Jennifer May Reiland is an artist, filmmaker and writer, a modern renaissance woman, who is now travelling the world, making art, writing and exploring.
Jennifer was born and raised in Houston, Texas. She attended Cooper Union where she graduated with a degree in fine arts. She has also lived in Barcelona and is now living in Mallorca before she moves to Paris for a year.
I first met her four years ago somewhere in New York City. At the time she was living with a close friend of ours, and we instantly became best friends. We bonded over a love for art and a mutual quest for knowledge, we were able to openly discuss our similar frustrations and desires. She is one of the people I admire and respect the most, and I want you to know a little bit about her.
Tell Superchief a little bit about yourself, what is your background?
I’m a nice protestant from Texas (no oil wells, unfortunately), I lived in New York for the past 5 years and now I am living in Spain. I’m an artist and writer. I believe in the power of work to improve myself; the power of a self-fulfilling belief in the supernatural on world events; the power of juxtaposition—two images placed together create something hitherto unknown. I don’t believe in God or magic; I believe that a belief in God and magic can have real results in this world. I believe in making images and I believe that a surfeit of man-made images in this world is overwhelming our minds and driving us insane. I believe in beauty. I believe in telling stories. I believe in a Protestant work ethic and a Catholic reliance on spectacle.
What is your favorite thing to draw/write about?
History and myself.
The subject matter in your paintings and illustrations is at times communicated through the occult; where did your interest in tarot cards and alchemy arise?
When I was a teenager, I was really into alchemy, ouija boards, tarot cards, all kinds of occult stuff…I was kind of goth. Back then I believed in the supernatural in a straightforward way, but later my relationship with the occult became more complicated. I went to a really crazy religious Baptist school from a young age, and I guess I’ve kind of come to see the time I believed in the supernatural as a transition, all the occult stuff being a really obvious way of rejecting the religious childhood without giving up the security blanket of faith in something. Eventually I lost my faith in the occult as well as in Christianity…but whereas I had deliberately given up Christianity, I lost my belief in the occult against my will. I vividly remember the day when it dawned on me suddenly that if I didn’t believe in God for rational, empirical reasons, it was hypocritical and silly to continue believing in the supernatural…and just like that, my faith in it was gone. It was kind of sad actually. I guess the reason I still use the symbols in my work is because for me they represent, personally, a lost faith as well as, in a larger way, a system that people use to organize and make sense of consciousness (an impulse that for me is really important and interesting). I am interested more in the fact of belief and superstition and what it reveals about us than I am in the occult for itself—why do we need the occult? What do we need to believe in and why? I’m a huge Christopher Hitchens fan.
What media do you usually work with in your illustrations?
I usually start by doing an outline with fine-line pens, then use watercolor and gouache to fill in the outline, usually one color at a time (I’m kind of anal), then I go back and retouch with pens.
In your illustrations I see a huge Hemingway influence, but with a feminine edge, can you elaborate on how that shapes your work?
Yeah I’m an unapologetic Hemingway fan, I started reading his stories when I was young in school, and then went on to just devour all of his work and later the work of his friends and contemporaries. I like to think of some of my own work as an experiment where I replace a supermacho Hemingway hero with a teenage girl, with the same values, which becomes problematic for her since Hemingway was obviously kind of a sexist. But the truth is this experiment is actually pretty close to how I conduct my real life—I mean the reason I first moved to Spain was probably because of him.
You make experimental narrative films as well, how do your illustrations work in conjunction with your films?
I’ve always been a bookworm and reading and writing are the link between my film and illustration work. I write the films I make, and my illustrations are also narratives, heavily based on research. For the Spain series I am currently working on, for example, the books The Conquest of New Spain by Bernal Díaz, The Spanish Civil War by Hugh Thomas, and The Spanish Labyrinth by Gerald Brenan have been really helpful. Usually I start reading about a historical subject, then do drawings about it, then move to writing about it, writings which sometimes turn into films. Historical details are essential to my work—the most fantastical details in my drawings and films are usually facts. I am a big fact collector, which annoys a lot of people I know, because when I have a new fact I just keep repeating it over and over again. But here’s a crazy one: when the Spaniards were invading Mexico, according to Bernal Díaz, when they were injured they would cut the fat off of a corpse of someone recently dead, melt it over a fire, and drip the boiling hot MELTED HUMAN FAT over their wound to seal it against infection. How can you not repeat that fact to everyone? That’s fucking insane.
