HoMA Select:

Jennifer Steinkamp (b. 1958. Lives and works in Los Angeles, CA.)
Judy Crook 9, 2017
Single-channel digital video projection
Gift of Sharon Twigg-Smith in honor of James (Jay) Jensen, 2020

 
Many of us have known special people who changed our lives for the better. If you were to depict these individuals symbolically with natural phenomena, such as a cresting wave or a trade wind—what might you portray? If you could use 3D computer animation technology to translate your abstract idea into a portrait, how would you construct it?   

This imaginary scenario describes the real practice and genius of Jennifer Steinkamp, a pioneering animation artist and professor of digital media arts at UCLA. In addition to teaching and exhibiting internationally, Steinkamp has worked for Disney and designed electronic effects for the band U2. The artist uses animation technology and optical illusion to compose complex tapestries based on natural elements such as flowers, fruit, and trees. She provides opportunities for the viewer to immerse themselves in and become silhouetted against animated tableaux of synchronized light and color, which dance, sway, and embody ideas about nature’s vulnerability, beauty, and resistance. 

Steinkamp titled this abstract portrait in tribute to Judy Crook, an undergraduate art professor and color theorist at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA, who greatly influenced the artist. (She quips that the larger concept for this and her other arboreal series may also link back to an elementary school teacher who made Steinkamp believe that she had the best sponge-print trees in her first-grade class.)

In this installation, Steinkamp “paints” trees, leaves, bark, fruit, flowers and wind, with three-dimensional software and optical illusion. This series simulates and accelerates the seasonal growth cycle of a tree into a few condensed minutes. Rather than portraying specific narrative details, she focuses upon the beginning, middle, and end of a tree’s natural cycle, equating it to birth, life, and death. Steinkamp admits, however, to always leaving out the “death part.” This may be at the root of her miraculous and uplifting works that inspire and offer hope to viewers of all ages and backgrounds, particularly during these dark days of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

HoMA trustee Sharon Twigg-Smith gifted this work to the Museum in honor of former HoMA Curator of Contemporary Art James “Jay” Jensen, who passed away in 2017. He taught Twigg-Smith and others in our community about art’s continuing power to inspire and endure. On many different levels, this work is a fitting tribute to life, hope, and the wonders of nature.   

-Catherine Whitney, Director of Curatorial Affairs