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Work of Art Exit Interview: Episode Five

Last night’s Work of Art left things pretty open-ended for its nine remaining artist-testants. But someone else saw their experience come to an abrupt end.

After narrowly escaping elimination twice now, wide-eyed painter and illustrator Jamie Lynn Henderson was sent packing. Vulture chatted with Henderson about judges, time constraints, her feelings about Serrano’s Piss Christ, and WoA’s “match made in Urban Outfitters heaven.”

What was it like to see your elimination piece onscreen? Do you still stand by it?
I really love that piece. It was so ridiculous, almost embarrassingly so, but it was the only piece that I made the entire time I was on the show that I feel like I made 110 percent for me. It was about me; it made me laugh; it was silly; it was bananas. I had gotten to the point where I didn’t really know how to approach these challenges anymore and kind of not care in a way and just do something as silly as I could possibly think of. If I could have kept any of them, it would have been that one.

Really?
Yeah — totally. Anybody who knows me would have saw that and known it was mine. Of course it was ridiculous! It was so dumb! I was well aware of that, but it didn’t matter because it was for me and nobody else and I was really proud of that. And actually, I thought the circular image was really striking; I thought the colors looked good; I thought it was a very intriguing image and intriguing as an object. But other than that, I just loved it for what it was: me.

You seemed to struggle with getting the judges to see where you were coming from regarding your aesthetic, your content, your faith …
It was difficult, but I should have been able to do it more effectively. I don’t really think the content of a work matters that much. I think that regardless of your content or inspiration, you should be able to come up with something that’s visually intriguing. And the problem was that I was unable to make work that was up to my formal standards. I don’t want to make excuses — I should have been able to come up with something — but the strength of my studio practice lies in having time to fight with a piece and edit and change things and really build up the surface. And that was something I wasn’t able to effectively do, and, as a result, because I didn’t leave the judges with something that was visually stunning, all they could really judge was content. The critiques revolved around the pieces seeming so amateurish or watered-down or kitschy or childlike. The subject matter is very inherently me and I don’t think that ever needs to change, but the way I formally approach it, that’s what needs to develop and needs to mature and grow. And does for every artist over the course of an artistic career.

Earlier: Jerry Saltz’s Work of Art Recap: Miles May Vary

There was no disputing your technical skill, but do you think there was a divide between what you do and what the judges considered to be, as you say, “high art world?”
Again, I think the problem was me not being able to formally provide them something that was visually interesting enough to carry them beyond the childlike subject matter. In grad school, at the School of the Art Institute, I was rarely ever confronted negatively about my subject matter being too childish, too girly, too silly, too vapid. That really wasn’t ever an issue. Granted, I had the privilege of working with advisers that had been in the “art world” for longer. They weren’t the young hip, cool, and happening artists that are more concerned with trends and who’s hot right now. They were people who were much more interested in the longevity of one’s career and being really true to oneself. It was an extremely nourishing experience for me. And unfortunately, the support I had for my work and my approach to working at the Art Institute I didn’t have with this particular set of judges. But then again, I didn’t really give them anything that had that 110 percent of what I would consider up to my standards for them to really go off of.

What have you been able to take out of the crits you received on the show?
In terms of my studio practice, it encouraged me to introduce little mini-challenges to myself throughout the process of creating a work, where I work really quickly as opposed to spending a whole bunch of time to work on this thing as a whole. There’s an immediacy, there’s an energy, there’s a vitality that comes from working very quickly that you miss out on when you approach these huge paintings as a project that has to be perfect in the end. So the time constraints were really good for me to kind of see what would happen. The results weren’t always good and that’s fine, but it was good for me to work under those conditions. What I took out of the process as a whole was something that I never thought I would have learned from this experience, and, really, it’s life lesson. I really realized how much I had been banking on the approval of a couple critics, the art world, the blogosphere to make me feel legitimate and make me feel like my career was going to go somewhere. And I never want to be in a situation ever again where my version of success is contingent on another human being’s perspective. When you want people to be in your corner they’re not going to be there. That sounds pessimistic, but it’s actually quite empowering to realize that. For me, the only way my professional career or my career just as a human being is going to go anywhere is based on my relationship with God, my relationships with my loved ones. And that’s it. I don’t want to be begging for crumbs from someone whose opinions will change. I want my success to be lasting and not last only as long as their favor upon me will.

On a lighter note … Bravo was really playing up this Miles/Nicole romance. I know you can’t talk about what happened since you left, but can you dish at all?
When I first met the two of them and kind of saw them hanging around each other I definitely thought, Those two are about as cute as a button! They looked like they were made for each other. That’s, of course, just going off of looks. And that phrase … ”A match made in Urban Outfitters heaven … ” I’m not sure, and I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes, but I think that was actually my line first! We were all saying it, but seeing Ryan saying it really made me laugh. I think it upset Nicole a little because she’s a very stylish girl and I’m sure she has nothing against Urban Outfitters, but we joked quite a bit about that. She’s way more stylish than Urban Outfitters. She’s “urban,” but not “Urban Outfitters,” per se.

So, next step: Oprah?
That’s in the “trying to” category. I loved the TV experience. I love talking with people; I love working with creative people. I am trying to put together some sort of a different TV show that showcases creative entrepreneurs, artists, writers, fashion designers ... That’s kind of in the works. I have no idea what will happen with that. I’m trying to diversify my creative output and what I consider creatively successful. It’s not just in four white walls. It’s a lot of other things, for me. And that’s what I’m working on. So we’ll see!

Earlier: Jerry Saltz’s Work of Art Recap: Miles May Vary