Let’s talk about your writing then. You recently released a collection of short stories entitled “Five Minute Love Stories“, can you tell us a bit about them?
Sure. They are five short stories, each of which should theoretically be read in five minutes. Each takes place in a different city. The protagonist is the same throughout—a young woman exploring her sexuality, heavily influenced by books and fantasies. Each story is a turning point in her conception of herself—sexually, romantically, or personally. Basically it’s about someone who thinks she can use sex, men, or travel to avoid confronting herself, but who eventually has to look at herself in the mirror and confront the world without the crutch of her sexuality and relationships with men. That confrontation is forthcoming in the next collection…
“Five Minute Love Stories” are mostly autobiographical, with some minor changes, how do you feel about sharing your private love and sex life with the world?
Denial is pretty important. I have found that people I know personally who have read the stories are basically too embarrassed to ask personal questions about it or acknowledge they know any of it is based on truth, and I am too embarrassed not to pretend it’s totally fiction, so it’s kind of a perfect circle of denial. It’s hard enough to write, so the only thing you can do is write about what comes naturally. If what comes out is personal, that’s what you’re stuck with.
We have previously talked about experiencing sex and being a woman in the modern age, about how we live with the need to be accepted by others while simultaneously wanting to explore many different things and lovers, and how it is hard to keep that balance within ourselves and in society. How does that affect your work or viewpoint on life?
That’s a really hard question, I think it’s something all women understand but that is hard to explain. I was talking to a male friend recently who is really smart and understanding and all that but we got to talking about sexism, and how it’s frustrating to know that men always see you as a woman first before anything else, and he was like “Yeah, I just try not to think about that stuff or let it affect me.” And I was like…uh…that’s the whole point, duh! That you can “not let it affect you” because you’re a man and I can’t! But I never know whether the idea that people perceive me as a woman first is in my head or not. I definitely present myself in a really feminine way, bleach blonde, etc and I kind of love the whole charade aspect of being a woman.
The exploration of love and passion has great impact in your work. As creative strong women we have professional ambition but we also seek love and a partnership, has that been easy to balance?
I think it can be easy to balance if you choose the right men. I actually think that it is true that most of the men I know aren’t really interested in ingénues. They are interested in women who have their own life and ambitions. Obviously the reality of balancing two careers and a relationship is harder in practice, but I feel like, in theory, ambitious women are considered really sexually attractive now, especially in cities like New York. I am speaking for men in general a lot, sorry, I don’t really have any idea what they think.
You just got a grant to work in Paris for a year, what are your plans during your stay in Europe?
I am writing, and shortly will be producing, an experimental film project called Doppelgängers, a historical fantasy about World War I, drawing comparisons between the World War I era and our own. The premise is that World War I never happened, and it is happening for the first time in 2012, hastening the end of the world. The main characters are a prostitute who wants to destroy the world and a soldier so severely injured that only his eyes are functional—his entire relationship to the world is visual. He can’t interact, only perceive. The genesis for the project was this obsession I have about images—I feel like the world today is so full of images that most of our mental capacity is occupied in perception—there is simply no mental space left over for processing information we receive, we can only receive more and more and more. The soldier character represents all of us.
What are your future goals?
Make the World War I film spectacular. Speak fluent Spanish and French. My Spanish is okay, but my boyfriend (he is Spanish) thinks I speak better French. He doesn’t speak any French. That tells you everything you need to know about my language proficiency. I want to write beautifully and truly, without any tricks or clichés. Make each drawing better than the last. Smoke less. Read everything. Learn to drive a motorcycle better. Go to Deià this weekend.
Interview by Alexandra Velasco
Photography by Tatiana CamachoTweet