This is one of the most difficult articles I have ever had to write. Because I know so intimately the subject. It is a paradox because the objective of a journalist is to learn as much as possible about the subject of the text he will write about. Often there is very little time for this endeavor, which is then reflected in the (lack of) quality of the piece. But the best texts arise from the journalist’s ability to dive into the issue in focus and then hope for that spark of inspiration to come up with the right words and thoughts. Jeanine Wiggins is an artist I know so well that it becomes difficult to pick what to say about her. If I could pen down all that is important, unique, curious, fascinating, tragic, troublesome, magnificent, mind-blowing about her life, it would become too long a piece to be consumed as a magazine article. But here we go.
In a way, to write a good text is also an act of art creation. Even though more often we produce and consume art craft or even bad craft, when the text is born from an honest interest and a profound knowledge of the subject by the author, the reader is served at least with an attempt at a masterpiece. A sort of painting with words, a play with the shape of thoughts and perceptions, the coloring of meanings and sensations, expressing a message through the canvas of a newspaper or magazine. If art is a creation of a new way of expressing something in a unique, singular way, then even a report can become a piece of art, as far as it is somewhat original, if it has the author’s exclusive style. I owed at least that much to her, considering our personal history together.
Nevertheless, any artist will tell you that inspiration cannot be programmed ahead of time. I have been planning to finish this article for months, but daily life’s constraints kept blurring that needed lightening that comes from somewhere and feeds one’s inspiration. It doesn’t arise from routine, discipline, obligation. Art comes at unexpected moments, creativity is like summer storms, arriving suddenly, without warning, causing a total deviation from your momentary route, invading your normalcy, forcing you into an alley that you would never enter.
The desperation of the artist is to find a way to keep these sparks of creativity and inspiration as steady visitors. All kinds of tricks may be tried, from smoking a joint to stirring your hormones in some dionysian sexual encounter, but the true spark only comes when it comes. You can’t simply magically call it as bewitched Samatha called Dr. Bombay.
As Paul Newman’s character tells Elizabeth Taylor’s in Tennessee William’s A Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, he drank and drank and drank his whiskey, all the while trying to reach that magic “click” moment. When the brain finally surrenders its rationality and lets lose the electricity that runs inside it to jump from and to previously unexplored bridges between neurons, to then absorb new meanings and produce real novelty. And art is about being a novelty. It comes from this “click”. Jeanine in 1990, when I first met her
Because I don’t drink, I resorted to my homegrown weed to try to get that click, albeit artificially, like in that abovementioned classic film, to be able to create this article. For it could not be just in the level of craft — that kind of text in which you just describe things and don’t express any special views, like reports about everyday stuff, which fill up the journalistic basics of “what, where, when, how, why”.
It had to be better because 1) I know the subject in deep detail, thanks to being a close friend for decades, so the part in which as a reporter I need to research the object of the article is already more than well fulfilled, 2) the focus of the article is an artist — how to write about an artist in a craft-ish form? It would be like exposing a Caravaggio in a… plastic frame.
And I mention this Italian Renaissance painter not in vain because Jeanine introduced me to his work. Also because her sometimes tragic family life often looked like straight from a Caravaggio (bloody, violent, crude) real painting. As a young Brazilian who had moved to the United States at the age of 19, imbued by the American dream, I was the typical dumb middle-class empty head 1980s pop culture guy, who had never heard of Caravaggio. My pseudo-knowledge about painters was limited to the obvious Dali, Picasso, Warhol and the like. Being introduced to Caravaggio was like seeing a murder in person for the first time. Intensity and crudeness that I had never experienced. Because of that moment, I finally felt in my gut what real art was: it had to provoke, to reach you in virgin places of your soul, leaving you with an engraved traumatic but splendorous experience. Little I knew back then how much she had in common with that legendary painter.
But I had fallen into Jeanine’s fantastic David-Lynchian social web and her spiraling life & art. I would never recover. The old mainstream me gave place to a more singular character, not afraid to ride outside of the tracks. Art has the potential to devastate and reconstruct the paradigms of those who grasp their intricate meanings. Artcraft just reproduces, real art revolutionizes. And Jeanine is fire embodied, a force of Nature in human form.
She had been introduced to me by a common friend, who was a living art piece himself, in the original and innovative, courageous way he led his life, evidenced by his style, his sexual performances, enhanced by his unique beauty, penetrating eyes and overboarding sensuality: the Brazilian immigrant Deja, who believed she was special, explaining she had a “golden aura”.
