Jill McLennan Paints Interesting Urban Juxtapositions

A multimedia artist who lives in a loft in Jingletown, she lets everyday surroundings inspire her work.


Photo by Lance Yamamoto

Artist Jill McLennan records time and place in brightly colored hues on paper and canvas. From her live/work space in Cornerstone Lofts, a converted chair factory in Jingletown, McLennan records the city’s urban colors, acting as a keen observer of the human experience.

She views herself as an archivist documenting neighborhood life and its incremental day-by-day changes and aims to capture an environment in flux. She ponders questions such as: What impact are we having on our environment? What is the experience of others, the homeless, the youth? How does it feel to be in their shoes? What is the future of our city and whose stories are hidden in its history?

“I am impressed by things that are often overlooked, like people building homes in vacant lots or birds on telephone wires communicating with each other or graffiti and blight placed provocatively next to construction sites and new condos with nature creeping through a contrived world,” she said.

McLennan rides her bike around town and gathers ideas by taking pictures and making quick sketches. In her studio, she prints and hangs her work alongside historical images and newspaper clippings, considering various perspectives, angles, and experiences. Working in multimedia (drawing, watercolor, collage, printmaking, wax encaustic, and oil paint), she then develops images on heavy paper, wood board, or stretched canvas, sometimes incorporating found objects like old drawers, toys, model train parts, and miniatures into her pieces to create surreal scenes.

“I hope my work invokes feelings of inspiration, awe, or even upset in people as they look at it. I want to give a message about the state of things in urban society,” she said.

She recently created a series on homeless encampments in Oakland, and she is documenting the history of Jingletown and Uptown where she is active. McLennan is a founding member of the Jingletown Arts, Business and Community, a grassroots organization that supports and creatively merges businesses, artists, etc.

McLennan grew up in Providence, R.I., and moved to the Bay Area in 2000 after finishing graduate school in Chicago. “I was looking for someplace new and exciting to live as an artist. I thrive off of cities and urban cultural diversity, and I saw a lot of opportunity for myself to grow here,” she said.

Trained in oil painting by teachers who embraced the New York School style of abstract painting, McLennan produces representative images reminiscent of van Gogh, Monet, and O’Keefe, but her style also reflects an influence from street artists (like Swoon, GATS, and Shepard Fairey) whose art transforms the urban environment into a societal conversation.

McLennan is an art educator. Through her position in the education department at the de Young Museum, she designs educational materials for exhibitions and leads school field trips, family programs, and teacher workshops. She also teaches art in public schools on behalf of the Museum of Children’s Art in Oakland.

The artist often participates in the monthly Jingletown Open Studios and has an annual solo show at Mercury 20 Gallery in Oakland on Oct. 25-Dec. 1. For more information, visit JillMclennan.com and JMcLennanArtsComm.wordpress.com.

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