Gallery  July 2, 2024  Natasha H. Arora

Jennifer Rochlin’s Autobiography Gleams Off "Paintings on Clay"

Photo by Sarah Muehlbauer, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

Installation view, ‘Jennifer Rochlin. Paintings on Clay,’ Hauser & Wirth New York, 22nd Street, 2 May 2024 – 12 July 2024. © Jennifer Rochlin

Twenty years ago, Los Angeles-based high school painting teacher Jennifer Rochlin accepted a $10,000 grant to teach ceramics, despite one minor setback: she had never touched clay. Yet, this summer, Rochlin adorns Hauser & Wirth’s 22nd Street location with a series of memory-laden terracotta vessels, each a heap of unabashedly spirited, cinematic recollections and testaments to her own bohemian actualization. 

Her sun-soaked clayware overflows with romance, entwining her autobiography with artistic legacies. Classics become tactile and congenial, as colors from Van Gogh’s Café Terrace at Night tint her assistant as she works in a Parisian studio, and Matisse is imprinted on three-dimensional clay.

Photo by Keith Lubow, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

Honey Pot, 2024, Ceramic with glaze, 61 x 43.2 x 43.2 cm / 24 x 17 x 17 in. © Jennifer Rochlin

Eschewing flat, static canvases in favor of pottery— upon which time can roll— Rochlin memorializes and remembers her own life with pieces like Trans-Siberian RailwaySummer Snow, and Two Weeks in July. Her vessels glow with personalization, but equally dream and interact with viewers. 

This glimmer is perhaps an inevitable quality of any sculpture— memories, musings, and nudity feel more sensual when tangible— but fewer three-dimensional pieces laugh with bite-marks from their maker’s friends. Abstractions, sport, family, music, animals, travel, and sex all dance around Chelsea, hyperaware of their realism and nostalgia. 

Art & Object sat down with Jennifer Rochlin to discuss how her vessels became her most personal media for painting

Photo by Keith Lubow, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

Ladies at the Norton Simon Museum, 2023, Ceramic, glaze, and gold luster, 58.4 x 53.3 x 53.3 cm / 23 x 21 x 21 in. © Jennifer Rochlin

Natasha H. Arora: You’ve described how ceramics are a medium for narrative, which reads as a very classical interpretation. Do you agree? Why are ceramics a narrative device we’re lacking today? 

Jennifer Rochlin: 100%. It comes from the Greek pottery tradition. What I love about this— working narratively— is I love working in the round. It has a time-base factor. As you’re walking around the pot, things are unfolding. It harkens to film in a way of storytelling. I also like that you have to walk around to see it all, whereas with a canvas, you see it all at once.

NA: What is the appeal to you of a medium that lacks so much uniformity? 

JR: Well, they say life lacks uniformity. I think that since I’m self-taught in clay, and my hand is naturally imperfect, I leaned into that imperfection, instead of trying to correct it. The shape lends itself to the narrative: they’re bulbous, handmade, bodily. 

There’s also a little bit of impatience in the way I work. There’s an immediacy that I like. With clay, if you want it to be perfect, you really have to have patience. And I don’t! I think I keep it imperfect for the sake of honesty, almost. I’m not trying to fit into a different mold from my natural position.

When I’m painting on canvas or linen, I think I’m bringing the whole history of all my favorite painters with me; I want to paint like Bonnard, I want to paint like Matisse. When I’m painting on a vessel, I’m just me.

Photo by Sarah Muehlbauer, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

Installation view, ‘Jennifer Rochlin. Paintings on Clay,’ Hauser & Wirth New York, 22nd Street, 2 May 2024 – 12 July 2024. © Jennifer Rochlin

NA: Is there an order you’d recommend visitors digest the show? Can you talk me through the order and placement you decided? 

JR: Back to the sort-of film idea, I like the relationship these pieces all have with each other. I like being exposed to snippets of scenes in different parts of the room. I knew I wanted a pedestal accompanying you, and for that to carry this train. 

A million years ago, I took a trans-Siberian rail to Lake Baikal, and we were stopped, and this guy in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of a field, got up and picked these flowers and threw them up to this girl leaning out of the window. 

And at the time, I filmed it on my Super 8 camera… I’ve come back to that image because it’s this quintessential romantic gesture. And, the train goes all around the vase, so hopefully the idea is that people will follow that path.

NA: What made you want to revisit a memory from a million years ago? 

JR: That’s a great question. It references this passionate love affair I had and this mood of romantic longing I’ve been in.

Photo by Keith Lubow, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

Trans-Siberian Railway, 2023, Ceramic with glaze, 94 x 55.9 x 58.4 cm / 37 x 22 x 23 in. © Jennifer Rochlin

NA: Are any of these pieces going to be particularly difficult for you to part with? 

JR: I did get attached to some of them for sure. But... Two Weeks in July, because it’s a portrait of him.

NA: What do you hope people will take away from this exhibit? 

JR: It’s been a challenging year to make art. I’d wake up in the morning and listen to podcasts and think, 'Does this person have the answer to why art’s important?' After all my searching, I didn’t get the answer. But, I guess I just want a renewed faith in humanity? 

But, I do feel like, in this age of AI and digitization, something that is so resolutely handmade… When I saw Matisse’s cutout pieces, I cried! Seeing that his hand cut those scissors, seeing the immediacy? I really responded to that. So, I appropriate when I can. Nothing’s off limits.

Jennifer Rochlin’s "Paintings on Clay" will remain on view at Hauser & Wirth until July 12th, 2024
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