Jeannine Bardo – Penchant for Storytelling

Detail: Lifelines, 2019, house paint, silver ink 8’7” x 12’9”. Photo courtesy of John Ros

In her drawings and installations Jeannine Bardo explores a wide array of narratives and information she encounters daily, ranging from stories in the news to patterns in nature. Jeannine Bardo describes for Art Spiel what brought her to art making, her process and projects, her role as co-director of BioBAT Art Space, as well as her role as the founder of Stand4 Gallery and Community Arts Center in Bay Ridge. Since our interview process took place a while before the on going pandemic and the current seismic events in our society, the artist was given the opportunity to share her reflections on these recent events as a prelude to discussing her work.

AS: Our interview was conducted a while before the Corona pandemic. Life has changed since. How are you coping these days and what are your thoughts about the road ahead?

Jeannine Bardo: So much has happened since our first correspondence. The pandemic has slowed me down and given me the opportunity to strengthen my studio practice and my relationships to the people who are close to me, so I am grateful for being able to find a positive outcome during this difficult time and I have been lucky not to have been hit with any financial or health issues associated with COVID.

The world is changing rapidly, and I swing from despair to hope. As I write this, our nation is not only reeling from the COVID pandemic, but we are responding to the murder of George Floyd. We need to keep up the momentum of people in the streets demanding change and break down the systems of injustice. The work needed to create change will demand the privileged among us to come to terms with our own complicity and to fight against racist policies and biases in our own communities. Art can serve as a generator of new ideas, a way to open up minds and imagine new structures. Stand4 will keep serving as a catalyst to create a socially and environmentally just and sustainable future through art, inclusive of community voices and inspired by local interests.

AS: You are an artist, curator, art educator and gallerist. Your BFA from SVA was in illustration and your Masters from Brooklyn College was in Fine Arts and Art Education. What drew you to illustration and later to Fine Arts and Art Education?

Jeannine Bardo: I pursued a degree in illustration because of my affinity for drawing and technical skills. I had an amazing foundation year in SVA, but when I went into my second year and the focus was on the media arts, specifically illustration, I became less satisfied in illustrating someone else’s ideas. I never considered myself a fine artist and I admired the way my friends who were fine artists found ways to communicate their own ideas. I married after graduating SVA, started a family and found ways to keep myself in creative projects while making money in jobs like event planning, floral design, and teaching art. While finishing my Masters in Art Ed at Brooklyn College, I reengaged in studio work and found out fine arts was the best home for my head and my heart.

My time in Brooklyn College played an important part in my reawakening. I was lucky to experience drawing with Dawn Clements while I was finishing my Masters in Art Ed . She literally inspired us to create a drawing that can meander over, under and around instead of being contained inside a flat plane. That blew my mind; and made much more sense -the simple line that I love so much had no boundaries and I could take it wherever I wanted it to go. Patricia Cronin’s sculpture class opened up my love for 3D work. I found a way to speak the unspeakable and dig deeper even if it sometimes was awkward. I decided to return to Brooklyn College to get my Masters in Fine Art.

Teaching was also informing my practice. I was bringing all of my skills into the classroom, but when I started to let go of the product and started focusing on my students’ process, the classroom became a place of learning and innovation, from my PK classes through 8th grade.

I applied to the Art21 Educators program in 2012 and was accepted as a year 3 cohort. This experience changed my teaching forever and also opened up my practice. The lessons I designed to bring contemporary art into my classroom created a more open-ended space for my students that was based on play and inquiry and my practice became more about play and inquiry as a happy by-product.

AS: Let’s start with your artwork and take a closer look at your latest show. What are the ideas behind this body of work?

Jeannine Bardo:I decided to create an installation at my gallery Stand4 because I feel so connected to the space and I knew I could take chances with the work that may not occur if I was working on a specific proposal. I am always making connections and I am happiest when I am present and engaged in my environment. I have a tendency to consume my experience in the world as a narrative. My installation became a narrative of different stories I was taking in at the time: news stories, the novel The Overstory, songs, history, science, as well as my own experiences. The title of the show, Long Time Passing, A Campfire Story, references our penchant for storytelling and how we use storytelling to make sense of our world.

