S&H editor Ben Nussbaum spoke with North Carolina–based artist Alena Hennessy about her favorite color, describing the painting process in words, and finding a personal style.
Here’s a big question. Spirituality and health are both big parts of your life and what you’re about. How does that interact with the work you put on canvas?
I see painting as a metaphor for life. There are phases to it. I love the metaphor where, with painting, especially intuitive painting, you start out as a child, where everything is open and free, exploratory and exciting, and there are all these possibilities. You’re responding in the moment, not overanalyzing or planning.
Painting allows us to go from the phase of the child to the adolescent, where we start to doubt, become a little more self-conscious. Maybe I don’t like it, maybe it’s utter rubbish. You start comparing. Insecurity comes in. From there you start learning to find solutions and find a place of acceptance and allowance.
And so the final phase is the phase of the adult. It was wild and free at first, I went through some challenges, and now I’m in a place of allowing and accepting. That’s one way to look at it.
Another way to look at it is the creative process allows us to channel a meditative state in our mind. It allows us to access different parts of our brain.
Different chemicals can turn on. We get into the channeled state of creativity. That’s why people love to paint for hours and hours … they’re so alive in the present moment that their analytic mind turns off.
Great answer. I appreciate it. When I first started doing these artist interviews, I thought people might be like, “I don’t know—I just paint.”
That’s what I want to say! That would be a lot easier. Part of it comes from teaching. I’ve had to learn how to verbalize a process that doesn’t have a lot of words. People start asking how to get into that flow. You have to develop a language around it, something that’s visual. Which is not always easy to do. Painting is a visual language, a language outside the word space.
You work in mixed media. What does that mean for you?
I do water-based acrylics, acrylic inks, and fluid acrylics, with some Japanese media. It’s all water-based.
At what point in your painting life did you feel like you discovered your personal style?
I’ve been painting full-time since 2005. I’ve been doing art since I was a kid. It’s a really hard question to answer since your style is always evolving. I definitely have a more set style now that I can rely on ... I would say there was a point where I didn’t doubt or question myself or feel like I could get stuck easily. Probably seven or eight years ago I started to feel something just, really, like a familiar friend that I understood very deeply.
When people look at your art in this issue, how do you want them to interact with it? What are you hoping for?
I just want them to feel it, not to think or analyze. Just to feel. It’s more elemental, how certain movements and colors and lines interact, how their eye moves around the canvas. It’s more a somatic experience than an analytical experience.
Your paintings are very vibrant, obviously, lots of colors. Do you have a favorite color you come back to?
Thank you for a great question for an artist. We love talking about colors, probably more than anything. All my peers love to talk about it.
I love teal. I love the salmon, kind of coral color. I like the magenta colors, the red-violets, and certain neon or fluorescent expressions of those.
I noticed Sandra [the S&H creative director] picked a lot of pink paintings. I’m like, “We need more greens in there for the layout.” I’m going to suggest that to her.
Craving more fine art? Check out this guide for starting a meditative painting practice.