Jena Cardwell is a Highland Park-born artist whose whimsical work celebrates the raw nature of mutable female emotions. Her early years, cavorting with the movers and shakers of the Los Angeles punk scene, are also in some ways reflected in the pieces. Sometimes fantastical, other times dark, Cardwell’s paintings will be on display in the form of a solo show, as part of North East LA Art Walk at Finster Studio in December 2011 and January 2012.What galleries have you shown at in LA?
I did many shows with Cannibal Flower, a moving art show. I did one here at the Cactus Gallery, on the border of Eagle Rock and Highland Park. My first show was at La Luz de Jesus--it was a group show focused on female artists.Speaking of which, your work is very female-centric. Are you espousing female power?
It’s more personal than that. It’s more about my femininity and own personal power than seeing myself as part of a larger group because I’m a little bit of a lone wolf. The bottom line is that most of my paintings are about something I’m going through--emotional self-portraits.
I have always felt that my life was like Alice in Wonderland, like when I fell in with the punk crowd and fell down the rabbit hole, which was The Masque club, and into the world of these wildly creative people who influenced me. Some of those people, years later, became successful. In those early days, it had been about this dream that they had that nobody understood. I was really lucky to be in the right place and to fall in with this crowd.Tell us a little bit about that early punk scene in LA in the ‘70s and ‘80s and how it's influenced your work.
I used to listen to Rodney on the Roq when I was a teenager. One night, he played a song by The Germs called ‘Forming.’ I was going through the confusion and angst that we all go through as teenagers. When I heard that song it was like a beacon in the darkness that led me to Hollywood, to find The Germs and this scene that was starting to grow there. I would hop on the bus and take off much to my parents’ terror.
Because the scene was so small at the time, I ended up meeting The Germs. It was such early days that the LAPD thought we were a gang. Gary Panter was one of the most famous artists that came out of that era. He was the art director for Pee Wee’s Playhouse. He was one of the ones I was around more directly because he did Germs flyers.Which other artists affected you?
When I was young it was the classical artists like Aubrey Beardsley and Alphonse Mucha, and Spanish surrealist artist Remedios Varo. And of course Frida Kahlo; she was so incredibly great at expressing emotions through her paintings.Tell us about your current winter show at Finster Studio.
I was born and raised in Highland Park but left for Hollywood about 30 years ago. This show at Finster Studio in a way celebrates my return to Highland Park, coming full circle in my life--getting back to my roots. My brother had put a link to my website on his Facebook page and his friend saw it and asked if I’d be interested in doing a show. It was unexpected.How is the creative scene different for you now in Highland Park versus Hollywood?
I really do feel Billy Shire has been an influence on the LA and Hollywood art scene to this day and I’m not sure he’s gotten the credit he deserves for all the artists he’s introduced.
But I got into a weird rut while I was living in Hollywood, and when I came back to Highland Park it was such a different environment. There are a lot of artists around here. It’s very creative. Highland Park is going through a renaissance now and it’s changing and focusing on art a lot. The art scene here is accessible to everyone but like most areas of any city, they like to focus on local artists so it was helpful for me. Being here has brought me back to being a little girl, sitting in the same house I’m in now, drawing in my sketchbook and starting out on the path to becoming an artist.