I have a hard time reconciling the way humans treat each other and the environment, especially when we have the capacity to innovate and create amazing things. We are inherently violent and beautiful creatures, and I find that disturbing and fascinating. This dichotomy is always present in my work. I often want to create something beautiful, but many of the ideas behind the work come from dark places. For example, Lifelines (2019) one of the pieces in the installation, was based on a graph I saw in the news that documented the murders of women and girls killed in 2015 in the US. Almost all of them were murdered by a person they knew. When I first saw the image, I remember at first being taken by its beauty and then becoming horrified at what it represented. I decided to recreate the image on the wall and to honor each life in a drawing. I wanted it to be beautiful again. Each line was hand drawn with silver ink , representing a life story that ended violently. There were over 1800 lines in the graph. It was a physical, visceral and cathartic experience.

The other works in the exhibit stayed within this dialogue and addressed our complicated relationship with each other and the environment. I feel that they go hand in hand and are not separate issues.

Installation segment: The Golden Spike, 2019, found wood, wax, gold pigment, 19”h x 5”w x 3”d . Photo Mike Clemow

AS: You are the founder and artistic director of Stand4 Gallery and Community Arts Center in Bay Ridge. How do you see the relationship between art-education and art-making in your practice?

Jeannine Bardo: As an art educator I am able to see the value of art, especially contemporary art, which often invites viewers to experience it through their own lens. That open-endedness leads to a more thoughtful and diverse dialogue in the classroom or gallery that is most importantly, full of questions that leads us to a deeper understanding of ourselves, each other, and the world.

I am constantly learning. As an educator I had to prepare for classes, research and write curriculum. As a gallery director, I curate and develop programming. All of this adds to my knowledge and informs my practice.

AS: Looking back at your work from 2016-18, it seems that drawing took a central role. What is the genesis of your Soliphillia series?

Jeannine Bardo: Drawing is one of my favorite expressions. I love the way my mind and body slow down in the performance and the physicality of it. I use it in many different ways and trees are one of my favorite subjects. Soliphilia (2016) was a series that was part of a larger solo show titled Solastalgia. The entire show was a documentation of a single tree in life and death. *Solastalgia is a term coined by Australian environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht to refer to people’s emotional distress when their home landscapes become unrecognizable through environmental change.

Most of my tree drawings take place in my local park, McKinley Park, that is home to an array of impressive old oaks that are starting to die off. I had some favorites, but one tree always called me back. I did a series of drawings that became more and more intimate and intense. One was a brush and ink drawing of the base of the tree and it was drawn on a large scroll that made it possible for me to create it to scale. It ended up being close to 15’ long. Drawing with a scroll of paper makes me more present in the experience because as I roll and unroll the paper I leave behind the past and I don’t know what the drawing actually looks like until I unfurl it at the end.

I was witnessing the loss of a number of my favorite trees and also mourning the death of my mother around the same time and one day when I walked through the park my favorite oak was gone. I felt a sadness that struck me emotionally and physically. I lost my favorite muse and all that was left was the stump. I needed to document what was left of that tree and I did rubbings of the the stump and drew over the marks with ink and wax. My own marks over the marks of the felled tree that consisted of the rings of the trees age and the mark of the chainsaw. This became my Soliphilia series. I made a black and white version and a color version.

“soliphilia”: Another word coined by Albrecht, means “the love of and responsibility for a place, bioregion, planet and the unity of interrelated interests within it.”

Soliphilia I detail, 2016 graphite and Sumi ink on Tyvek 24”x 24”. Photo courtesy of the artist

Soliphilia II , 2016, graphite, wax, powdered pigment, chalk, acrylic on Tyvek 4’x 3.5’. Photo courtesy of the artist

AS: Looking farther back, in 2008-10 you were making quite realistic landscapes with trees, then around 2011 to 2012 you made more abstracted imagery on scrolls with sumi ink. In the latter series there seems to be more emphasis on mark making. Does this observation make sense to you and what are your thoughts on what stimulated that transition?

