Shape of Things to Come: Jenna Krypell

Shape of Things to Come- Jenna Krypell Openletr.jpg

I heard of Jenna Krypell through the art grapevine, then I decided to check her Instagram, and was impressed with the technical aspects of her pieces: layered sculptures with complex colors, shades, and contrasts. I reached out, and after some scheduling around, we set a Saturday morning interview.

It was a false Spring, warm, and sunny, in-between the Winter blizzards. On the pleasant day, Jenna and I met at her new studio on the industrial side of Bushwick. I strolled by the warehouses decorated in murals and graffiti. When I arrived, she welcomed me up the stairs, and we chatted a bit while waiting for our cameraman, Dan Robinson.

Dan arrived, we exchanged, then set up the space. It was a little overwhelming to have the lights, recorder, and camera on us, but Jenna and I bounced along the interview. She shared her journey, and how it has shaped her career as an artist.

A Practiced Hand

Jenna was born in the city, but grew up on Long Island. The genesis of her artistic exploration came from her family. Jenna started creating when she was 4 years-old. She talked about her earliest memories, when her grandmother would sit and teach her.

“We would sit in the back yard, and just draw for hours.”

Her first lessons came from these moments, when her grandmother would educate her with a gentle hand. Jenna learned about the technical matters, things like pointillism, and different ways of shading. Although her grandmother was never a working artist, [a reflection in part, of the times she lived] she always loved fashion. She would draw clothing designs and stylish women silhouettes. The skills she passed on to Jenna helped the young artist learn her fundamentals.

The high school Jenna attended didn’t have a great art program, which can be malnourishing to the artistic spirit, but Jenna’s father, a jewelry designer and who runs his own business, always pushed her to work hard. He gave her “the bug to create.” Well-crafted jewelry is an art that requires a patient hand, and a mix of skills in sculpture and design. He always encouraged her when she was frustrated.  

"Keep creating, keep working and working to see your vision.”

Jenna left for college in Syracuse. She learned early on that “the program is what you make of it.” Her crew consisted of a lot of designers and fine artists. During her tenure as a student, Jenna found herself attracted to industrial design, and began making friends who worked in the field.

While in Syracuse, Jenna learned to experiment her style, always trying new methods of creation to achieve her vision. 

“I’m a big believer in using alternate tools to get your idea out there efficiently.”

Projects in college pushed her to test new boundaries, trying new tools, and seeing what they could do. “I was a photoshop geek, but I moved to illustrator.” Jenna began working with laser cutters and CNC routers. The router is an apparatus that interprets computer-designed designs and carves them into sculptable material such as wood. With each new challenge, Jenna would learn via trial-and-error.

“If you have a vision, it’s not going to come out perfect the first time.”

Jenna’s distinctive style developed with roots in rejection and evolution. One of her biggest inspiration was a friend of hers. For his upcoming birthday, she wanted to create a present, and thought of something more in line with art, a gift made of two-inch thick green Styrofoam. It was the first time she ever poured resin over a piece. Prior to this experiment, Jenna mostly worked on realistic animal paintings. But when she gave him the present, he shot it down.

“He didn’t like it, [he told me] stick with the animal paintings.”

As Jenna isn’t one to back down from a challenge, rather than retreat, she chose to venture forward.

Crafting a Vision

Her process begins by sketching the form, usually on a grid. Next, she uploads the shape into the program, and has the router sculpt a base. Jenna enjoys creating her own canvas to paint on. With the form now solid, Jenna begins the priming process, sanding the surface, and putting in the grunt work. It’s a regimented exercise. Jenna joked that when it came to this stage, “I don’t love it.”

With her canvas now constructed, she begins painting. She likes that each shape imposes its own difficulties. “I need some restriction.” These boundaries force her to work within limits to push past them. The process has a meditative quality to it; “for me, it just simplifies life for a while.” Jenna’s style was born from a desire for simplicity and movement.

With colors, it varies. Some pieces glow with radiant neons, others are dimly lit hues, and others are made of oppositional primaries. Her paintings stretch the spectrum, the choice of which is organic. I noticed on Jenna’s workbench a copy of Josef Albers' Interaction of Color, she also cited Frank Stella and Cy Twombly as notable influences. In her own work, the colors come about in her own way. 

“Sometimes I have no clue, and I just really like the form, and I can’t tell until it’s tangible.”

At times, the form inspires its own colors. If the shape resembles a familiar idea, she’ll let it guide her. “This reminds me of a glacier, or a waterfall, or a tree.” With this in mind, Jenna utilizes her palette. “Even the most abstracted things, just by color, you can look at it and feel some sort of way.” She cited a sunset as an example. Even if the piece resembles nothing of a setting sun, by employing shades of fading reds and sinking orange against dying sky blues, the scene becomes recognizable. “Color can bring a familiar vibe.” With that, people can connect.

Other times, “I judge color just based on the feeling that I’m feeling."

