as profound.”
In addition to the inspiration the landscape itself provides, Jennings’ other influences include some of the great painters of nature in a diversity of styles: Georgia O’Keefe, Monet, and Annette Bezor. Some of her current influences are David Andrews, John Morris, whom she recently studied with, and many other New Romantic painters. She lists one of her mentors as her sister, Anne Marie Jennings, who she says, “has purchased some of my works and always helped me through my doubting moments, seeing the potential in me that I could not see in myself.” This influence, was perhaps the best support Jennings could ask for during her road to artistic understanding.
Jennings currently resides in Australia with her family and while she’s always creating, she also takes time to teach. In fact, she owns her own art school, and feels that teaching keeps her connected to art even when she’s not painting. “My passion is helping others to realise that we are all creative beings” Jennings states. In addition to her art, she loves hiking, travelling and photography – spending time in the nature that inspires her art.
Jennings is excited about her artistic future. Her paintings don’t just depict a landscape, but beckon the viewer to question something deeper. ‘It’s my mission to bring to others a vision of the world that contains beauty and a deep soul connection to the subject under contemplation.” She furthers, “To give others a glimpse of something they might otherwise never see or experience. I am a painter of visual songs, they are ‘ landscapes of the heart,’ steeped in memory and mystery.”