Zeleznak communes with wildlife, stars
February 16, 2022 - Lisa Simmons
Artist JenMarie Zeleznak explores the idea of emotional fluidity between the human and animal worlds. Her work uses the expressions and actions of wild creatures — foxes, coyotes, mountain lions and bears — to explore her own passionate nature and feelings.
Diehl Gallery, which has represented Zeleznak since 2014, will host the artist’s first solo show in Jackson Hole, “These Dialogue Stars,” starting with an opening reception from 5-8 p.m. Thursday. The show hangs through March 27.
“JenMarie has a quiet strength, a kind of gentleness, and a receptivity to all the emotional throes that make up the human condition and our relations with one another,” said Diehl Gallery Director Devin Hardy. “She visually presents sentiments of longing, love, connection, meditation and surrender. I think the choice to represent these emotions using animal subjects instead of people allows anyone to see themselves in the work and to relate it back to their own experience.”
Zeleznak’s works on paper are painstakingly drawn with watercolor pencil, a technique she likens to caressing or grooming an animal. Her compositions feature wild animals, often in pairs, positioned before sweeping triangular clusters she calls “star maps” that echo the spirit of her wild creatures. Each star map is carefully constructed by Zeleznak through close observation of NASA imagery in which she finds celestial patterns that both influence and echo the actions of each animal.
“I look up at the stars all the time and feel their energy,” she said, “which brings me great peace and a spiritual connection to something larger than myself that I look to for guidance or to express gratitude. Many beloved people and animals that I have known in my lifetime are all up there shining bright. I find myself in constant dialogue with the stars.
“I hope that I’ve created an introspective and internal psychological space for viewers to relate to the animal subjects as autonomous,” she said, “but also as an emblem of the human condition.”
Zeleznak’s work opens channels of empathy through which viewers can connect with her animal subjects, the artist herself and their own experiences. One work in the exhibition, “You Are All I Need (You Are the Sun and Moon and Stars),” depicts two mountain lions, ears erect, facing each other with benign expressions from across an energetic mass of triangles. It’s a calm, meditative scene with no claws or teeth barred. Another work, “I Fade from Myself and Miss You Again (and Again),” catches a lone coyote, legs limp and eyes closed, hovering in space, cradled by a relaxed “sky map” below.
The coyote is in line with other works that depict animals alone or distanced from each other, a departure from her more usual representation of creatures nuzzling or grooming.
“In three of the pieces the creatures appear still, surrendering in a way, and perhaps more reminiscent of taxidermied creatures than live ones,” Hardy said. “In this case, however, the idea was not to portray death but rather a kind of submissive reverie. To me this hearkens back to the limbo that we’ve all been feeling as the universe and the virus continue to change and shape our lives. Perhaps we are all caught in that same position, trying to learn to be still and to patiently wait for the dust to settle by letting go of the things that we cannot control.”
Zeleznak’s personal experiences with the wildlife of southeastern Arizona, where she is an art professor at Cochise College, influence her artistic direction. For example, “If I Could Be Who You Wanted (All The Time),” with its two foxes closely nuzzling, was inspired by a gray fox that routinely visited her backyard at dusk. The fox usually came alone, but sometimes brought a friend, perhaps a mate.
“I created a representation of that fox in my work to mark my connection to that animal and observation of its social or perceived emotional experience,” Zeleznak said.
The National Museum of Wildlife Art acquired a work by Zeleznak in 2015, “Constant Cycles Strung Together,” that was recently featured in the museum’s 2021 traveling exhibition “Un/Natural Selections: Wildlife in Contemporary Art.” The drawing of a pair of foxes beneath a cascading star map was selected as the cover art for the exhibition catalog.
Zeleznak’s participation in the Jackson art scene has been nurturing and inspiring.
“I am so incredibly grateful for my relationship with Diehl Gallery, as they were instrumental to my work being acquired by the National Museum of Wildlife Art and because Mariam Diehl essentially ‘founded’ and helped propel my art career,” she said. “Exhibiting my work in Jackson Hole has had a profound effect on my commitment to contemporary wildlife art. Both historical and contemporary wildlife artists can be appreciated and celebrated in the Jackson Hole art scene in a way that is more distinctive and diverse than any other town or state.” ￼