Interview with Janice Mullenax
When did you first begin to think of yourself as an artist?
I’m still not sure I’m there. I think it’s an ongoing journey. I decided I wanted to pursue art, probably in 2003-2004, after I left corporate America and started looking for somewhere to channel my energies. Since then, I’ve devoted most time to photography. In recent years, I’ve branched out to include painting, but it was always photography first. Initially, I shot family photos: pictures of the kids, grandkids, that kind of thing. And later, I decided to devote the time to study photography, to figure out how to better my skills.
Are there particular people who have been influencers, people that you draw inspiration from?
I studied black and white photography at Glassell School of Artin Houston. Two people there truly inspired me. One was Amy Blakemore, who’s a wonderful photographer! Her work is on display at the Whitney Museum in New York. Amy primarily uses Diana or Holga toy cameras, and produces very large scale pieces. With Amy, I studied photography and darkroom processes. With the advent of digital cameras, I studied with a gentleman named Duncan Ganley, a Scottish photographer, who taught at at Glassell for a couple years. While working with him in the digital format, I decided rather than focus on realism in photography, I would focus more on a contemporary, abstract kind of photography. What appeals to me, particularly, are things that involve motion: reflections and distortions, so that we don’t have a good grasp of the reality we’re looking at…we have to think about the process, what we are viewing.
How do you decide on your subject matter, what you want to photograph at any given time?
I usually have my camera with me and I am always looking for something that I can capture in a non-traditional style. As an example, imagine a stairwell in an old fort. Most people would probably just shoot the fort and the surrounding scenery in a traditional style. I am more interested in how to capture something that speaks to the age of the fort, but that is somewhat abstract. So I would focus on the stairwell, then use it to create an abstract scene that still reveals the age of the fort.
Do you have studio space that you have created for yourself? What’s important to have around you to spark your creativity?
For many years, I had no studio space. I do now. Photography doesn’t require a huge amount of space because most of us are working with digital photography. Now, I have space for photography and also space in which I can set up my easel and paint, to translate my abstract photographs into abstract paintings. Ideally, I would have liked a raised roof in my studio, but basically, we just built a studio in the attic space above the garage. It’s not the ideal space for painting, but I do have light from the east and west, so it works pretty well. I have my CD player in there, all my art books, and others books I like. I also have other creative materials in the studio that I can work with: glass, paint, the computer and the photographs.
How do you envision your work evolving?
I would like to do more painting. I don’t want to contend with the technological challenges of photography, of working with photographs on the computer. We have many good photographers here at Art on12 that do that. When I do use use Photoshop and the computer to process photographs, I typically use only the processes similar to those that I would have used in a darkroom. I don’t use layers or multiple images in a piece, like many who use Photoshop do. Using Photoshop, I’m mostly concerned about the same issues I would have been concerned about in the darkroom: ‘Did I capture a good enough image to enhance it with color and contrast and brightness?’
I’ve recently been thinking that I want reduce the amount of photography I’ve been doing. I have thousands of images, like many photographers, so I have enough photographs to work on, should I wish. So, to get back to your question, I envision myself doing more painting, working with established painters like Lili Pell and Vie Dunn-Harr, because they paint in a more abstract style that I like.
What three artists, living or dead would you like to have at a dinner party?
From a photography standpoint, Alfred Stieglitz, which would probably mean I’d have to invite Georgia O’Keefe (his wife for a number of years). And, gosh, in terms of painting, I love all of the impressionist painters, but especially Berthe Morisot: a woman contemporary painter married to Edouard Manet’s brother Eugene. She used lots of heavy brush strokes, while layering the colors. She’s not necessarily contemporary, not necessarily modern, but I like the way she handled the brush. It would be fun to see her do that. And, then, of course, there’s Mary Cassatt.
What’s the weirdest or funniest thing anybody ever said to you about your work?
I have a painting that was hanging in the Art on 12 gallery for several months, an abstract sunset view with lots of color. I painted it while on our deck here in Wimberley in a neighborhood called Paradise Hills. So, the title is ‘Looking West from Paradise’.
A gentleman came into the gallery, and, referring to the fires in Paradise, CA, said ‘Oh, you painted that?’ He thought it was a fire scene from Paradise, CA. It was funny, but sad.