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THE DANCE ENTHUSIAST ASKS: Christine Jowers, Janis Brenner and JoAnna Mendl Shaw About "Doodles, Collages and Paintings"

THE DANCE ENTHUSIAST ASKS: Christine Jowers, Janis Brenner and JoAnna Mendl Shaw About "Doodles, Collages and Paintings"
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Published on March 2, 2022
Painting by Jowers, collage by Brenner, and doodles by Shaw

The Exhibition Opens to the Public from March 14-21, 2022

"Doodles, Collages, and Paintings: Dancers Pivot to Visual Choreography", a  Debut Visual Art Exhibition


Who: Christine Jowers, Founder and editor of The Dance Enthusiast; Janis Brenner, award-winning dance artist and artistic director of Janis Brenner & Dancers; JoAnna Mendl Shaw, dancemaker, author and artistic director of The Equus Projects

Where: Susan Eley Fine Art- 46 West 90th Street, Floor 2, NYC (walk-up, no wheelchair access)
When: Opening Reception: March 14 from 6 - 9pm

                 Daily Hours: March 15 - 20 from 11am - 7pm

                 Closing Reception: March 21 from 5 - 8pm with a "Support the Artists" auction from 7 - 8pm

*Entrance is free of charge and require no reservations. Please do bring proof of your Covid vaccination and your mask.


Sammi Sowerby for The Dance Enthusiast: While the public has witnessed your expression through movement many times, have you ever exhibited your visual art?

JoAnna Mendl Shaw: No, I have never shown my art work before.

Janis Brenner: This is the first time that my collage work is being exhibited in a physical place, although I did participate in an online group exhibition last summer.

Christine Jowers: Other than my parents showing my artwork at home when I was a child, this will also be my first time showing something "visual" that's not me dancing. I will mention that my dad was a visual artist who worked in oils, acrylic, ceramics, sculpture, as well as textiles, and my childhood was spent among visual as well as performing artists. We were always creating things at home, showing and sharing them with family and friends.

Dancers Janis Brenner and Eddie Takata. Artwork by Brenner and image courtesy of the artist.


The Dance Enthusiast: What is your favorite medium of choice? Are you embracing technology in your creations?

Christine Jowers: I work with whatever I've got. When I take digital photos, I create digital collages.  When I travel, I bring sketching materials and watercolor pens (because they are not messy). I have printed some of my designs on silk and cashmere, and also enjoy painting and collaging. Ink and block printing will be my next exploration. There are so many ways to create, and most artists don't limit themselves to one method, because we are an expressive and energetic group. 

Balanchine was also a chef. Geoffrey Holder was a magnificent painter, and actor. Judith Jamison has made some wonderful paintings. Jackie Medlock is a brilliant photographer. I just discovered that one of my dear dancing friends, Miguel Anaya, whom I always known as a wonderful photographer, sings beautifully and works in oils and pastels.

Janis Brenner: My mixed-media collage incorporates photography taken by myself and other well-known dance photographers. Assorted sheafs of papers and magazine images are cut, torn and repurposed while meeting collage techniques such as photo transfers, fabrics and layering.

Jo'Anna Mendl Shaw: Usually I work with three-dimensional mediums: I quilt, repurpose clothing and knit. In this series of doodles, however, I have consciously limited myself to just black ink. Of the 40 doodles in this show, only four have tiny areas of one color.

Black-and-white doodles that fill four perfectly square frames; artwork by JoAnna Mendl Shaw and images courtesy of the artist


The Dance Enthusiast: Do you try to inject movement into your stationary works? 

JoAnna Mendl Shaw: I think very spatially when I doodle. Each doodle literally begins with a simple spatial map, which I then fill in. This anecdote from my artist statement might offer more insight to this question:

My father and I had a doodling game: it began with me drawing a random scribble. He would then magically transform that scribble into a face, an animal, flowers or fruit. I played that same game with my son when he was little. Similar to my childhood game, the doodles always begin with a scribble, sometimes irregular and chaotic, that eventually fills the page with continuous arcs and circles, or a single serpentine or a geometric maze. That initial marking served as a spatial rule structure.

Initially my scribble maps lacked visual coherence with far too many different design elements on a page. So, I devised a rule for myself: the first pen stokes inside the initial doodle established a set of limitations and the rest had to adhere to those limitations. The process felt like a choreographic score."

Janis Brenner: I think about Stephen Sondheim and "Sunday in the Park with George" — Order, Design, Tension, Composition, Balance, Light... Harmony."  The similarities between choreographing and visual art-making have been a revelation to me these past two years. The juxtaposition between pieces, sizes, colors, moving it all around, changing the angles, directions, tilt of the papers, to find balance, structure or even disharmony. And I am physicalizing the experience as well in my own body. The movement appears on the canvas, rather than on the stage.

Christine Jowers: I'm not sure that I do bring movement to every stationary work that I've created. But I know that everything we create says something about ourselves and what we value. I value movement, dancers, color, expression,  family, and heritage.

The Dance Enthusiast: We see that — especially with regards to color, which seems almost inseparable from your signature style; some might even suspect you have synaesthesia.

Christine Jowers: I am sensitive to color: I feel and see it in my mind's eye. It speaks to me. When I first came to the states from the Caribbean I remember thinking there was a real  absence of color in the environment. Everyone  seemed sort of gray — that's  before I made friends in the dance world.

Granny Takes Patrick to Carnival- St. Thomas; Christine Jowers


The Dance Enthusiast: How did Covid cause a seismic shift in your ways of creating?

Janis Brenner: Aside from my teaching online for a year, everything else had been cancelled or postponed. I actually discovered collage three months before the pandemic hit while investigating ways of "writing my autobiography” without having to pen a traditional book. I imagined honoring the incredible artists and colleagues I have worked with over the course of more than 40 years by unearthing photos and images that spoke of their unique artistic selves and their relationship to me. When the pandemic hit, this new passion took over my life and filled my hours, days and months with renewed inspiration to continue creating — it felt cathartic and truthfully, it saved my restless, anxious soul. It felt as close to choreographing as I could get, except with actual materials rather than dancing bodies. I am very grateful that I was able to return to performing and other projects last Fall, but this newfound art form will most definitely continue. I have many more people and many life-altering "adventures" to address.

Christine Jowers: Because of Covid, I  missed out on socializing, attending performances, and seeing friends. I wasn't feeling particularly inspired to write about the dance that I watched on my computer. I also became sick of words being used to divide people. Painting, collaging, etcetera,  offered me  way  to express myself with out words.  Diving into color was therapeutic.

JoAnna Mendl Shaw: Why I started doodling is directly connected to Covid: it gave my hands something to do during long Zoom meetings! Keeping my hands busy felt like a visceral necessity, a way of mitigating the helplessness we all felt during the initial months of lock down. What began as nervous coping mechanism — filling an odd triangular notebook with thick nubbed pen marks — turned into a form of meditation and eventually evolved into a bona fide project. The starkness of the black and white appealed to me. As a teenager, I loved the drawings of Aubrey Beardsley and created notebooks full of my own Beardsley-esque drawings. But because my choreographic work involves horses, which take place outside, portions of my work continued. In fact, my company, The Equus Projects, shot a full length dance documentary during Covid.

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