Every artist has that one force that drives them to create. For local artist Jenna Alexander, that force happens to be people. Jenna is driven to capture raw, human emotions that tell the story of a moment in time. She communicates these stories through select mediums—be it her photography, illustrations, or paintings.
If you’ve stepped foot in Jenna’s storefront and studio space, located at 77 San Marco, you surely have seen her impressive four by four foot oil paintings that line the back wall. After all, how could you miss them? They are layered with vibrant color. They beg you to take a closer look. They evoke question. They are conversation starters.
At first glance, these paintings may appear similar in nature, each including half of a child’s face, neck, and t-shirt line. The distinct difference in these works of art shines through each child’s expression and personality. Together the portraits tell a collective story. Together they are Jenna’s project, titled “Even Me.” The project dates back to August 2010, in Tanzania. Here, Jenna lived and taught at an orphanage for an entire year. “Even Me” is a response to the profound impact the students had on her heart. Each painting represents the life of an individual child.
“Even Me” has been a work in progress since Jenna’s time in Tanzania. Along with constantly creating and displaying countless other works, she has dedicated time to meticulously painting these faces in her studio, layer after layer.
Alexander is now preparing to show the collection of her twelve finished paintings—for the first time ever outside of her own studio—at the Ponte Vedra Cultural Center on Friday March 6.
While finishing these paintings and showing the project is a monumental point for Jenna, “Even Me” has always been much bigger than the physical paintings.
BEYOND THE PAINTINGS: Q&A with Jenna Alexander
What’s your overall goal for “Even Me,” and has this changed since the beginning?
From day one, and still now, my overall goal is to raise money for the kids’ education. I hope to sell the paintings and donate the money to Rafiki Foundation, which is the non-profit organization I worked for.
Have you remained in regular contact with the orphanage since you returned to the states?
I have returned to Tanzania three times to see the kids (while working for the headquarters of the non-profit as their photographer/videographer), the last time being in 2013. My very good friend still lives in Tanzania. She has shown the paintings to the kids and they love them. As soon as my baby is old enough, we’re taking a trip to Tanzania.
Has your space on San Marco been integral in finishing this project?
I have loved displaying the paintings at my studio. Every day when I walk in and see the faces, it’s motivation to paint. Also, clients have been so encouraging and have come alongside me, supporting me with finishing the project.
What’s your next step, following the show?
The paintings will be exhibited at the Ponte Vedra Cultural Center from March 6 to April 17. I then hope to take the paintings on tour to different galleries. I have a few venues in mind in the North Florida area, and I would like to expand to different states—enough for Oprah to get wind of it.
What inspires you most about this project?
The children are my inspiration. If you could hear their laughs, know their personalities, and see how much they’ve grown from such humble beginnings, I think you’d understand what inspires me to paint. Painting is my way of communicating to the world. I want the world to see theses kids, and hopefully inspire the more fortunate to give back.
Visually speaking, does the story of each child give each painting its own unique life?
Absolutely. Each child has their own story, some you wouldn’t even want to imagine. Just as our story affects our way of life, so do their stories. Each story unfolds through the child’s personality, actions, and words. Because I lived there for an extended amount of time, I learned their stories, and I got to know them. After I decided to proceed with my project, I had long photo sessions with each child hoping to capture his or her true personality. The hard part came later when choosing the photo that best represented their story. Each face is different, with a unique expression that I hope sheds light on their essence.
“EVEN ME” EXHIBIT DETAILS: Opening reception for “Even Me” takes place Friday March 6, from 6-8 p.m. at the Ponte Vedra Cultural Center, located at 50 Executive Way, Ponte Vedra Beach. The collection will remain on display through April 17.
MORE ABOUT JENNA: You can find Jenna Alexander featured among fellow San Marco artists and entrepreneurs in the Feb/March issue of St. Augustine Social Magazine. To learn more about Jenna and her art, visit jenna-alexander.com, or stop by her shop and studio at 77 San Marco Ave.