The final step in the process is applying the gloss. It’s also the most difficult and anxiety driven part. “Resin is a bitch to work with. It needs to level.” Once applied, the resin needs to cure properly. This takes about 45 minutes, and if it goes wrong, the entire piece has to be scrapped. No small tragedy after the effort invested.

Jenna joked to Dan. He had come to visit her studio to photograph before, and during the visit, she had a piece that was curing. After he left, Jenna had to make a desperate attempt to scrape it into shape.

Despite the perils that resin involves, when perfected, the final product shines beautifully. Over the 2-3 years she has been working with the medium, she grew more successful with its implementation. “It’s nice as an artist to fail, and then try again.”

With all the failures left behind, Jenna loves the resin work. The feeling attained when everything goes well is quite a high. “Or maybe, the more you do resin the more brain cells you lose.” Jenna said laughing.

New York, How you Living?

Jenna’s new studio in Bushwick has a window she opens to let the space breathe. The toxic fumes float out. After college, Jenna had moved back into her parent’s basement, and while this held pragmatic appeal [being cheaper and accessible,] the basement began to feel very claustrophobic. And brooklyn was attractive as she was yearning to be in a more creative environment.

Brooklyn artistic energy is well documented. Jenna said one of her favorites things about the location is that “there’s little details in everywhere you walk.” As she toured Bushwick, she told her herself “you gotta keep looking, you gotta keep seeing.” As a sculpture artist, Jenna found herself inspired by a surprising source : graffiti.

“I like how spontaneous it is, I’m trying to take that spontaneity into my work.”

Jenna admires the power of street art. “It’s intriguing to me, to see an artist who can take a blank wall, and mess it up, and make it look beautiful.”

Grunge vibes and raw spirits appeal to her natural aesthetic. She mentioned being impressed with rollies — seeing a tag on top a building, because an artist climbed to the roof, leaned over the side, and posted up. Jenna respects those who makes a mark, and the free nature of the graffiti spirit.

Always one to push herself, Jenna explored the possibilities of street art. While doing a piece at the First City Project, she met Sean Sullivan, better known as Layer Cake. Sean invited her to collaborate at his space on the 69th floor of World Trade 4. A part from this, Jenna has done other murals around the city.

“Anything that’s gonna broaden my knowledge or challenge me, I don’t get scared. I get excited. I do my best.” She repeated her mantra of persistence. “You have to do it, you have to fail. If you don’t, you’ll never shine.”

Shape of Things To Come

I asked Jenna about the business side of art. While Jenna prefers to stay on the creative side, she recognizes the business end is important.

“If you overanalyze it, people start commercializing their work. They say, oh, this is selling well, I’ll monopolize on it.”

This stunts artistic growth, something Jenna seeks to avoid. Rather, she believes it’s critical to remain true to your vision. Fans see it and respect the authenticity. The vision is something that helps Jenna “stay grounded."

As her career has grown, Jenna has developed a clientele. When I first contacted her, I asked to see a catalogue of her work. I was impressed by the stylized portfolio. As I sat in the studio, I admired the variety of shapes and colors around me. Most of her works are one of a kind. Although she’ll do a series in the same form, it may not be the same color or design. She likes each piece to be special and unique.

We spoke about the many ways Instagram has revolutionized the art market, in that, it allows creatives to speak straight with their fans. “I love having interactions one-on-one, directly from the artist to the collector.”

While she appreciates the capacity of direct sales, Jenna also understands the role played by art advisors and galleries. She has been featured in a couple shows. She noted that working with galleries can be a positive experience, so long as “they let you see your vision through.” Currently, Jenna is preparing her first solo show. The project is slated for mid-August in the Lower East Side.

I asked Jenna about what she saw in her future in terms of creativity. Would she continue working primarily through her sculptural design or reposition herself?

Jenna said she is always looking for new influences and examining different forms. She wants her style to be flexible enough to keep expanding the boundaries.

“I haven’t seen the light at the end out of the tunnel. There’s been a constant flow of ideas, coming from the initial concept.”

“The movement of it is endless, for me.”

In the grand scheme of her artistic journey, Jenna is happy with the path she’s on. It’s nice to be out of school, with the future as a blank canvas. “I’m curating my own life in a way.”

Down the road, Jenna would like to team up with public art programs. “I want to see these [sculptures] in a large scale. That’s my dream.” She continued, “I want people to see it, I want it to be public. I want it to be accessible.” Jenna isn’t hung up on the idea of hanging in museums — she would rather retain the raw intimacy of art. As she considered the possibilities, she noted there are "so many ways to push it."

As our interview was winding down, I asked Jenna if there was a closing quote she’d like to offer. The question caught her off-guard. “Well, my yearbook quote was 'you are unique, just like everyone else.’” We all laughed. Jenna smiled. “I don’t know. Nothing can just define one thing."

Photo credit Dan Robinson