Featured Artist: Jenna Hauser
I had known Jenna Hauser—or had known of her, I should say—since 2013, when she was a seventh grader at Sudlersville Middle School. She wasn’t on my roster, unfortunately, but her reputation as an artist put her on my radar. Walking the hallway galleries, you knew immediately which pieces were Jenna’s. Everyone did. Portraits, still-lifes, abstractions. They spoke louder to me than the seemingly shy artist ever could.
I felt robbed. As a teacher, you pray every fall that such a talent will land a seat in your class. Emphasizing this injustice was the fact that Jenna and I happened to live on the same street, and every once in a blue moon I’d see her walking the block, face hidden by a shoulder-length curtain of hair, lost in reverie. We’d wave to each other and go about our day.
Six years passed before I beheld her artwork again. It was December of 2019. Jenna had moved onto the high school, her family had uprooted, and I was busy now at Centreville Middle School, brainstorming ideas to improve Dead Awake. Scrolling idly through my Facebook feed—past the ubiquitous family pics, political sentiments, rumors of a deadly disease ravaging a city in China, yada-yada—I halted on a gallery of art pieces posted by my friend and fellow teacher, Ms. Stephanie Zeiler. Two of her QACHS seniors, she wrote, had been selected for the 2020 National Art Honor Society Juried Exhibition: Cara Brown’s sculpture, “Misguiding Hands” (which is included in this volume, as well) and Jenna’s mixed-media painting “String of Fate” (pictured above). Here again, her work spoke to me: the hyperrealistic warblers, the resigned, dissociative eyes, a string pulled taut around the subject’s neck. The piece evoked the same dread pervading literary horror. I emailed Ms. Zeiler immediately, eager to nab these pieces for the magazine, knowing that they would elevate my slim book of genre tropes to something akin to fine art.
I’m so grateful that they agreed. After some deliberation, it was decided that Jenna’s portrait of fairy tale dismemberment, “String of Fate,” would be this year’s cover art. And there were more violent birds to reconcile: Jenna, I soon discovered, had composed two more portraits in her string series, with each subject unraveling in anatomically different ways. Biting my thumb at the universe, I was able to pick her brain about the composition and themes of these extraordinary pieces.
Dewey: I’ve never seen these pieces in person, only as digital copies on my computer screen. It appears, though, that the female subject and the birds are painted on the canvas, and that the string is an actual string. That would qualify them as “mixed media.” Can you tell me about the process of creating them?
Hauser: A good amount of the artwork I produce is mixed media. Over the years of practicing with simple pencil and paper, I have developed and refined my drawings, of which I am very proud of. Painting is something I currently have little experience with, so I wanted to challenge myself in using an unfamiliar media. I mesh the two together, hoping that by sticking to what I’m familiar with but incorporating something I still have much to learn about will further develop my style as an artist. With each piece I learn new things about the materials, how they work together, and how to arrange them to form a cohesive work of art.
Dewey: When I first looked at these, it seemed as though the birds were pulling the female subject apart. But the more I look at it, the opposite seems to be true: the birds are pulling the subject together. Can you speak to the themes and symbolism of these pieces, i.e. the birds, dismemberment, how people can feel like they’re unraveling?
Hauser: Of course, art is up for interpretation from person to person. However, the inspiration I drew for this series came from a very negative and depressing situation I was going through at the beginning of the year. I drew from those emotions and how I felt—literally—like I was being torn apart at the seams, or unraveling as you said. I honed in on the way my mind subconsciously would think or process things in a way that seemed to gnaw at those emotions, making dealing with them even harder. However, as the series progressed, I wanted to show that the subconscious was more like a double edged sword. It might make things feel worse at times, but it also healed the leftover wounds from my past, i.e. the birds pulling the pieces back together. So, at first I was at war with my subconscious, but over time I learned to accept it and let the emotions flow through the natural process of healing. With this series I wanted to appeal and visualize an emotion that I felt others could relate to.
Jenna is currently a freshman at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, where she plans to major in Illustration. While the pandemic requires her to take online courses only this fall, she hopes to be on campus and in the studio next semester. #