SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Jenny Reinhardt’s artwork, inspired by street art and the history of sugar, is on display in the Herb and Milly Iris Gallery at the South Orange Performing Arts Center until Feb. 22. “The Price of Sugar” ties together the bright colors of candy packaging and the history of sugar’s origins. In interviews with the News-Record on Dec. 13 at an opening reception for the exhibit, Reinhardt and curator Jeremy Moss described how they put the show together.
Moss is the executive director at Valley Arts in Orange, just around the corner from Reinhardt’s studio. They connected after meeting in the neighborhood one day, and Moss asked her to put a show together for the SOPAC gallery.
“I walked in and said ‘I think you’re pretty talented, why don’t I give you a year to put a show together?’” Moss said. “She came up with the theme and it’s just trust after that.”
The 19 pieces range in size, from 8-by-10-inch to 180-by-82-inch canvases that take up an entire wall. Moss said he’s never had anything so large hanging in the gallery before and had to leave some walls blank so that viewers can stand back to get a glimpse of the full piece of art.
“I love the fact that she’s obsessed with street art,” Moss said. “It’s very Banksy-like. I’m fascinated with the juxtaposition between graffiti and classical figure drawing and she’s familiar with both. You get a quick jolt; it’s kind of in-your-face graffiti art.”
Reinhardt has taught both art history and classical figure drawing, but recently became interested in graffiti and street art.
“I have the deepest respect for street artists,” she said. “I think when you’re focused on realism, you don’t know the story that someone is trying to tell. I love the story of street art, especially when it’s decaying and might be almost gone.”
Reinhardt used that historical context when making the pieces for “The Price of Sugar.” For instance, three smaller pieces in the show are a comment on the Nicaraguan sugarcane harvesters who often die from kidney failure as a result of working in the fields. These pieces, “Nicaraguan Kidney Failure,” “Nicaraguan Casualty” and “Nicaraguan Expendible” depict the faces of Nicaraguan men who worked to deliver sugar to the United States. According to National Geographic, in the past two decades, this silent epidemic in Central America has killed approximately 20,000 men.
“I was trying to balance the harm done with those bright colors,” Reinhardt said. “So the historical context is also important. All that glitters is not always gold. They made their mark and someone should remember them.”
She was also inspired by the gallery itself, since the downstairs area is the concession stand for a movie theater; many of Reinhardt’s pieces feature candy brand logos and popcorn bags. “Popcorn” features exactly that, with a row of hot dogs dancing across the canvas. The cotton candy colors bring to mind a confectionary.
“I was inspired with the concession stand right downstairs,” Reinhardt said. “We all like to relax and we all like to go to the movies, and there’s a graphic element that I like about those things. This is all about casually putting sugar in your mouth. There’s an unconscious thing about it. You’re eating but you’re not really feeding yourself and that’s OK, because it tastes good. So much of the time we just blindly eat these things.”
The materials Reinhardt incorporated into the pieces were sometimes new to her, she said. Some paintings used stencils for designs, which is something that she never would have done in the past. Other types of paint included spray paint and house paint. She also traced and photocopied some images, which she said she wouldn’t have done until recently either.
“I used acrylic paints in some, which I never would have done in the past because I always felt like it was a shortcut, but now I want shortcuts,” she said. “There’s a clear varnish that I drip on and then stick things onto the canvas. Sometimes I’ll layer and then rip things off or just let them rip away and see what happens.”
Though “The Price of Sugar” is on the surface about sweet treats, Reinhardt said that as she worked, other themes began to present themselves in the pieces.
“I was finding recurring themes,” she said. “I became really interested in the passage of time. A lot of feminism has come out in the work, and I’m excited to work with more color and see what happens next.”
Photos by Amanda Valentovic