Jenn Porreca

Jenn Porreca


Painter: San Francisco

Have you ever thought about what creates a sharp turn in life? What causes a person who’s floating rather comfortably with the current to suddenly grasp the oars—and start rowing against it?

“I did nonprofit work through most of my twenties: fund raising and grant writing, for many hours each week. I had been doing my art on the side. I did maybe one painting a year and it was very crude. Just one-color pieces, out of the tube. I didn’t even mix my paint.
I remember all through my twenties thinking, ‘In another life I’ll be a painter…’”

    That other life came more quickly than she’d ever imagine. During her late twenties a series of events and a particularly difficult loss, that of a close friend, began to weigh heavily. And Jenn Porreca, nonprofit fundraiser, daughter of a tombstone mason,
burned out.

“I just left the life that I knew, and left the security of my job and healthcare benefits.
I wanted to do something with my life.”

    An unavoidable reclusion followed: far from her San Francisco home, with nothing but the savings she had. It was Hawaii—a boat captain’s empty house. Her bed: a futon cushion. Her studio: his front porch, with one small light hanging overhead. And there sat Jenn Porreca, teaching herself to paint.

    It began with hieroglyphs she’d paint on found wood. Almost as a street artist. Then, a stack of small canvases on her lap. For three months she’d ponder, look for space, and try to wriggle out of a darkness through painting. And then, almost as suddenly as she picked up for the island, she returned to the mainland.

Petal Pusher
“Wow, I was on my own at Niagara Bar in New York, downstairs, showing my art and thinking, ‘
I don’t know what I’m doing here, but I’m just going to show my work.' I couldn’t put food in the refrigerator for two months after that. But I just felt so compelled to keep working and keep painting—like it was the only thing I could hold onto for a while.”

    Time passes and her style evolves. Jenn is painting even more. Researching and blending antique yellows, greens, and reds. Studying techniques and glazes. Now she’s painting a woman, over and over. Falling in love with the character. Creating clothing, texture, and environments for her. And then there’s the incredible hair.

    She’s a little different each time. But there’s something familiar. Maybe in a way it’s a reflection of the artist. Her travels: Asia, Philippines, Abu Dhabi. Her experiences perhaps silhouetted in the background of each piece.

    Most importantly, though, Jenn Porreca has finally painted herself an opening. And she walks right through it.

“It’s cool because you see the evolution in your own spirit through your work. There was a dark period in my painting and you can see it. I was just working out so much stuff, and now the technique has evolved. It’s just such a blessing to have this relationship with my work; to be able to see where you’d like it to go in the future; to know you can have that to your last dying day, it’s a gift.”

Halcyon Days (Detail)
“I went from this really dark space to, ‘
I want to create a sense of peace in my work.' It’s very much a self reflection—looking for a sense of center and balance. That’s where the spiritual work has been happening for me. I didn’t have that when I first started, but I found that through painting. I hope I can share that with people.”

    I’m certain she will. Because Jenn is still busy writing her story. There’s lots more to do.

“I want to leave a lot before I go. That’s why I stopped staying up, painting until seven in the morning, and smoking all kinds of cigarettes and drinking. I mean, I went through that phase, and now I’m like, ‘ok, I really want to see where my art is when I’m eighty.' I want that, so I have to take care of myself. I’m not trying to be the artist who dies at thirty-one.”

{july 2008}
(images c/o Jenn Porreca)