“Sweet Nothing” with Jen Mann and her Pink Palette
“I am always exploring the world around me: how we relate to each other, how we understand each other, and the honesty of relationships, or maybe the dishonesty,” says up-and-coming Canadian artist Jen Mann. Now, for her U.S. solo debut at Cordesa Fine Art in Los Angeles, “Sweet Nothing” features a selection of candy-colored paintings from her recent series “Self Absolved.”
Working from photographs she has taken, Mann’s paintings explore identity, femininity, and an individual’s relationship to society, often by using lines from her journal as a jumping-off point. Mann works with oil on canvas in a hyper-real style, saturating her images with color. In portraits, nudes, and still lifes, she unfurls a coming-of-age tale across mid- to large-scale canvases. The images of young girls and women are painted in a vibrant palette of pink and peach, with references to notions of nostalgia, pop culture, and our age of selfies.
Yet Mann also confronts what she sees as the hypocrisy in the way that society defines love, desire, and self-image. Among the works on view is upside down smile emoji (2016), featuring an upside-down smile emoji overlaid onto the back of a young girl’s head. At once unsettling and humorous, this interrupted portrait points to the shorthand ways we share our thoughts through premade symbols, which do not always get to the heart of who we really are.
In another work, a still life titled Donut Diet (2016), an array of sugary donuts on iridescent cellophane spells out: “DONUT DIET.” The dark irony in this tableau is tempered by the over-the-top absurdity of these donuts: With their mounds of sugary frosting, they look practically poisonous—but also delicious. Mann builds this tension between beauty and harshness into all her works. “There’s a slickness and a beauty to it that kind of draws you in,” she has said, “and then there’s something maybe a little painful when you eventually look into the image and connect with it.”