Her own Burst of Light
Jen Keenan on creation and inspiration
When it was announced in late 2016 that tens of thousands of women planned to participate in a Women’s March on January 21st, 2017, artist Jen Keenan didn’t consider marching at first: “Usually, I protest in my artwork.”
But she wanted to contribute to the historic event, so she reached out to the organizers. Together, they came up with a list of inspiring women for a series of portraits. One of them was writer, feminist, and civil rights activist, Audre Lorde.
“I like to create portraits with quotes, and I was hoping to help transform silence into action. Since there are so many quotes from Lorde that are inspiring, it was hard to pick just one.”
But one quote was chosen at last and the final image was inscribed with “Your silence will not protect you,” a fitting sentiment for the day and beyond. Jen did attend the Womens March after all, and she saw her images being carried by individuals in the crowd.
Dover Publications editor Nora Rawn also noticed Jen’s portraits of powerful women throughout the crowd on that day, and immediately knew the illustration of Audre Lorde belonged on the cover of the new Ixia Press edition of A Burst of Light and Other Essays. “I found the illustrations resonant and thought this style of art was perfect for the book.”
Luckily, through the magic of the Internet, Nora was able to track Jen down.
“I’ve been making art ever since I was a little kid, and I’ve always turned to art as an outlet for any emotion,” explains Jen of her passion. But she wasn’t supposed to major in graphic design during college. “It was a secret,” she explains of her covert education choice. Her parents wanted her to major in something more … stable, perhaps. Not art. But Jen comes by her artistic passion naturally. She began drawing as a child, copying sketches that her own mother made during childhood and adolescence. Her mother used fashion images, like photos of super-model Twiggy, as her inspiration, and Jen copied those images.
Her pets provide inspiration and entertainment. “I guess you could call them best frenemies,” says Jen of her black cat and her black dog. “Sometimes I think the cat has a secret plot to kill the dog, when it isn’t knocking over art supplies. Their relationship brings hours of humor, and I want to do a series featuring them.”
Jen works as the artistic designer for publications and projects. “I’m good at communicating with artists because I know what it’s like to create, and then be asked to change something. I know when I’m asking them to do something that’s a pain.”
She also has her own stationary line at Charming, full of wonderful and fun goodies.
The artists who have inspired her work over the years are an “ever changing list; there are so many artists to appreciate!”
Among her favorites are Maira Kalman, an artist with whom Jen shares an obvious sensibility. “In high school, I was obsessed with Edward Hopper, and of course Maurice Sendak is a favorite.”
Jen’s own artwork celebrates the quirky. “I like angles that aren’t totally accurate, but the drawing still looks like the thing,” she says. “I make work that celebrates hand-drawn imperfection. It’s playful!”