Jenn Porreca: Love In Absentia

The painter discusses her dreamy exhibition at San Francisco's new Luna Rienne Gallery


In painter Jenn Porreca‘s alluring and romantic world, women wear glamorous gowns, flowers and feathers in their hair and dramatic makeup. The sounds of a jazz band, stringed instruments or classic movie scores feel like they practically leap from the canvas, evoking theatrical sentiments reminiscent of Toulouse-Lautrec.

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Porreca’s recent move from San Francisco to LA has brought a growing parade of creative friends into her everyday life, and occasionally some of them show up in her work, including CH contributor Vivianne Lapointe who is the focus of one of Porreca’s new works, a diptych entitled “The Urban Legend.” But for her upcoming solo show, “Love In Absentia,” the talented artist returns home to San Francisco’s newly relaunched Luna Rienne Gallery (the space formerly known as Fabric8), where she will exhibit pieces that highlight her recent exploration of surrealistic techniques. “For me it became about loving, pining and adoring something, somewhere or someone when it’s not there,” she explains of the show’s underlying concept.

With a new city and new works at play in Porreca’s life, we decided to check in with her to glean a little insight on the upcoming exhibition—opening tomorrow, 2 March 2012—and how the City of Angels is influencing her style.

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What sparked the idea for Love In Absentia?

Love In Absentia is the name of a short film that will be coming out in the next twelve months about an agoraphobic female painter from San Francisco. Two years ago the writer and director of the film asked me if I’d like to have my work featured. I agreed and decided to also name my solo show after it.

How did you become the first to exhibit at Luna Rienne Gallery?

I wasn’t part of the decision-making process for Luna Rienne launching with my show, but I feel very lucky to be the first person hanging on the walls. Gallery owner Olivia Ongpin has been a fixture in the San Francisco art scene for a long time and I am excited to be working with her.

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In addition to female forms, you are showing some geometric pieces. In what way do they connect to the themes you are exploring in Love In Absentia?

The abstract pieces are automatic free conscious paintings started from single line drawings developed by early surrealist André Breton. He believed these drawings enabled a person to establish a connection to the divine. I began drawing and experimenting with them in small notebooks while I was traveling in Sweden a few months ago, and they progressed into a series that I’m releasing in this show.


Tell us about your process. What paints, brushes and other materials do you like to work with the most?

I use mostly pinstriping brushes on wood with acrylic and ink, but I’ve also been known to use whatever is in front of me. I enjoy taking inspiration from things that are decaying or have a history of a city in it, like found wood with decades of paint on it. Over the years I’ve experimented with many different textures to make the paintings appear old, to have a sense of timelessness and folklore. My largest piece in this show, The Urban Legend, has the most developed technique for this process. It has cracks throughout, which I’m really excited about.

How do you create the crackling effect?

Texture is a central piece of my work. It took me roughly six years to develop my process of which I can’t give away my secrets! But, I will say that I definitely take the time to distress the pieces with a handful of tools and techniques.

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Many of your paintings give the impression you stayed up all night tending to the emotions and details. When does inspiration strike?

When I’m preparing for a show, truthfully not much sleeping is done. I’ve slept maybe four hours a night for the past two months. It’s been an amazing time of deepening my own connection to my work. For inspiration, I usually spend a lot of time with other creative minds before going into my studio for months. Weaving stories of these experiences into my paintings as I build a solo show gives my work meaning and is a visual journey of my life.


You’ve lived and traveled many places around the world and recently moved to Los Angeles. Has your new city influenced your work?

Los Angeles is such a culturally-rich city. In the short space of time l’ve been here, I really feel this city has embraced me in a way that is definitely altering the course of my life and my work. Every day I spend time with some of the greatest artists of our time whether they’re musicians, visual artists or fashion designers. I feel so fortunate for my close friends both here in LA and that come to visit me often. They inspire me.

Is your life as glamorous as the characters you paint?

Glamour is an interesting word to me because it can mean so many things to different people. To me, glamour is about living a life of creative freedom. My hope is to speak this freedom through my work.

Love In Absentia opens 2 March 2013 and runs though 15 April at Luna Rienne Gallery. Images courtesy of Jenn Porreca.