by Lisa Farese
A series of tiny dots made with a paint brush tip smaller than a pinky finger in vibrant greens, blues, yellows and browns captures the eye. After a few steps back to catch a full glimpse of the 4 foot by 4 foot canvas, a child’s face emerges. In fact, nearly the entire back wall of this St. Augustine gallery is filled with these incredible faces painted in oil paints with an impressionistic flair. And just as these young faces were woven together with tiny dots of color, a painstaking labor of love that takes 40 to 60 hours each canvas, beautiful threads woven into African fabric adorn the edges of each painting, each one with unique patterns and colors brought home from Tanzania.
One can’t help but wonder who these children are. What are their names? What is their story? Well, they are Frank, John, Glory, Aneth, Mary, Rebecca, Irene, Maurin, Beatrice and Isaka to name a few, and they are among a class of 24 orphaned children in Tanzania. Here artist and photographer Jenna Alexander spent a year with the Rafiki Foundation teaching preschool and first-grade art and physical education to these 24 orphaned children, and as she left these children with newly imparted knowledge, she came home with inspiration. “They taught me more than I taught them,” Alexander said. From this knowledge, the Even Me project was born.
With a campaign on Kickstarter.com, Alexander raised the funds needed for the materials to create this series of paintings, but they didn’t start as paintings. While in Tanzania, Alexander was also able to devote a great deal of her time to photography. “There were so many beautiful faces and people there,” she said. “You can’t go out at night there, so I learned to edit photographs.”
These photographs of her students would later inspire her project. “It works for me to do different mediums and have different creative outlets,” Alexander said. “I love the social aspect of photography, but I also love the solitude of art, so I paired the two.”
This pairing of art and photography can been seen throughout her gallery. With photography including wedding, maternity and family portraits, to the Even Me paintings, to cartoon characters of couples or bridesmaids, to her naptime botanicals series and even a distillery label, her talents appear limitless.
So, as Alexander continues work on the Even Me project and prepares to show 12 of these pieces at the Ponte Vedra Cultural Center in April 2015, she hopes to eventually sell the these pieces and donate the proceeds back to the children, some of whom have even seen their completed paintings through Skype, for their college or vocational funds.
And you may want to stop by the gallery to see her work in person, for due to the unique perspective of the paintings, passersby still have much to discover.
“I don’t want to tell the whole story because we don’t know the whole story,” Alexander says when asked about this unique perspective. Neither do we. So, catch a glimpse for yourself at the Jenna Alexander Gallery located at 77 San Marco Avenue, Unit 3, or visit www.jenna-alexander.com.
St. Johns Magazine blog features articles written by & about the people, places and events of St. Johns and the surrounding communities.