Meet Jennifer Sullivan, the Queens based multidisciplinary artist and art comedian. Jennifer got her BFA from Pratt in Sculpture, and MFA from Parsons has exhibited and performed widely, at venues such as The Kitchen, PS1 Contemporary Art Center, and The New Museum. Here she tells us what inspires her work and how art and comedy overlap for her.
Tell us about yourself.
I am an interdisciplinary artist working primarily in painting, performance and video… I live and work in Ridgewood, Queens with my cat Queenie.
What does the term interdisciplinary artist mean and how long have you been one?
The term interdisciplinary just means that I don’t identify with just one medium or process… I like to mix it up and use whatever form makes the most sense for the idea or the feeling I have in mind. I feel like I’ve always been this way,
someone who wants to do it all!
What first got you interested in art, and how do you feel you’ve grown throughout your career so far?
I have wanted to be an artist since I was 5 years old… I never knew why exactly. But after my mother passed away a few years ago that she had really aspired to being an artist more than I realized, and that this is really where I got that dream from, and knowing that has given me strength in my pursuits as well. I feel like I’m doing it for her as well as myself.
What is your main goal as an artist?
My main goal as an artist is to make work that comes from my own unique voice but is able to connect with my audience on an emotional level and allows a place for them to see themselves in the personal feelings and
inner world that I am sharing. I want to make work that is empowering, funny, moving, honest, and brings loving, accepting energy into the world.
What inspires your art? Are there people/things/places that you keep returning to for inspiration?
I’m inspired by lots of things! Personal feelings and events, psychoanalysis, movies, TV shows, comedy, movies, other artists, my cat… my newest thing that I’m into is Breathwork. My dealer in LA Emma Gray of Five Car Garage turned me on to it… It’s this kind of intensive meditation that is very transformative. I always feel bathed in love when I do it and I’ve also come out of that with new ideas for paintings… Right now I’m thinking a lot about goddess imagery, salads and vegetables, and ideas about self-love and feminine strength/power. Some of my favorite people/things recently are: The Bachelorette, Kate Bush, Maria Bamford, Erykah Badu, The Met museum… Artists I’ve been thinking about or feeling inspired by recently include Katherine Bradford, Marsden Hartley, Leonora Carrington, Dorothy Iannone, Claire Denis, Elizabeth Murray, Carol Rama… I’m going to see the Florine Stettheimer show at the Jewish Museum this weekend and I feel like that is going to be very inspiring!
The art world in New York seems quite close knit, how do you find your space in it?
I’ve lived in New York for over 20 years now, so I’ve met a lot of people in that time! I feel like the fact that I’ve been around so long and have been growing and becoming more confident in my own skin has enabled me to become more and more a part of the community of artists. Also, I’m a pretty warm and fun personality, so that helps too… I used to be much shyer, though, when I first moved here to go to college at Pratt in 1995.
You work in many different mediums, do you find that you have a similar creative process for all of them, or does it differ?
I would say that the themes are the same for all the mediums I work in but the process can vary… For all the work, I like it when the process leads me into a place that I’m not expecting to go. I like to surprise myself. This happens a lot with painting. It’s the most fun when there is a feeling of discovery. For comedy, I get ideas for jokes at random times, sometimes when I’m in bed and just waking up and I make notes, and then I have to sit down and write it all down and edit it… this can be a bit similar to making a video, since I often do a lot of voice over in my videos. I think making a video is the hardest one, because it feels like writing a novel. It’s a slow process of figuring out what it’s about and what I’m really trying to say… I’m planning to complete a new video this year that is a sequel in some way to the first video I was really proud of called One-Week Walden from 2006… I like the idea of a video art sequel that has very little to do with the original, but it’s fun to play off of that model from mainstream cinema in my own way.
You’re also a stand-up comedian, do you find that your comedic work overlaps with your artistic work?
The comedy work definitely overlaps with the other artistic work… I like to say I’m an art comedian rather than a regular comedian, because I mostly perform in an art context – galleries and performance spaces, rather than comedy clubs, though perhaps I’ll try to do an open mike at some point… but yes, the jokes are very similar to the autobiographical content of my videos, and across all the mediums I work in I’m interested in being more honest than you’re supposed to be, or exploring things that are embarrassing or uncomfortable to share like relationships and the body. It’s very empowering to talk about something that feels shameful or painful and just laugh at it. It really declaws these monsters we make out of things that everyone is feeling at times.
What’s a typical day like for you?
A typical day depends on whether I’m teaching or not, but every day I get up, and meditate or listen to some kind of guided words of encouragement to start myself on a good mindset. Then I check my emails, drink coffee or match, listen to comedy podcasts, write in my journal… I try to fit in exercise as much as I can. I like dance classes, jogging, walks or bike rides around my neighborhood. Studio time varies depending on what I’m working on. I just finished a month of a lot of performances, and a group show that I curated at Safe Gallery, but now I want to refocus on painting and drawing for the rest of the summer. I’m planning to spend a lot of time developing new work, and also find it important to make time for inspiration – so I’ll go see museum shows, or do other things to “fill the well” creatively. I like to read self-help or spiritual books too by people like Tara Brach and Mark Epstein. At night I go to openings, see friends, cook dinner, watch movies or TV… This past weekend I went to the Hamptons for the first time to attend the opening of a show I was in called the First Ever and Only East Hampton Biennial!
Check out Jennifer Sullivan's Playlist:
Interview: Emily Saunders - @thesaunder
Photography: Allie Sarachene - @alliesarachene