We were all around 20 y.o., discovering life and shaping our evolving identities in that university town of Gainesville, in the North of Florida, where 50 thousand effervescent students produced an envious music and art scene. Main street was a packed strip of rock bars, one next to the other, giving stage to the voices of a grunge generation that was owling against the boomers who had delivered us a beaten up planet and a grayish future.
Gainesville had art coming out of its pores. So much that even the famous, but “alternative”, actor River Phoenix and his family that includes “Joker” Joaquin, who at the time still went by the name Leaf, decided to live nearby, in the 15-minute distant Micanopy, so that the tormented young star could lead a more or less normal life and spend his out-of-Hollywood moments with likeminded people, playing with his band Aleka’s Attic and sharing social life with other kids from hippie parents, vegans and artists.
Deja knew Jeanine because both had River in common.
The enchanting long-haired Mulato with Asian-like eyes lived in the house where members of a band called NDolphin had their rehearsal studio. Jeanine, who was not-so-secretly in love with the guitar player Jack Mason, was the prolific creator of the band’s flyers announcing their constant gigs, especially at the nearby Hardback. River was secretly in love with the band’s vocalist, Anné Diaz, even though he dated Susie Solgot, from an all-female hard punk band and Anné dated one of the Joshes that played in the actor’s group. So he frequented the house, becoming close to Deja, as well as to Jeanine. Deja, at Jeanine’s right side, in 1991
When I was taken to meet her by Deja, she immediately invaded my senses with her loud and sui generis laugh and the pervasive smell of her bong, while I entered her bedroom in a shared student house to be introduced to her dazzling personality and mind-boggling art.
Her paintings take you for a gliding ride. They suck you in as Alice being thrown into Wonderland.
Her fulsome use of colors make for a jiving experience. Don’t let the bright tones fool you into believing her pieces are merry odes to bodies and shapes, for they are actually traps. The reds, oranges, yellows and light blues are just like the scent spiders exhale to catch their prey. Once inside Jeanine’s paintings, you are sucked in by her spiraling shapes, entering not a joyful cheery ride, but instead forcing you to be confronted with the loops and contours of your own soul. Jeanine penetrates you, turns you around.
Her art feeds from a mirror into her mimetism of the deep dives she does into places of the spirit that few dare to visit. That is because Jeanine was exposed to, since the dawn of her life, and has had a fate that brought her more than enough tough, onerous, grisly situations. All countered and blended with the spices of her innate flickering personality and shinning mise-en-scene. It is as if the Universe had decided to give her all extremes as ingredients to cook her art with. But always providing her with enough spices to transform the rotting produce into a gourmet offering.
Her art is an ebullition of that volcano who she is. Her paintings burst into our essence, her art being just like herself.Art student Jeanine, 1990
Considering all that, I had trouble starting this text, because inspiration doesn’t come by request, even Jeanine has also spent years with her brush locked away and her hand on a forced leave while life was roadblocking her way. However, it was just to make her stronger and more inspired.
To be able to frame her inside of an article, using all that I know and that I could share with the public about her is impossible, it would become a book instead of a report. But this piece required at least a flash of inspiration that could make justice to its subject.
Jeanine was a living legend in her youth at that long-gone university town atmosphere where I met her. Her flyers were the most original and, as expected, the most glittering.
River used to say he was at the same time afraid and in awe of Jeanine, echoing a feeling most mortals (no pun intended) have when confronted up close with overwhelming personalities like hers. The actor has left us, the grunge scene died with Cobain, the rainbow people’s kids who led Gainesville’s art scene grew up, got married, had kids and left in the past that epochal cultural imprint that characterized the early 1990s for youth in America. “Father Knows Best” type of life attempt failed
Jeanine herself attempted at “normal” life, but her version of 1950s sitcom family ideal came to an end, having lasted more than expected, but ultimately freeing her from the constraints of married life, catapulting her into an adventure in Europe, with a detour through Turkey, collecting another bunch of berserk stories that could make it into an addictive Netflix series with many seasons.In Turkey, 2007
Back in the U.S., still many more punches from life’s realities would have to be dealt with, but eventually, after a long hiatus of that “click”, she came back into form and, living yet one more of her 1001 life phases, she has been sharing with the world her ever-spiraling, trapping, involving paintings and drawings.
Jeanine’s art has claws — paraphrasing what Kafka said about Prague being a mother, but with claws that, although lovingly, dangerously keep you tight around her soothing arms.
So beware: you may be sucked in, with no return ticket.
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO ACQUIRE ANY OF JEANINE’S PIECES, YOU CAN FIND HER ON FACEBOOK — https://www.facebook.com/jeanine.wiggins