“Why This World: A Mirror”

New Works: Sculpture, Painting and Drawing
Jenny Lynn McNutt

In her drawings, paintings and sculptures Jenny Lynn McNutt tells stories that chiefly star hares. Hares as disruptors, as animals who don't give a damn about anything, who mess about, who can be nasty, hares as seducers, as wolves in sheep's clothing, but also with longings - much like people.

She tells the stories in free, expressionist brushstrokes which gives them great liveliness and vitality. The colors seem to bear little relation to reality. They are like fairytales: enticing and horrible at the same time. Even the poses of the hares seem to be in violation of nature.

Her style sometimes approaches that of the cartoon. Jenny Lynn McNutt is undoubtedly holding a mirror up to the viewer – the title ‘Why This World’ refers to this – however, the mirror may well come from a carnival.

— Rob Perrée
     Art  historian, curator, critic,
     Amsterdam/Brooklyn November 2013

A Physical World:
Catalog for Jenny Lynn McNutt's “Zoopsia”

An essay by Tom Sleigh for the catalogue accompanying the exhibit at Art 101.

In Jenny Lynn McNutt's paintings and gouaches of rabbits, some lyrical and hallucinatory, some flirting with human caricature, others aiming for anatomical exactitude, I was reminded of D. H. Lawrence's unforgettable portrait of a wild rabbit brought home by his coalminer father. In Lawrence's account, the rabbit becomes a fierce, anti-cuddly deprecator of children, cats, and other saviors/tormentors. When it tears down Lawrence's mother's curtains in an ecstasy of wild racing between parlor and kitchen, it proves itself utterly immune to human sympathies, its white tail saying Merde! to domestication. And yet Lawrence can't resist making the rabbit into a symbol, a brilliant and convincing symbol, of the inborn energy in all living things to keep on existing—what his fellow poet, Dylan Thomas, once called "the force that through the green fuse drives the flower." The interplay between the human, the animal, and this force that drives both human and animal—what Aristotle and later philosophers call "conatus"—give McNutt's paintings and gouaches their counterpointing tensions.

In the title painting of the series, "Zoopsia" (the seeing—or miss-seeing—of animals), a donnish looking rabbit casts a sidelong, skeptical stare at something outside the painting—possibly the artist. This is one of the paintings that flirts with caricature, although the image of the rabbit, wearing what looks like a blue bib as it sits down to a solitary dinner, resists cartoonish exaggeration by remaining true to the rabbit's form. McNutt's virtuosity, as well as her humor, never intrude on the rabbit's fundamental lines. And even though the rabbit's isolation emanates the chronic loneliness of old age, this all too human melancholia is offset by how the rabbit's muzzle, painted a bloody vermillion, retains all its restless animality—its own genus's form of "conatus."

McNutt's tough-minded refusal to become one with her rabbits, while imbuing them with the particularity of self-portraits, creates an interesting tension between Durer-like specificity and narrative suggestiveness. In "Pale Couple" (a deeply moving homage to Fragonard's soft-edge eroticism), two rabbits drift across the center of the canvas, one rabbit lying on top of the other like a human couple either before or after love-making, the rabbits' heads anatomically exact while the haunches, legs, and paws morph between human and animal. This moment of ecstatic, even visionary sensuality is upset by the cartoon-like sketch of a rabbit in the foreground hastening out of the picture frame. We never learn why the rabbit disrupts the otherworldly lovers, but the interruption itself helps to ground the picture in a world of will and intention, in the weave of an ongoing story that unfolds to the rhythm of the body as it ages and eventually dies.

The contrast in "Pale Couple" between this time-bound, slapdash clownish figure and the timelessly entranced lovers reveals the comprehensiveness of McNutt's stylistic obsessions in the entire "Zoopsia" series. While these paintings and gouaches delight us by their relatively formal notion of beauty, she's also devoted to the handwork and homegrown messiness of her own mark-making. And if capturing "conatus" means that she has to run a stylistic buzzsaw through her own more lyrical impulses, she's ready to start painting with sweat, spit, and dirt. This is where she and Fragonard part ways: while Fragonard's work embodies sensuality as a kind of erotic daydream, what you might call McNutt's politics of the body leads her back to Lawrence's rabbit, an undomesticated shit-tail, a primal eater and fornicator.

In keeping with this compact between bodily reality and painterly means, McNutt's work attests to the fact that, in the words of the poet Wallace Stevens, "the greatest poverty is not to live in a physical world." For McNutt, this means insisting on the primacy of her own limited bodily experience over her obvious love for the history of painting. And yet, it's as if she wants to believe in her rabbits in the same way that the Chinese painter came to believe in his horses: he painted them one night, and found them grazing in the fields the next morning. Of course, she's cannier than that, more skeptical too; she's no latter day animist among the technophiles. But if you see her rabbits as continuous with our own shit-tailed, fornicating, appetitive selves, and squint at just the right angle, the gap between the animal and human closes just enough.

—Tom Sleigh

zoopsia: Essays

Zoon squatting, oil on canvas, 13" x 12", 2011