Inside the Artist's Studio: Jenny Morgan in Bushwick 

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Is there any other genre of painting that interests you, or are you pretty committed to portraiture?
Right now it's portraiture, and it's always bee figurative. In my early work I was just chopping the head off and focusing on the body itself and bringing in fabric to bring in color because I wasn't sure how to do that with the body. So the picture's going to be there, I'm just not sure how it's going to evolve. Because I'm already getting to a point where I've done the same set-up where it's the classical bust and they're in the center, and I've played with everything I've played with, what else has to change? So in the next body or work there'll be more changes in terms of how they're positioned or structured. I don't think I'll ever abstract the anatomy of the figure, just because that feels so uncomfortable, it's like the last realm to push myself into. But I want it to evolve, always. I feel in a way like I need to make it even more organic now because I've gone to the line work. I haven't figured it out yet, I need to take a month off and come back to it.

Is that scary at all, the notion that you're reaching then conclusion of a series?
More exciting, because it's the newness of trying something that's exciting. That's where the highs come from, it's doing something you didn't think you were capable of doing.

This exhibition features, as far as I know, your first multi-figure painting, a triptych; where did that come from?
It's still in progress, and it's getting near the end. These are two other girls I work with, and since I moved to New York my hardcore friendship group is still in Utah where I grew up, and you think you're never going to make those same kinds of connections. I never thought that I would as an adult because I've had the same group of friends since elementary school, and I live my life missing them and living away from them. And I work with these two girls, and it sounds cheesy, but a month ago we were at this party and there was this weird moment when we all looked at each other and were like, "we all get each other, and there's a really special connection we have and we should really foster this." It was just a crazy thing that you only experience in junior high, but it was in a very adult, spiritual way. And it's the first three-figure painting I've done, but I just feel very enthused with their energy. I'm very excited I could get them to pose—they're both artists. It's easiest to get artists to get naked for you; the commoners don't want to do it usually.

Is it ever difficult for you to paint people you're so close to, or does that actually make it easier?
I think it's better. When I was in grad school I wanted to paint prostitutes in this old, traditional male portraiture way. And I was looking in the back of the Voice. And I had this friend who had a porno shot in his living room the week before, and so I just called the girls who were in the porno and I asked them to come pose for me and it was the most disconnected painting I've ever done. I had no connection to them and I had to pay them, and it felt really disingenuous. And I painted an ex-boyfriend after we broke up, and actually I hated the painting so much I asked David to come paint on top of it, so we made this painting but we destroyed it. There has to be a good vibe with people. So I also can't do portrait commissions. Well, I have done illustration work for New York magazine and the New York Times, but they give me the source images and it's a different frame of mind where I know I'm producing something for an end product and there's no emotional weight in it. That has a different kind of joy in it, other than it has to be done in five days. There's a manufactured distance that I have to just adapt to. Painting Gwyneth Paltrow smiling is not emotional for me.

Is there any part of portrait painting that you find really formally challenging?
Yeah, it's this weird part on the face, like the jowls and the chin, this area has always been perplexing and I don't know why, and it's my least favorite part to paint. I often run through it and just hope that the paint landed in the right place. And it's still an impetus for scraping or blurring. The last elements of detail are always a push to get done.

Do you work on multiple paintings at once?
Yeah, I didn't use to work on multiple paintings at the same time, but since I moved into this space and had more wall space and just more time to be here because I've been working at my day job less, it's been really amazing because I'll make a movement on one painting and realize that it could be done in another painting. So I leave the paintings open for longer and then once they've been photographed they're shut down. But they do hang in waiting for about two months.

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