Jennifer Gough is a self-taught, multidisciplinary, visual and conceptual artist. Jennifer has been working as a visual artist in Kitchener/Waterloo and the surrounding area for the past ten years. During this time, Jennifer has established a strong presence in the arts community.
Jennifer is well known for her abstract contemporary and mixed media paintings. Her work is centered around creating connections, inspiring introspection, and self exploration. Through the use of color, texture, and composition, Jennifer creates compelling works that encourage us to examine who we are and what motivates us. Inspired by the belief that we create our own future through our thoughts and actions, with a strong focus on conversation and communication, Jennifer’s work becomes a starting point. A place where questions and answers are equally important and explored openly.
Last month, I stopped by Jennifer's Victoria Street studio in Kitchener to chat.
1. You just celebrated a milestone of being an artist for 10 years. How did you get to where you are right now?
Before I became an artist, I had never been in a job for more than three years. Same industry, but I would move around, switch to different stores. I come from a retail background. I was in retail for about 12 years, working in all different places. I started from part-time and worked my way up to management. I wasn't on any kind of quick path. I got married, I was just sort of living my life.
Then, came a fork in the road. It was sort of like that epiphany moment, where I wondered if I was going to do this for the rest of my life. Working in retail is great, it's fun. I enjoy management and all those things, but where's the fulfillment? That was the question I was asking myself. What do I want to do for the rest of my life? The answer just came to me...be an artist. So I quit my job. I ended up leaving my husband, not because he was a bad guy, but just because it was sort of that time where you know, people come into your life for a reason and then you have to progress. I got an art studio and two part time jobs that were really low responsibility so I didn't have to bring my work home with me. I didn't have to deal with a store, I wasn't responsible for scheduling and all that stuff. I did all of that in one month. I took all of my expenses to minimum. I had this thinking, relaxing moment where it was like this is the ground up. I kind of felt like I was born again, reborn. I feel like I've lived two lives. That was the first portion of my life and then now the art is the second portion.
For about two and a half years, really all I wanted to do was create. I just wanted to make art. I didn't know anyone in the art world, I had no art connections, so I turned to my community to get connected. I started doing all kind of charity events, I started donating things, just participating in what was going on in the community. Through that, I met a lot of great people and got a lot of opportunities and connections. Community was the base. I went through a phase where I didn't say no to anything. It was like that movie Yes Man. I said that whatever anyone offered me, I was just going to do it all. I think you sort of have to do that at the beginning, just to get your ground, solidify your connections and build relationships with people.
I was working at Ford as the shuttle driver. I had that job for eight years and would just switch my part time jobs. As my art business started to take off, I would get rid of a job. About four years into it, I got rid of my second job and kept my job at the dealership. Another four years went by and I thought to myself I'm spending 24 hours a week there doing really nothing that's going to further my future, so I decided to quit that and focus on being an artist 100% of the time. It's not really a sexy story. A career in the arts doesn't have a manual. I believe in the arts you have to create your own success. It's also luck and opportunity and things that help you along as long as you're on your right path. This is what I was meant to do. As long as I'm doing what I'm supposed to do, all of those other things will fall in line.
2. You're self taught. Do you ever wish that you had formal arts training?
Sometimes I do because I think I get to the same point as artists with formal training, but it takes me longer because there's a whole experimental process there that I go through. Anytime I want to try a format or a medium, there's always that unknowing. Someone who's been trained knows how to paint with oils and watercolours and different things like that. I have to experiment but sometimes I like it better because I don't have any rules that I have to follow. Generally, artists that are trained in the arts believe that this is the way that it's supposed to be done, that they have to follow this certain process. I don't have to adhere to any of that. I can go way off in my own direction. A lot of times I feel like it's a little more freeing and liberating because I get to do the exploration.
3. Describe a typical day for you.
I wish I could say that every day I get up and go straight to the canvas, but that's just not the case when you're running a business. I think if I were represented in one or two different galleries and other people were in charge of my marketing and sales it would be a different story, but I'm a small business owner, a one man show. Generally I get up, I do meditation, I walk my dog. I tackle my inbox and do some social media. Typically in the afternoon is when I get to the canvas. One hour before lunch. A couple hours after lunch. Most of the time I'm going to events. I tend to work a lot a night too. I'll go back to the canvas at nine or ten at night and sometimes I work until three or four in the morning. That throws off my routine for the next day. I usually only do that when I know that my schedule can afford me to sleep in a little in the morning.
