“I had a dream about my sister-in-law, who was pregnant at the time and in my dream she was shot and I thought she’d been killed. I remember my friend saying, ‘We need to get the baby out. We need to get it out now because if it stays in there any longer it’s going to die too!’ So I got my X-ACTO Knife and an alcohol wipe and I was cleaning it, trying to sterilize it. I go to cut her belly and she takes a breath.”
The artist sighs and continues.
“And I remember waking up freaked out because I was about to cut her open and she wasn’t dead like I’d thought.”
The artist is Jane Wunrow. Diving into collage and mixed media, she’s telling me about her piece titled “Don’t cut. She’s still alive.” It’s graphic, detailed, and intense—qualities that come through in every addition she’s made to it. At the time of our meeting, we sit inside of Quixotic Coffee, on a cold winter evening. There’s no wind or snow but there’s no color either. Dark and dreary. But in the comfort of indoors, Quixotic is more colorful than ever as Jane has brought a few pieces from her portfolio and we scan them together.
“All my work is based on dreams,” she says “but it’s abstracted. It’s sense or the feeling that the dream evokes. So I’m kind of just responding to it and creating this piece that has a sense of what that is. For instance, you’ll dream about climbing a mountain but it’s not saying you should go climb a mountain. It’s saying that maybe there is something in your life holding you back. There’s more depth to a dream than what’s staring you in the face. I may feel that mountain really stirred up some fear in me so it’s responding to the fear that my work is based on. I hope it doesn’t come across as too personal because it’s my dream but my hope is always that the work stirs up those similar emotions in others.”
Looking at her work, it’s as wild as a dream could invoke. The same amount of mystery found in dreams is crafted onto canvas and looking at them it’s hard not to feel something. It’s one of the most beautiful things about collage and Jane’s personal style; while a lot of chaos is seemingly taking place in each piece she produces, the closer you look, the longer you look--the more control, the more intention you see. It’s that intention that is so important to Jane.
Sometimes it starts with a drawing. Sometimes it starts with a color she has in mind. In fact, the color is one of the most intentional parts about her work, as you will almost never see more than one or two primary colors in use alongside black and white.
“I wanted to be much more intentional about the color I use. So the piece is really simple. I’m not building up a background with colors, I’m keeping it simple. It’s just yellow and black and white or red and black and white. I feel the color emotes another emotion versus competing with another color. Black and white are not super competitive visually. That’s my perception of it. I know when I start my work I have to map it out: what’s going down first, what’s coming up next and what am I going to layer on top?”
There’s a clear process in place. As we get to talking about showing her work, she talks about creating her art in front of people, one of the most vulnerable things an artist can do. She finds herself saying, “Just wait until it’s finished” a lot as her specific style turns a lot of what looks like chaos throughout into a brilliant piece in the end.
Yet until recently, Jane was essentially always creating her work from start to finish in front of strangers. I find this out as she’s showing me another piece and says, “I actually created this one here at Quixotic.” My naïveté getting the best of me, I assumed she worked out of a studio but until March of this year Jane created a number of pieces at coffee shops. “Usually the work I make I try to get it done in one sitting. It’s very labor intensive stuff too because it’s a lot of line work.”
With the hustle and bustle of most coffee shops in with Twin Cities, “It takes a lot of extreme focus for three or four hours,” she explains.
Clearly there is a driving force behind producing the work to not only put her vulnerabilities out in public as she does it, but also to see a piece through. It lends to her identity and the driving force on why she does it.
“Has your identity changed throughout you career in the form of your work?” I ask.
“Oh yeah!” she says without a moment’s hesitation. “Well, I say ‘Oh yeah’ because I became a mom. That hugely changed a lot. Not just because I’m a mom but it’s the reason life seems a lot different for me. It shows what’s important and what’s not important. In this whole journey of creating artwork, we’re so self-focused. You wouldn’t have to have children to have that reflective element but that was what did it for me. All the sudden I have these people that are more important to me than making my artwork but I know that if I make my artwork I’m a better mom.”
To get to the root of her transformation is the fascinating side of it all. When creating her art at a younger age, she explored the exact opposite sort of work, which revolved around the body in its many forms. Whether it was a massive phallus sculpture that could occupy couch space or extreme displays of the female figure, it’s a distant shout to what she completes today.
“Beyond motherhood, how does a transition like that take place?” I wonder.
“It’s hard to make work on your own but it’s important to see what people have done before you. I remember a time where I was against simple, minimalist artwork. I thought it was a joke and I remember a time specifically being like, ‘This is stupid.’ Now I have such a different lense that I look through. I see something minimalist and think, ‘That’s phenomenal!’ I can’t believe I’ve changed as much as I have. We can never say never.”
She calls these transitions seasons in her life. One of her first artistic seasons was elaborating on the human form, this season is minimalism and collage and as the constraints of her life are changing, like working in a studio of her own instead of coffee shops, she’ll keep approaching new seasons that will influence her work.
The pieces are so fascinating, the questions could never end so I decided to wrap up by going back to basics. What drives her?
“I believe there is a lot more depth, potential, conversations and stories to be told. A lot more light. I think the art world is very dark and I’m hoping to bring light.” She adds, “I like to use my artwork to discuss difficult things in people’s lives. That’s not exactly always my intent but I love the dialogue and conversation behind it.”
It’s there I realize she’s already on her way to bringing more light to the art world. The contrast of a dreary snowy day with the luminous work inside the coffee shop is too obvious to ignore.
So long as Jane keeps turning her motivation into breathtaking pieces, there’s certain to be a lot more light in the future and I can’t wait see it.
For more on Jane Wunrow and her work, check out her Instagram (@jane_wunrowart).