Interview with Jen Dwyer, the California Native Creating Ceramics About The Female Gaze
Jen Dwyer, the artist in her studio. Image courtesy of the artist.
Jen Dwyer (b.1988) is a Ceramic Sculptor and Oil Painter born and raised in the Bay Area, CA, USA, whose ceramic fine art pieces are captivating and filled with contemporary cultural commentary while having a solid reference to the historical female gaze.
Dwyer earned her MFA in Ceramics from the University of Notre Dame and her BFA from the University of Washington. She has shown locally and internationally. Notable exhibitions include a solo booth at Spring/Break Art Fair in New York City, Maxon Mills Gallery in Wassaic, GAA Gallery in Provincetown, and a Solo Exhibition at Dinner Gallery and Jeff Marfa. In addition, Dwyer has completed artist residencies at Wassaic Projects (NY), The Pottery Workshop (China), and Salem Art Works (NY), among others, and received numerous grants. She currently lives and works in the greater NYC Area.
You can find Dwyer's work at the Potluck exhibition currently at Hashimoto Gallery in Los Angeles, available until March 11, 2023.
Please tell us about your background and what inspired you to become an artist.
I grew up in the Bay Area, California, so at an early age I was inspired by funk art which was part of the cultural landscape, with Richard Shaw and Viola Frey being pretty notable inspirations. Art was always my favorite subject in school and in my junior year of high school I finally had room in my schedule to take it. I fell in love with it as soon as I started throwing on the wheel, it felt like breathing and the rest is history.
I also have a learning and reading disability so it was really exciting to be able to learn through touch and not only linguistically. In addition, I am a highly sensitive person, so I found the medium pretty soothing, and still do (unless I’m on a tight deadline and the kiln does things I don’t want it to, in which case ceramics are very stressful, ha).
Jen Dwyer, “Belinda,” 2023. Image courtesy of the artist.
What does a day in your life as an artist look like?
I live a pretty quiet life at the moment. After school, I did a longer-term residency at the Wassaic Project in upstate New York, and I was planning on moving back to Brooklyn, where I was based before my MFA, but then after being in the country for a year and a half, I became fond of how peaceful the country can be. Nature and the slower pace of things have been soothing and helpful to be able to be in the studio full-time.
So to answer your question, I wake up, meditate, take my pup for a walk, go for a run, and email/ computer work for 1-2 hours (sometimes longer depending on the day, it always feels like there’s so much admin work) then head to the studio. I’m in the studio Monday through Friday, it’s peaceful, but I also definitely have to make a point to venture out and see friends. Luckily there are other amazing artists up here that create a sense of community.
Jen Dwyer, “Brittney,” 2023. Image courtesy of the artist.
You currently live in Upstate New York. Has the change from living in the city to a rural area impacted your art creation? If so, in what way?
I live in New England, in a small rural town. I am based in Connecticut, 20 mins from upstate New York and Massachusetts and 2 hours north of NYC. And the environment around me has impacted and shifted my practice. I’ve started making work that incorporates elements of the outside world, including landscape. Before living upstate most of my work referenced private space, interior objects, and women engaging in activities inside. However, now many of my pieces explore my ladies being outside and participating in outdoor activities. I fought it for a while wanting my work to be consistent, but it feels like a natural evolution now for my work to let the exterior world around me seep into my practice. Since living upstate and now in New England, I have started researching the history of landscape painting, including the Hudson River School, which has also been an exciting new direction.
Jen Dwyer, “Tender & Strong,” 2022. Image courtesy of the artist.
A recurring image I see in your sculptures is the curvaceous female body, similar to the Venus of Willendorf, the Venus figurine estimated to have been made around 25,000-30,000 years ago. Can you tell us how historical artifacts or art movements inspire your current work?
I love ancient figurines such as the Venus of Willendorf. According to my research, they were thought to be one of the first female self-portraits, so I like to liken them to the original female gaze. I think a lot about women’s agency over-representation of their bodies. In the age of contemporary advertising that uses women's bodies to sell products, and similarly in the canon of art history- that often depicts a demure woman for the audience's viewing pleasure rather than being about her desires or interests. In my work, I think about the ways women's bodies have been commodified and how to reclaim and expand the narrative to show her interests, desires, and pleasure.
Jen Dwyer, “Amalia,” 2020. Image courtesy of the artist.
What does your work aim to say? What are the major themes you pursue in your Artwork?
Oh man, such a big question. I started to answer it above, but In general, I think about ways to create a sense of agency to push against the ways that women’s bodies are commodified. So whether one of my ladies is eating something delicious, doing yoga, calling a friend, dancing, reading, etc. I’m interested in creating a story for my ladies about her wants, interests, and desires. Rather than the picture or sculpture showcasing a body as a marketing tool.
Jen Dwyer, “Sarah,” 2020. Image courtesy of the artist.
How has social media impacted your career? Do you find it essential to form a Community?
As many qualms as I have with Instagram, I also think so many great things have come from it. I went to the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. So living in a small town away from galleries and a greater artist community, it was really helpful to be able to connect with a greater art community. When I moved to Upstate New York, I looked around on IG to see what artists were near me and started doing studio visits, and some of them evolved into good friendships.
Jen Dwyer, “Miss You,” 2022. Image courtesy of the artist.
Final question, if you could acquire any piece of art (from a dead or living artist, could be off the market in a museum, etc.), what would it be and why?
Ahhh, I want so many. But if I had to choose, it would be my first obsession, Francesca Woodman. In my early twenties, I was drawn to her somber, beautiful, and eerie pictures of herself. It was empowering at a young age to see another young woman using her own body as her entire subject. Through my eyes, I saw this woman taking control of her image, body, and narrative. And to see another woman letting go of any cultural policing of her body and showcase it so blatantly with all the bumps and lines, etc., it was very freeing. Her mom Betty Woodman has also been a big inspiration. I love the way she blends pottery, fine art, ceramics, and painting, all things I think about in my practice.
So I would choose Francesca Woodman, "House #3 Providence, Rhode Island” (1976), gelatin silver estate print, 8 x 10 inches, and Betty Woodman, Venus #7- Homey, 2014. (Image available here)
Thank you for reading the interview!
Make sure to follow Jen Dwyer on Instagram here.
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