Five Questions With Jennifer Mazza
Name: Jennifer Mazza
Title/Occupation: Artist / Adjunct Professor
1. Where did you grow up and how did you end up where you are now?
I was born in Washington D.C., but grew up 50 miles west of the city, in Wheatland, VA. The place is marked by a green and white sign, but there is little else to suggest the naming of what seems an arbitrary point along a rural highway. There was once a store, once a post office. Sherman marched past with his army on their way south.
My parents bought the place shortly after I was born, responding to a ‘back to the land’ impulse, and once rudimentary indoor plumbing was jerry-rigged we moved in for good (hot water came later, initially it had to be boiled). Don’t get me wrong, I am very grateful I did not grow up in the suburbs, but my brother and I were the hired hands – pecked by chickens, chafed by rows upon rows of beans, stung by honey bees (repeatedly – they leave a scent where they sting you so the other bees know where to go – I think it smells like burnt almonds or maybe bananas, or maybe I am just imagining). At 18 I left the fields in search of education and central heating and after that I moved steadily north, eventually attending grad school in New Brunswick NJ. Traveling from New Brunswick to New York City on my way to this or that art exhibition my train would pass through Newark, NJ. One day I got off at Newark’s Penn Station. A few months later I was trying to figure out how to plumb my ramshackle loft in the “Brick”. And now, seven years later my roots have crossed the Passaic and the Hudson and are gripping the dust between the paving stones in NYC.
2. Which performance, song, play, movie, painting or other work of art had the biggest influence on you and why?
For me, influences come and go. I look for those things in which I see an echo of my current process or thoughts. Lately I have been thinking a lot about Time, thinking of ways to condense, preserve or encapsulate the experience of Time. In painting I look to the faceting of the cubists, the attention of Holbein, and the slow quiet force of Morandi. I am reading David Hockney, as well as interviews with Giacometti, and have just finished Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past”. And there are also films that come to mind: Jaques Rivette’s “La Belle Noiseuse”, Chris Marker’s “La Jetee”, and Wim Wenders’ “Wrong Move”.
3. What skill, talent or attribute do you most wish you had and why?
I wish I was endowed with a bit more self-confidence. It is really the most helpful thing when translating vague and shimmering thought-images into object-hood. It shores up faith and single-mindedness and lets one get on with the making of things.
4. What do you do to make a living? Describe a normal day.
Normal days vary – as does the way I make my living. Making paintings, one can periodically trade them for money. The ideal day starts when I pick up a cup of coffee at the Essex Street Market and head to the studio. There I sit and eat a muffin and read a few entries in Virginia Woolf’s diary. When I start to wish I had a private income and house in the country I put the book down, and turn my mind to more productive thoughts, and stare at the wall to decide what I should do that day. Some days are gathering days (reading, writing, drawing, photographing), others are painting days. Gathering days are probably my favorites – as they have no set schedule and I can go home at a reasonable hour, see other human beings, have dinner, drink wine, play with the cat and do other mundane things. Painting days provide a necessary consummation of ideas difficult to realize in any other form, but tend to be 12 hour days with peanut butter crackers where dinner should be.
I also make income through teaching. My so called ‘dependable’ income comes from adjuncting, which is far from dependable. Teaching days are not good days for art making, even on a short day most of my brain is used up once class is over. I like teaching, but would enjoy it more if it did not involve commuting. I spend a lot of a normal teaching day on public transport. My time spent on buses, trains, subways, and the light rail generally equals or exceeds time spent in class.
5. Have you ever had to make a choice between work and art? What did you choose, why, and what was the outcome?
I wonder about this question…I don’t think I have made the choice between, but have undertaken a slow evolution towards art making. Art is not my sole support, but it is my main preoccupation. Needs do dictate that I spend a lot of my time teaching (usually about 4 days a week) when I would rather be in the studio but I still manage to get a decent amount of ideas out into paintings before they become too indistinct or before I move on to other things. What is on my mind more lately are the occasions when I have chosen art over life. I wonder what my day would be like had I a more ‘normal’ existence; one with more stability, perhaps a garden, a family, health insurance. I wonder how long I can maintain my current direction. I suppose if I was a writer, I could get more out of my trips to the Bellevue emergency room other than antibiotics. I could think “material!”, rather than “get me out of here!”