Painting the Muse: Interview with Artist Jennifer Friedman

ART is central to John Burr’s film Muse.

The story of a painter who has his life drastically changed by the appearance of a mysterious figure, Muse is littered with striking paintings of shadowy and intense passions. They add another dimension to the film and reveal deeper layers to our lead character’s descent into darkness.

The artist behind these stunning paintings is Jennifer Friedman. Close-up Culture spoke to Jennifer about her background, Muse and painting Elle Evans.

Q: Can you tell us about your background and your style as an artist?

A: CREATING art – and art itself – is something that has always been with me. Growing up as a child I was always busy exploring different mediums and crafts.

My mom is a creative person as well so it was easy to be immersed in art and be inspired. She would always keep me busy with art projects and had bins full of acrylics, markers, watercolours, canvas, pastels, clay and colour pencils.

She possessed every tool imaginable for a child to express herself. I was constantly inspired to create something. It was wonderful. I have so many memories of creating spontaneous still life florals and paintings of leopards and tigers inspired from National Geographic.

I would make huge messes on my bathroom and bedroom floor, and it was always okay as long as I cleaned them up before my dad got home. Together we would go to the botanical gardens with our paint sets, set up a picnic and paint the landscape or experiment with photography.

It was always nice to have my parents’ support in the arts, especially when I was accepted into the Studio Arts program at University of California, Los Angeles. It was there that I really grew as an artist. A lot of what I learned came from a teacher of mine, Lari Pittman, who taught me how to express myself through movement and not to be confined by the scale of a canvas, which is why I still prefer to paint in such large scale.

I dislike being confined to a small canvas. I prefer broad strokes with movement coming from the arm and wrist. I feel like I can express myself better this way. I am really not concerned with recreating something perfectly, but more about the shapes and strokes that make up the subject.

Q: How did you get involved with John Burr’s film Muse?

A: JOHN and I have been a part of each other’s lives for many years, way back before the idea of Muse had ever been created. We both share the same passion for film and art, so when John wrote Muse he often came to me to get an artist’s perspective. The rest naturally evolved from there.

Q: Your prior work explores the female form. But was it challenging getting into the troubled mind of Adam (Riley Egan’s character) for the Muse project?

A: I REALLY enjoyed the process of painting through Adam. He went through this huge character arch and transformation that ultimately ended with him being consumed by his own darkness and passion. I tried to reflect that in the work he was creating. His paintings took on a darkness and became more abstract and aggressive as he lost control. I found the last pieces to be the most interesting. They were morbid, creepy – and fun all at the same time.

Q: What was the painting process like? Did you spend much time with Elle Evans and Riley Egan?

A: REFERENCE material is so important for me. So when I painted Elle and Riley, I set up a photo shoot during pre-production. We got to hang out and get to know each other a little before I worked with John to set them in certain poses so I could capture what would be happening in the film.

Q: The paintings of Elle are quite stunning. What was she like as a subject?

A: THANK you. Elle is a lovely person inside and outside – and a pleasure to work with.

She is super easy going and being a model she has a great sense of awareness about her body. She is so versatile. On camera, she can go from elegant to terrifying in the blink of an eye. And in person she is warm, fun and easy to hang out with.

Q: Do you have a favourite painting from the project?

A: THAT is actually a very hard question! I am not sure if I have a favourite but strangely enough, experience-wise, I found the more disturbing paintings of Hector (played by Max Decker) fun to paint because I got to focus a lot on colour and expression. It felt a little more relaxed in a way, a little more loose. At that point in the story Adam became so tortured – and it was fun to emphasize that because it is not something I usually paint about.

Q: Outside of Muse, you have growing and impressive film resume (Jumanji, The Dark Tower, Sky Hunter and The Darkest Minds). Do you see this as your passion and your future?

A: YES. I am continuing to work in film as a digital visual effects artist. But studio art will always be my true passion. When I am in the studio with a paintbrush in hand I am in my true element and at my happiest. I enjoy film and animation as well, but paint is my one true love.

Find out more about Jennifer and her work

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