e are bombarded by visual stimuli constantly these days from every corner of our lives. An on-going onslaught sparring for our attention.
And then one comes across works like this: quiet, contemplative, restorative. And here’s the magic of it: no matter what kind of world you’ve encountered in your life so far, even if nothing at all like the landscapes and stories Jeanie Tomanek creates for us here, this feels like home. Like a lovely, terribly lovely, place to land.
INTERVIEW WITH JEANIE TOMANEK
Deanna Phoenix Selene: You create in your paintings almost an alternative universe of calm. Like a dreamworld but without any of the nightmarish aspects one often experiences in a typical dream. There is a sense that here is where everything is safe, where healing can happen. Was this your intention? If so, what is your source of inspiration for this?
Jeanie Tomanek: I don’t intentionally set out to make a calming painting, no, but I do try to have a sense of hope in my stories. I’m an optimist who believes there’s always some way to make things better.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Do you tend to remember your dreams rather vividly when you wake?
Jeanie Tomanek: I don’t usually have vivid recollections of dreams, sometimes it’s just a feeling or emotion that I wake with. Once in a while an image or situation will stay with me.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: When ideas trickle into your consciousness either from memories, dreams or simply the day’s events, are there certain telltale signs for you that here is something that deserves a closer look and possibly a painting?
Jeanie Tomanek: When I recognize a symbol or a metaphor that seems to be a stand-in for something I’m feeling, that gets me going. Nature is an ongoing teacher of the life-death-life cycle. I try to create a place where I can show a meaning that has more than one interpretation.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: You mentioned that some of the themes come to you from literature and your own poetry. Can you give us some examples of this? And then the artwork that sprung from that?
Jeanie Tomanek: I first wrote poetry in my search for that one thing that I was supposed to do with my life. When I started painting I was still interested in many of the themes I had explored earlier in poems. Many of my works are poem based. One poem that inspired quite a few paintings was “Mother Winter.” I used the myth of the daughter and mother, Persephone and Demeter, as a basis and combined my experiences with my daughter. The Return and Poem for a Six-Month Night would be a couple of examples of paintings.
Not for you the terror
of “If I should die
before I wake…”
a dare to a fickle god
to take you while you slept.
Sandaled girl dressed in white
walks in flowered field
I used instead the pantheon
of frailer gods,
told you myths of Daedalus,
Icarus, Demeter, Persephone,
proud and weak, brave and foolish.
Hades’ nightshaded horses rising
from the sundered earth.
Your small mouth struggled
with the stolen girl’s name
and asked for her story
night after night.
Cool still Styx crossed,
Innocence left behind.
Our seasons passed, changed
by the otherworldly fruit
I fed you, hoping to keep
you safe from holy charlatans.
Grieving mother strikes
a deal with Limbo’s dark lord
But I left you in the meadow
while I wandered, and now
you hear the chariot’s wheels
and fear the winter night.
Six pomegranate seeds
for summer sometime
My goddess curse for mother earth
withheld the spring
you counted on, and the promise
that I would save you
is locked icy in your heart.
I also recently used the words of Emily Dickinson as inspirations for a collection. Some of the paintings, which can be seen on my website are Where Roses would not Dare to Go, Keen and Quivering Ratio, Wild Night and a New Road, Letter to the World, The Thing With Feathers, They Know But Do Not Tell, I’m Nobody, Who are You?
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Can you tell me more about the feminine archetype in literature and folktales, myths? Do these resonate with you? Or do they ask to be retold from a new perspective? Do you have a favorite myth or folktale? What was the piece it inspired?
Jeanie Tomanek: I think the archetypes both resonate with me and also become retold. My all-time favorite folktale is The Handless Maiden. It is about a woman’s journey toward wisdom and self-realization and the obstacles and helpers she encounters. This tale encompasses many of the archetypical representations of women. My “Everywomen” portray the mothers, daughters, lovers, and crones. Strong, wise women who will survive. These are filtered through my own experiences many times. Some examples are Silver Hands, Silver Hands and the Numbered Pears.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Your interest in acknowledging, even celebrating our individual scars and imperfections resonates with me deeply. Can you tell me a bit more about this and how it takes shape in some of your work?
Jeanie Tomanek: When I speak of scars, it implies a struggle: to create, to tell a story that is meaningful, to become what you’re meant to be. [quote]My style is a bit primitive and imperfect at times. I like this raggedness, because it shows the dual meaning of actual battle with the materials and the protagonist’s struggle with her situation.[/quote]
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Can you tell us about how you lay on, and in some cases, carve away, different layers on each of your artworks? The thoughts behind this and what comes out for you through this process?
Jeanie Tomanek: The layers of paint accumulate until they are the right color and texture to tell the story. Since I am self taught, I must rely on what I’ve learned by experience or a trial and error method. I sometimes sand down through the layers, and so these strata represent the complexity of both the story and the actual time and process that went in to trying to get it right.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Is someone where to ask me which of your pieces are my special favorite, I would be truly hard-pressed to answer ~ which is frankly unusual for me ~ because each of your pieces feels like a friend somehow, a spirit guide. Would you be any more successful in answering the same question if I posed it to you? Is there one painting more than the others that speaks to you especially deeply?
Jeanie Tomanek: I think my favorites are a few of the Demeter and Persephone ones: Demeter’s Search and Mother Winter III are a two that I feel are successful.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: When did you begin your career as an artist? What were you doing before this?
Jeanie Tomanek: I only began painting full time in 2001 at the age of fifty. I always painted a bit for pleasure but it really never dawned on me that this could be my career. I spent the first few years just trying to find a voice and a style. Before that, I did all sorts of office work: accounting, human resources, customer service. I was a commercial and residential real estate agent. Hated them all and was always searching for ‘my thing.’ This late-in-life-start has given me a more philosophical outlook. I couldn’t do the paintings I do now at a younger age.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Where do you see your work moving next?
Jeanie Tomanek: When I first started trying to become a painter, I most admired abstract work and so that is how I began. Over time, figures appeared and they became tighter and more realistic. The little baldies began to tell their stories. Recently I have been experimenting again with abstraction but I don’t yet know if it will mean leaving the women behind.