A Personal Art

Jennifer Harwell’s art comes from the heart.

By Cindy Riley Photo by Beau Gustafson

There is a sense of grace in Jennifer Harwell’s art that comes from deep within.

“I paint from a very open place, a receptive spirit, that has been broken and mended ,so it now holds out to others hope, healing and the presence of light,” explains the self-taught Harwell, who is emotionally attached to each acrylic she brings to life with her palette knife.

“I call them by name, touching them, placing them under the light to see their full beauty. I do this daily, as I enter the gallery each morning and leave each evening.”

Harwell didn’t start painting on canvas until 2005, at the age of 49. But she always had an appreciation for the creative process. Her father was a printer and her grandmother designed clothing. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, she rode her bike through Oregon’s shimmering vineyards, absorbing the magnificent hues surrounding her.

“The extremes of bold colors for most of my work, and all white tone-on-tone on other works represents the absence of what’s in the middle, which is  milk toast,” explains Harwell, who rarely uses a brush and often dirties her paints with smudges of one or more unstirred colors. “To live vibrantly and think positively are personal quests that show up in my painting style. Nearing the end of a painting the last thing I do is look for the drama. I look for the extraordinary touch of genius. I’m not looking for a safe painting that may appeal to a broader audience.”

Influenced by Van Gogh, Rothko, Clyfford Still and LeRoy Neiman, Harwell paints florals and landscapes , but is best known for her angels, many which are on display at the gallery she runs in the downtown Regions Harbert Plaza.

“They materialize in all shapes and sizes and purposes, from very small to towering warrior angels, maternal guardian angels, dancing and obviously celebratory angels, to quiet ones with wings folded and heads bowed. I never paint angels slowly and deliberately or they may be gone before I get to it. They can’t be contrived. I don’t look at pictures, I just get movement going on the canvas and they come.

“The vistas have also been known to bring tears to my viewers. They’re purposely not titled landscapes because they’re more ethereal and start out as just the movement of color and manipulation of the paint. The most profound vistas are the most simplistic, not tampered with at all after the first session, and yet there is something discernible in the distance.

Lisa Mead of Vestavia has been collecting Harwell’s work for five years and is drawn to her oblique forms, blended tones and expressive colors.

“We have at least 20 of her paintings – three at our home, two in my office, two at our lake house and the remainder in Mike’s different offices. My husband is a radiologist and we get a lot of comments about the angel paintings and the comforting effect they have on so many of his patients. Jennifer’s paintings evoke a lot of meaning and emotion.”

Betsy McAtee, CEO of Dreamland Bar-B-Que, also owns some Harwell pieces.

“I connect with her angel paintings because of the colors, the fact they aren’t cookie-cutter style. Each of Jennifer’s paintings has a story behind it, which I appreciate, plus she’s a very caring, genuine person.”

Husband Donny says his wife is compelled to express herself each day at her easel. “Her inspiration for a painting normally rushes out fast. She likes to paint in public. And she does so in her studio with the blinds on the windows open where at least a 1,000 people walk by daily. She’s often asked what makes art great, and her reply comes from the Andy Warhol quote ‘art that sells.’ By Warhol’s standards, her art is great.”

Recognizing the need to expose her work to a wider audience, Harwell in recent years has expanded her repertoire to include her interpretations of classic sports images. The Harwells are currently promoting “The Crimson Collection,”  a coffee table book that includes art, essays , prints and photographs honoring the University of Alabama’s National Championship history. The two are also pursuing a wine business.

“Jennifer grew up in wine country and we both enjoy drinking good wines, so we began searching for ways to become involved in the industry. It became evident very quickly that neither of us were prepared to buy or build a winery business, so we traveled down the road looking for other ways to shape our involvement and it was through putting her art on the labels that she began building this business. The right wineries were found to bottle and cellar the wine. The wine last year was available in Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana. National distribution has now been put in place in 13 states so far, and if things go well it will be available in most states next year.”

For Harwell, who often uses wood and hollow doors for canvases, the future is full of possibilities. “I’ve always known I would paint, I would paint large, and, God willing, I will paint famously. I aim for the blue ribbon. Mark Rothko started out with complex realism paintings and evolved to increasingly simple paintings, distilling his subject matter to just the emotional effect of two or three blocks of color. My style mostly fits the abstract expressionists of the era between the Impressionist and Pop artists. I aim to achieve a subject matter one can recognize, but is so abstracted it takes a minute to see it.”

Adds Harwell, “It’s very humbling to arrive in the morning when I have a fresh painting on the easel, turn on the lights, and gasp. That’s when I know there is something coming from deep within far more talented than me.

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3 Responses to “A Personal Art”

  1. Leonila Turntine says:

    Amazing work. As Michael in the comment above says this is really art that needs to be framed and exhibeted in spacious gallery. Hope to see this work in Germany once.

  2. Clara Cordas says:

    You are so right Richard! Serena is an inspiration all by herself. . . and an excellent writer. Thanks again Serena. Richard, beautiful work!

  3. Terrilyn Vocu says:

    These are all such great projects! Love this challenge it always pushes me to get something done!

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