The rebirth of Jennifer Rhone

CHAMBERSBURG – Four years ago, Jennifer Rhone was newly divorced. She had quit painting. She had quit singing. She had basically quit everything. In her own words, “it was a process to learn to live again.”

It’s been a long road back.

It was only two years ago that she took up painting again, and like a musician regaining her calluses, she expresses some (unwarranted) self-consciousness about how her “chops are still really off.” It was only within the last year that she started working on the seven pieces that make up her latest exhibit.

Which brings us to the present.

On Friday, January 26, Jennifer Rhone unveiled “Learning to Live Again” as the featured artist at The Garage Studios, 102 S. Main Street. The opening reception was held from 5–8 p.m. and included live music from The Admiral Mouse, a Greencastle-based band that specializes in bluesy-rock covers.

The opening had originally been scheduled for the first Friday in January, which would have allowed it to capitalize on downtown’s First Friday activities, but was postponed due to severe winter weather warnings.

The new date allowed it to draw in crowds wandering in from Ice Fest as well as The Garage Studios’ built-in audience of local artists and their supporters.

Rhone works with abstract expressionism, the goal of which is to evoke a feeling or a mood rather than merely depict it. Additionally, it is a method for her to “outwardly express her inward reality.”

This makes her a welcome addition to The Garage Studios, a multi-vendor art space that encourages (but doesn’t require) a little darkness, a little weirdness and a little depth from its artists whether they are glass blowers, woodworkers, metalworkers, vintage repurposers, painters, or something yet to be named.

“For me, it was tapping into those feelings while I’m painting to get them out,” said Rhone. “So it was cathartic. It was literally like therapy to get it back out.”

Despite her years of downtime, her process hasn’t changed much. It begins with a concept or idea that percolates for at least a week while she considers how to apply the paint to the canvas.

She often dreams about the paintings she’s preparing to create.

Then, she produces a nearly finished painting in a single sitting. She’ll live with it for a little while before going back and making any necessary tweaks or adjustments.

Rhone holds a bachelor’s degree in Fine Art from Wilson College, but she had originally enrolled as a Psychology major. Given the brooding, dream-like nature of her work, it’s easy to see how these dual interests feed into her process.

“The entire liberal arts education is intertwined with art because you pull from everything,” she said. “Well, I did, anyway.”

She starts with huge subjects like “reawakening” and “coming back to life,” and infuses them with even bigger subjects like religion and sexuality.

“It explores themes of God and how I understand Him,” she explained. “And femininity and my sexuality — how I understand it or how I express it.”

To understand it requires going back to the beginning. The very beginning. To a moment without any pretense or conscious will projected onto it.

Rhone’s works are steeped in primordial ripples that call to mind the imagery used in the opening lines of the Book of Genesis before any creative acts were imposed onto the abyss. The earth was “unformed and void” with “darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water.”

“In the Beginning” and “I am Light,” she declares through the titles of two of her paintings.

Biblically speaking, “In the beginning…” is notably the first and last moment of pure existence. Everything that follows quickly becomes a complicated mess of day, night, right, wrong, sin, forgiveness and the 613 positive and negative commandments. And that’s just in the first five books.

Psychologically speaking, this “beginning” is the moment that Rhone seems to be trying to recreate on canvas while letting the archetypal images float to the surface of her mind — often taking the form of feminine curves and galactic swirls in an otherwise womb-like calm.

This is where she finds “Bliss,” “Serenity” and “Eleutheria,” which are the titles of three of the works in the exhibit. The word “eleutheria” is a Greek word referring to the “personification of liberty,” and it’s the biggest clue we have to deciphering Rhone’s exhibit as an autobiographical chronicle of her growth.

It is here that she begins the creative process for her paintings, and it’s here that she began re-creating herself four years ago. She went back to the true beginning; the place where true eleutheria or personal freedom exists. It can only be hinted at in abstraction, but art provides a gateway to access that feeling that psychology can’t.

The reader should understand that any attempt to interpret these works will say more about the interpreter than the artist. Rhone is reluctant to guide the conversation beyond the two stated themes of God and feminine expression.

She doesn’t want to give too much away.

“Learning to Live Again” will be on display at The Garage Studios through the end of March.

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