Michael Jenkins just plain loves to paint
There is something truly delightful about the paintings of Michael Jenkins. His use of color is exciting, the forms tight and well rendered, and his subjects simultaneously whimsical and serious. Many patrons of local art festivals and the Chattanooga Market will recognize his distinctive style and compositions. I talked with Michael about his work.
Tony Mraz: If you had to choose three artists to play a game of poker with, who would they be?
Michael Jenkins: Rick Griffin, Keith Haring and Vincent Van Gogh. Also Wayne White. He’s from Hixson, he worked on the set of Pee-wee’s Playhouse and did videos with Peter Gabriel.
TM: How did you get your start as an artist?
MJ: I’ve always loved art since I was a kid growing up in Anniston, Alabama. I was big-time into art and was always drawing. Art was my favorite subject in high school, that’s where I learned about pop artists like Andy Warhol. He was a big influence. I loved his choice of color schemes and use of patterns, and his portrayal of faces.
I went to college at Auburn and got a horticulture degree that brought me to Chattanooga to work at Lines Orchids. When I got here, I had a lot of free time. I didn’t really know anybody, and we had little kids at home, so I stayed in and started developing the style that I have now.
TM: What kind of processes do you use to achieve those vibrant compositions?
MJ: I always layer paint on wood. If I want to see the grain of the wood, I’ll just sand it, otherwise I’ll gesso it real good to prime it. Occasionally I will make a straight oil painting, but generally I’ll use acrylics, especially for my pop art painting style. I use spray paint and stencils a lot of the time, and many of my paintings have art on both sides and can be suspended.
TM: What inspires your choice of subject matter in your work?
MJ: The art and music that I was raised on are a major influence. I was an active environmentalist when I was younger. I love being in nature and going hiking, but there is this looming technology in the background. I don’t know if I’m for or against nuclear power, honestly, but I’ve always been interested in power lines and plants.
I’ve always enjoyed seeing electrical transformers that look like big robots next to pretty trees, the juxtaposition of nature and technology. In my pop art work, I try to select people who I really like as subjects, not just people who are popular. One time I did a Jimi Hendrix and a Beatles and kind of felt like a sell-out, so I’ve tried to choose people who are more obscure, like Devendra Banhart.
TM: What kind of music do you listen to when you’re working in your studio?
MJ: I have a library of over 4,000 songs on my iPod that I sometimes put on shuffle. Today I was listening to New Order. I’ve been enjoying a lot of female vocalists lately, like Marissa Nadler, Angel Olsen, and Sharon Van Etten. I like upbeat stuff; the New Pornographers’ new album has been amazing me recently. I listen to The Cure a lot, and old R.E.M., I listened to Murmur today too. I love the Grateful Dead and Phish, and the art surrounding both of those bands has influenced me. Jim Pollock’s work blew me away—I remember going to my first Phish show and being very impressed by the art.
TM: What is the purpose of art?
MJ: Historically, it’s been used to document events, to tell a story, for social commentary, or just to create beauty. For me, it’s about creating beauty, but I also like to create some type of message and get people to think and converse.
TM: What is beauty?
MJ: I feel like beauty is a combination of things; things that please the eyes, ears and soul. In painting, I feel like beauty is all about color combinations, form and balance, and things that are visually pleasing.
TM: What do you think about our local art culture?
MJ: I feel like we have a very rich art culture here in town. It seems very diverse and I see a lot of talent. I’m really enjoying the music scene around here lately. I’m totally digging the murals going up everywhere, and we have an interesting theatre scene too.
Check out Michael’s work at Winder Binder on Frazier Ave or at the Chattanooga Market on Sundays.