Barbara Jaenicke | The Intimacy of Vast Spaces

Barbara Jaenicke paints the landscapes that move her

By Elizabeth L. Delaney

Barbara Jaenicke, Evening’s Final Glow, oil, 18 x 24.

Barbara Jaenicke, Evening’s Final Glow, oil, 18 x 24.

This story was featured in the October 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art October 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

Barbara Jaenicke seeks out the places where natural elements coalesce in a way that makes her stop and stare. She hunts for the mysterious, captivating forms nestled within the boastful vistas of the landscape. Ragged branches glimmering in the cold winter light, rays of sun filtering through evergreens heavy with snow, or mist that hovers just above the water’s smooth surface—all of these define the robust yet quiet spaces Jaenicke captures in oil paint and pastel. The focused, intimate scenes serve as concentrated, intriguing emissaries of the majestic panoramas waiting just outside the edges of the canvas. The artist surrounds herself in nature, absorbing each subject’s multifaceted hues and distinctive iridescence to transform her own enamored sense of place into a sensory experience in two dimensions.

A signature member of the Oil Painters of America, American Impressionist Society, and Pastel Society of America, Jaenicke has also been named an Eminent Pastelist by the International Association of Pastel Societies. She attained such stature only after casting off a career that was adjacent to fine art and embracing a lifelong passion for painting and drawing.

Jaenicke (pronounced JAN-i-kee) grew up in New Jersey, where she embraced art from an early age, drawing in her free time and relishing art classes in school. “I loved to curl up in the corner of the couch in our living room and draw images from greeting cards, magazines, or really anything I thought would be fun to draw,” she says. During her teen years, she started to think of art as something she’d like to practice seriously, so in addition to her high-school courses, she enrolled in extracurricular art classes focusing on oil and pastel. Jaenicke’s earliest pieces included landscapes, still lifes, and portraits, and while she went on to make landscapes the center of her body of work, she nevertheless maintained a love of still life and figure drawing.

By the time she entered college, Jaenicke had decided she wanted to pursue art as a career, though she followed a more commercial path, earning a bachelor’s degree in advertising design from the College of New Jersey (then Trenton State College). “It never even occurred to me at that time, or even years later, that I would ever have a successful career with fine art,” she explains. “I thought I would merely return to painting later in life as a hobby.”

After college, Jaenicke embarked on what would become a decades-long, formidable career in advertising, initially working for agencies in New York City and then moving to Atlanta in 1992. She worked as an art director for about a decade, then moved into a more corporate role in marketing communications. During this time, Jaenicke set her own artwork aside to focus on her profession, although she later realized that working in the industrial arts greatly benefited her ability to arrange elements within a painting and her overall compositional acumen. “Both of those earlier careers were invaluable in gaining a basic understanding of advertising and marketing that can easily apply to fine art,” she adds.

The year 2002 became a defining moment for Jaenicke when she was laid off from her marketing job at a small Atlanta firm. She turned the unexpected development into something constructive, however, and took the opportunity to begin creating fine art full time. She had enrolled in local painting and drawing classes several years earlier and was determined to recommit herself to her original creative passion. She worked largely in pastel at first but gradually added oils into the mix. Now, she traverses back and forth between the mediums (though she works exclusively in oils when painting on location). This affords her a broader approach for expression and for capturing the indefinable essence of every setting.

When Jaenicke picked up her brushes again, in addition to sharpening her own skills, she discovered an interest in sharing her knowledge with others. After advancing as a professional artist herself, she started to teach drawing at a local arts center, then added oil and pastel instruction to her offerings. National workshops came next, as well classes out of her Atlanta studio.

Today Jaenicke is based in Bend, OR, and continues to travel across the country leading painting workshops. In addition to these, she offers a series of classes on DVD, titled Painting the Poetic Landscape, as well as online studio courses. The courses are available on a monthly basis, and students receive personal reviews of the work they submit after each lesson. She has developed a loyal online following and communicates regularly with students from around the United States and abroad. “Teaching has helped me tremendously to push my own skills,” Jaenicke remarks. “After all, you can’t teach something you don’t completely understand yourself, so it has forced me to better understand important skills that I feel are crucial to becoming a better painter.”

Her work now focuses on the Northwest landscape, specifically the close-cropped, engaging facets of its mountains, creeks, forests, and fields. She has a particular interest in painting snow—in fact, she moved her family from Atlanta to Oregon several years ago largely because of her strong desire to live in a snowy climate. The snow feeds her creativity as well as her soul, and she has found great inspiration in the white-blanketed terrain surrounding her new home. “One of the reasons I love to paint snow is because of the magical way it reflects light,” she says. “It provides an amazing conduit for depicting varying ranges of color temperature. It also typically expands the value range of a landscape composition, often creating more visual drama.”

Jaenicke and her family enjoy hiking, and they explore the outdoors all year long, which affords the artist virtually limitless opportunities to collect source material in the form of photographs, sketches, and plein-air paintings. She relies on these outings to inspire and expand her creativity, and she is careful to translate the photos and sketches into paintings soon after her experiences outside in order to keep them fresh, both in her mind’s eye and in her emotional landscape.

Jaenicke identifies potential subject matter in segments of the landscape that have strong compositional possibilities and compelling value structure. In determining whether she wants to paint something, she decides whether the scene can be reduced to several large shapes that complement one another. Light effects play into her decision, as well. “I’d say that most of my work is about the light in the landscape,” she explains. “And in capturing that light, the viewer is momentarily placed right there in the landscape where I stood, having the same sensory experience.”

Although Jaenicke does what she believes is her strongest work inside her studio, she feels that regularly working in nature is integral to her creative process and her ability to communicate her visual message. It is important for her to spend time observing in person, whether painting or sketching. She makes working outside a priority, setting up her plein-air studio at least once every two weeks. “A regular practice of painting outside is priceless for me,” says the artist. “My studio work wouldn’t be where it is if I didn’t spend time studying the landscape on location, understanding how light and shadow really appear, and also allowing all of my senses to experience the landscape on a regular basis.”

Jaenicke paints in an impressionistic style, aiming to capture the “magical” characteristics of the scene, to harness the visual and spiritual jolt she feels while interacting with a specific, unique corner of nature. Though her work is painterly, she strives for an economy of brush strokes, lines, and details to communicate the energy of the scene rather than trying to copy the elements directly.

“Over the years, my work has evolved toward a more genuine interpretation of the local color, but in a way that accentuates the light,” says Jaenicke, who has learned to infuse her analytical approach to capturing color and light with the intense emotion she experiences while spending time outdoors. Her work has progressed over time from a tight style to looser, more impressionistic applications. Further, she has learned to portray a more nuanced color story that elicits a dynamic equilibrium among value, chroma, and temperature. Chroma, or color vibrancy, was the last piece of this puzzle that she mastered, and she describes it as allowing her to attain a new level of dimensionality within her compositions.

Moving ahead, Jaenicke wants to maintain an effective balance between teaching others and investing in her own work, taking the vital—yet often elusive—time to deepen her painting technique and add to her repertoire. Always wanting to find fresh perspectives, she is thinking about incorporating structures like barns or buildings, as well as figures, into her work. She has also maintained her early interest in still life and looks forward to working in that genre more often.

Authentique Gallery, St. George, UT; Mockingbird Gallery, Bend, OR; The Artful Deposit, Bordentown City, NJ;

This story was featured in the October 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art October 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

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