4. Who are some of your favourite artists?
When I first started out I was really into pop art. Warhol, Jasper Johns, stuff like that. I was just drawn to their work. Those are the people you look to, you try to emulate their techniques. I think a lot of that has taken me through my evolution as an artist. I generally stay away from the old masters. I'm more inspired by what the artists of today are doing. I like Françoise Nielly. I'm always looking at installation work, I'm fascinated by it.
5. Are most of your clients/collectors new customers or returning customers?
I've got a little bit of everything. I've got word of mouth clients, I've got people who contact me through my website. A lot of people see my work at shows and they either commission something or they buy something I already have.
6. What's the most ambitious project you've worked on to date?
I'd have to say the art that I did for Communitech. That was completely out of my realm. It's a 5' x 8' world map and it's made out of computer parts. That piece was major because first of all I was working with materials that I'd never worked with before. It's all motherboards and chips and the innards of a computer. The sheer size of it was daunting, also trying to come up with a concept that was interesting to me and to the tech sector. It took me three weeks to take apart the computers and a month to complete the piece.
7. What have been your career highs and lows?
My show in New York in 2014 was a pretty high point. It was in the heart of Chelsea, the art district in New York. That was such an amazing experience to see myself outside of what I built in Kitchener Waterloo. That was major. Last year I got mentioned in FORBES so that was pretty cool. Low points, I've got to say I haven't had a lot of definite low points. I know everyone has low days and high days. The low points are just those challenges that you have to overcome to be successful. Sometimes fighting with the mindset of I can be successful and this can be done, is challenging.
8. In addition to being a visual artist, you're also an actress. What made you want to make that artistic move and does your visual art process help you with your acting?
Well, I've only done a few things acting, so I don't know that I really consider myself as an actress in so many words. I find it really fun. Everything I do, I kind of look at it as kind of a playground. I want to have fun with my life. I want to have experiences with my life, I want to try different things. Acting was one of those things that rolled into my life and went "hey look, why don't you try this?" Again, I'm one of those people who sees an opportunity, thinks it sounds fun and does it. Does my art help? Maybe, I don't know. I'm pretty open-minded, so I think that probably helps. That's part of being an artist, being able to be open to ideas and embrace different things. I do like the acting. It's pretty fun.
9. People often say there's no money in pursuing a career as an artist or in the arts in general. Most of us have heard stories of people who wanted to pursue the arts but were talked out of it by their parents. Do you have anything to say about that or have any advice to offer to aspiring creatives?
I would say that to have a full meaningful existence as a person, you need to do what you love. Whether that's as a career, as a hobby, or as a participant in what someone else is doing, if you love something and it makes you happy, do that thing. I think that when parents are either encouraging or discouraging their children to pursue a certain career, they should think about the happiness of their child, as opposed to financial stuff, because happy people who are doing what they love are going to be successful. I don't think we concentrate on that enough. In schools, art is seen as an elective sort of thing.
I say "if it's to be, it's up to me". How badly you want something will reflect on how successful you are. If parents taught their kids that sort of ideology behind the things that they want to do, whether it's musician, artist, writer...all of those careers, it's difficult to become super super wealthy, super successful, but people do it. It's been done in history. It's been done in the past. If they can do it, why can't I? That's the way I look at things. When I started, I just didn't quit my job and expect to be successful. You have to do it with a smart plan. I don't think people should shy away from doing what they love just because people say there's no money in it.
10. What's next for you?
That is a very good question. I don't honestly know because my career has been so wide. I do so many different things. I think what's next now is coaching and mentoring, sharing my 10 years of experience and what I've learned along the way. Little tips and tricks that I've come up with personally that help me run my business and become successful. People are coming to me and asking for the mentoring and coaching. My mantra behind what I do has always been to inspire people. When I was just starting out I inspired through my own actions, living by example, showing that this can be done. Through my paintings, I try to encourage people to really think about what it is that they love. Where do you want to go? What do you want to do? The sky's the limit. Having that positive energy in the work that people are drawn to...this is just taking it to the next level. I think that's where I'm going.
Interview by Glodeane Brown
All photos provided by Jennifer Gough, Minds Eye Studio Art
Keep up to date with Jennifer here: