From a very early age, Jeanne Rhea thought of herself as an artist. And yet, as many do, she hesitated to call herself one. “Others should make that determination…my art should speak for itself.” It was only within the last ten years that she has felt comfortable assuming the title.
If I am not an artist, what am I? I am a mother, a grandmother, a sister, an aunt, a friend. But those are what I am to others and not who I am. I am first an artist.
But what creates an artist? Is it not life’s experiences that shape our art, that allow for true expression? In Jeanne’s case, she has many seemingly unrelated jobs, all contributing to her artistic makeup. Whether it was working in a resort cleaning rooms, doing laundry, or working in clothing factories cutting leather and inspecting uniforms, it all has helped form the person that Jeanne has become. She worked for the state of Tennessee in a string of unsatisfying jobs that found her continually searching for more. In Anchorage, Jeanne was a house mother in a children’s home and for a time ran her own business as a general contractor doing maintenance and remodeling. For most of her working life, she worked for herself, displaying an independent spirit that would later show through in her artwork.
Although the jobs satisfied the need to provide a paycheck, they did not meet her creative urges. Jeanne needed an outlet. For a time, she made costumes for country singers in Nashville. For another period, she created items for an arts and crafts co-op that she helped to start.
And just as she had many jobs, as an artist, Jeanne explored many styles and media before accidentally discovering the process that has become her signature. While working with polymer clay, Jeanne haphazardly touched one alcohol ink brand to another and was fascinated with the beautiful pattern that emerged. Instantly recognizing the possibilities, she was hooked! And she still is. “After almost thirteen years, I can’t wait until I go into my studio and experiment with new inks or paints and discover new techniques and effects.”
“Dance of the Cosmos” 48″x 36″x2″ alcohol and acrylic inks, resin on Ampersand Claybord
Her work with alcohol inks receives a lot of attention, usually with initial comments about looking reminiscent of a psychedelic, drug-like state. People see everything from microorganisms, cell structures, the cosmos, fireworks, and fractals. But one thing that seems always to hold true is that the more time spent with her art, the more it begins to affect people.
Jeanne recalls one moment in particular. Two women were in the gallery, and one woman turns to the other and exclaims, “Not my taste at all. Looks like what one would see under a microscope. The colors are way too vibrant. It is just too flashy for my home.”
Her friend, however, was of a different opinion, saying how much she loved them and that they would go very well in her more contemporary home. She wanted a painting but could not decide which one she liked best. The two proceeded to remove the artwork from the wall and examine each one away from the others.
Before they left, they had both purchased paintings. “The woman who did not like my paintings was the one to convince her friend to buy a painting because it was her style. Then, after talking about how much she thought one would fit her friend’s home, she decided that one was perfect for her home as well. She became a collector with three of my paintings!”
Jeanne began working with alcohol inks and resin on Formica and Wilsonart (countertop materials), polymer clay, and plexiglass. While the polymer clay worked very well for her process, it was time-consuming. She searched for a panel with the porosity that would work to get the effects that she wanted. “When I found Ampersand Claybord, I discovered that it was close to the perfect porosity, and the panels were of the highest quality.”
“Several gallerists have told me that Ampersand cradled panels enhance abstract art, and it makes abstract art easier to sell. Customers do not have to make decisions about framing while deciding which painting to purchase. The cradled panels remove one more barrier from the purchasing process.”
Jeanne’s latest obsession is using metallic inks and powders to get new patterns. “Although I have used these metallic inks for years, I just discovered another solvent that creates a new effect!” She uses oils and Pebeo paints, using solvents to create exciting patterns in a similar process to what she uses with the alcohol inks.
“Dance of the Jellyfish” 48″x 36″x2″ alcohol and acrylic inks, resin on Ampersand Claybord
Jeanne is drawn to painting abstracts in the way that she does because of her inability to know the results of her actions completely. “I am slightly a control freak and tend to be a perfectionist. For an artist, these traits can inhibit progress or prevent one from completing work.” To counter this, she has learned to approach her work with an open mind and lets the process and conditions dictate the outcome.
“I paint almost all the time to music,” she says. “The music probably affects my emotions and, in turn, my paintings more than anything else.” Jeanne picks her colors, uncaps the bottles, and puts out all of her tools. From there, she lets the process take over.
“I work wet into wet,” Jeanne explains. “The conditions – humidity, temperature, viscosity and chemical composition of the inks, porosity of the substrate – must be just right to get interesting patterns or designs. By paying close attention to these conditions and experimenting a lot, I have been able to develop my style.”
More recently, Jeanne began painting occasionally in a less abstract styled manner – although they still possess her signature alcohol ink elements.
But being an artist is more than just creating art. Jeanne finds that there is a camaraderie amongst artists that is hard to find in other professions. “I know the stereotype that artists are fickle, brooding, hard to deal with, too independent, quirky, eccentric, too dreamy, noncommittal, intense, always broke, egotistical, and uncompromising – and that is just the shortlist!” Jeanne exclaims. “But my experience has been that many artists are more sensitive to what is happening in the world … and see the world differently than the average person.”
I rarely go to a gallery or show that I do not see some art that either makes me think, adds beauty to my life, or speaks to me in a way that communicating by words cannot do.
The camaraderie shared by artists contributed to one of Jeanne’s proudest moments as an artist. For the tenth anniversary of the Carolina Mixed Media Art Guild, the Guild presented her with a scrapbook filled with members’ artwork. “It was a huge surprise! I had formed the Guild after 9/11 when I moved to Raleigh, where I did not know anyone. I decided I needed to find other artists and focus on my art. The guild has provided activities, instruction, support and inspiration, opportunities, fun, charitable work, and friend for life.”
Jeanne is nothing if not passionate. Passionate about what she creates.
She says that people are always surprised when they see her work and then meet her face to face. Although she is animated and outgoing when talking about her art or with friends, she can be the opposite around strangers. “I think they expect to see a ‘hippie’ or a young artist and someone with a very outgoing personality,” she explains. “Maybe my vibrant and colorful paintings are my alter ego.”
Jeanne is currently working on a book project with her sister Laura showcasing her paintings and poetry. She will be the featured artist at Liquidambar in Pittsboro, NC, in November and December. See Jeanne’s work at www.JeanneRhea.com, www.artfortheheart.blogspot.com, and on Facebook at http://facebook.com/JeanneRheaStudio.