Abstract amalgamations of tree branches and industrial scaffolding and other similar abnormalities inhabit the otherworldly collages of Jennifer Gunlock.
The Los Angeles-based mixed media artist, whose work is currently on display in Ann Foxworthy Gallery’s latest solo exhibition, described her pursuit of drawing attention to Western civilization’s attempts to dominate and manipulate nature as stemming from “watching how the landscape around me has altered over these past decades.”
“Once pristine, wild hills of Southern California are now covered with houses and strip malls, and concrete has spread over the land like a virus,” Gunlock told the Sun. “An especially alarming example of this for me in just the last decade is witnessing downtown Los Angeles sprouting upward and growing denser like weeds after a wet winter, as well as the enormous swell of the local population.”
While incorporating photo-collage with decorative papers and other materials, Gunlock constructs landscapes that fuse elements of nature and man-made infrastructure, such as oil wells and cellphone towers, into eerie hybrid structures.
While commenting on humanity’s grip over the natural world, Gunlock doesn’t illustrate human figures in her collage works, to the surprise of some viewers, the artist explained.
“I’m gratified that people do generally see my intent when they interpret my work to me,” Gunlock said. “But one thing that happens often—and I think it’s generally the case when people look at abstract work—is people seeing faces in the picture. I think it’s just a common brain-matrixing thing.”
Gunlock’s new solo exhibit at Ann Foxworthy Gallery, located at Allan Hancock College, marks the artist’s first time showcasing her work in Santa Maria. The gallery’s curator, Laura-Susan Thomas, reached out to Gunlock via Instagram, according to the artist.
“We conducted a few Zoom meetings, and I visited the gallery space last spring to discuss content and visualize a general layout of the show,” said Gunlock, who was familiar with the Central Coast prior to committing to the local exhibit.
“Being a native of suburban LA County, I have taken many summer road trips up the coast over the years,” Gunlock said. “There’s always this sigh of happy relief when I pass through Santa Barbara, feeling the tensions of urban ‘real life’ melting away.”
Gunlock felt a similar release of emotional strain during a 2019 trip to the remote southwestern coast of Ireland, where she was an artist in residence at the time. Her stay there inspired her pieces Backcountry I, II, and III—on display in a triptych arrangement at Ann Foxworthy Gallery.
“My cohort and I collectively explored the local Neolithic, Bronze Age, and early Christian stone monuments,” Gunlock recalled of her residency. “Upon my return and over the following two years I applied the photographic images I collected there, and internalized the old beliefs that surrounded these places.”
Gunlock described her Backcountry series as exemplifying her “new fascination with the folkloric concept of ephemeral beings inhabiting the landscape” and “how that belief translates into traditions and taboos affecting how one interacts with certain trees and ancient ruins.”
“The series presents a fusion of the old with the new, of ancestors and spirits butted up against modern soulless technology and infrastructure,” said Gunlock, who completed a new addition to the series, a large collage titled Backcountry VIII, specifically for the Ann Foxworthy Gallery exhibit.
Gunlock used 10 sheets of rag paper to create the towering piece, which measures 7.5 by 12.5 feet. It took the artist nine weeks to complete.
Other works included in the Foxworthy showcase took about four to six weeks, said the artist, who rarely has a definitive finish line in mind while working on a project.
“I never have a solid compositional plan when I begin a piece,” Gunlock said. “I may have a general concept to begin with, but it’s a process of addition and subtraction, allowing the composition to inform what I should do next.
“Sometimes I need to hide a piece away for a while and work on something else,” the artist added. “There’s never a guarantee that a composition will even get resolved.”
Arts Editor Caleb Wiseblood likes to hide from his inbox sometimes, but comments are always welcome at [email protected].