Jeannine Bardo: After Dawn Clements opened my eyes to drawing without limits, drawing that did not have to stop at the edge of the page, I could work on a real life scale and just keep adding more paper and drawing until I was satisfied. I also found the use of brush and Sumi ink to be liberating. I had to trust my mark making and because of that I just let go. I started to draw on scrolls of paper. This helped me stay in the moment and not look at the drawing as a whole until I ran out of paper and unfurled the scroll to see the finished drawing.

I also started taking rubbings of trees and drawing over the marks. This gave me an even more immediate and physical connection to the trees. In my tree rubbings, my hands and body become my sight. I have an ongoing series in which I make marks over the graphite rubbings with brush and ink or wax.

Vista, 2010, woodcut. Photo courtesy of the artist

Scroll, 2011, Sumi ink on paper, 3.5’ x 14.5’. Photo courtesy of the artist

Untitled, 2012, series of graphite rubbings and Sumi ink on paper scrolls, 7’ x 9’. Photo courtesy of the artist

AS: You are also Artistic Director, co-founder and curator of BioBAT Art Space in Brooklyn. In this venue you focus on aspects of sci-art. Your own art draws on the natural world. What are your goals for this art venue and how does it inform your own art?

Jeannine Bardo: I co-founded BioBAT Art Space with fellow artist and friend Elena Soterakis in January of 2019. My collaboration with Elena made it possible to open the space at a high level. She brought all of her talents and heart into it and made it enjoyable. We recently opened “The Dark Space”, A 15,000 sq/ft additional space that is exhibiting a series of immersive installations for our current show Umwelt. We are planning another ambitious exhibition with curator Elisa Gutierrez Eriksen titled Common Frequencies that will use “The Dark Space” for performances and video installations.

I am an interdisciplinary artist who has always been interested in science, but the artists we have met and worked with at BioBAT are immersed in science. They use the lab as a studio, research scientific methods, and use biological materials as a medium. The connections and friendships I have made with the artists who have been a part of BioBAT and being open to these new forms of artmaking inform my art because I get a glimpse into the process of so many different artists. This deep respect I have for diverse ways of thinking gives me courage to take chances with my own work.

AS: What would you like to share about your upcoming projects?

Jeannine Bardo: I am immersed in my own practice and collaborating with a number of people to produce exhibitions at Stand4 and BioBAT Art Space. In my studio, I am in the early stages of a project that is a critique on how we create value in our capitalist system. Part installation and part performance I am designing a mock investment firm and creating investment objects made from acorns, the seeds gathered from the trees I have drawn for years at McKinley Park.

At Stand4 I am currently exhibiting a solo show by artist Anna Lise Jensen titled, Trying that opened on June 5th as a digital opening because of the social distancing restrictions, which was a challenge, but also allowed people from around the globe to participate and ended up a great experience. Anna Lise’s work activates both public and private spaces through a process of community building and activism and as part of her public programming for the exhibition, she has organized a collaboration with Sebastian Maguire and the SAFE community, an organization that offers legal assistance and mentoring to immigrants who have fled their countries of origin due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

I am also co-curating a show with friend and fellow artist John Ros, titled The Carbon Imaginary, that considers the geological non-life/ biological life connection that will open on September 11th, 2020. John is one of my Brooklyn College classmates and we have done a number of collaborations over the years.

For BioBAT art space we are preparing for the opening of Common Frequencies curated by Elisa Gutierrez Eriksen which  was also rescheduled from May of 2020 to May 2021 because of the pandemic. This show was designed to engage the community of Sunset Park in innovative contemporary art, science, and education programming in artist talks and workshops free to the public with bilingual text in English and Spanish.

Taking a rubbing from the remains of a favorite tree. 2016. Photo courtesy of the artist

Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She founded Art Spiel as a platform for highlighting the work of contemporary artists, including art reviews, studio visits, interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. For more details contact by Email: