Local artist Jennifer Annesley explores human emotion through light and watercolour
When Jennifer Annesley’s artistic career began 34 years ago, she didn’t have tools like Instagram or TikTok to promote her stunning watercolours and to find new clients. But what she did have was more innovative and rarer a sales tool than most artists—even the highly successful ones—can claim today: an annual solo exhibition of her work.
During her Fine Arts degree at the University of Alberta, Annesley was fortunate to begin receiving commissions, which helped her find representation with a couple of local galleries when she graduated. However, she shares, this wasn’t sustainable for making a living as an artist: “You sent your paintings [to the galleries] and then you just waited and hoped that a sale came in.” In 1994, a friend who loved her work suggested collaborating together on a client appreciation party. When he saw the size of her contact list—which totalled between 300 and 400 names, even then—he knew they needed a bigger venue. The Fairmont Hotel Macdonald, with its Châteauesque structure and luxurious atmosphere, became the perfect complement to Annesley’s work that explores light and darkness in architecture and nature. “The night was successful enough that my husband Neil and I thought, ‘Let’s do it next year on our own,’” Annesley shares. “Now the show has been running for 30 years, and it’s been the cornerstone of my career.”
It comes as no surprise to a viewer of Annesley’s art that she can maintain such a dedicated audience and patronage for three decades. In her process, Annesley works off several photographs of places from her travels in both the natural beauty of Alberta’s backcountry and the man-made splendour of architecture from cities around the world. “I’ll visit a place a few times a day to see where the light is coming in from,” she explains. “Sometimes a piece of light will just sweep across a floor—and that’s the composition, that’s the moment that I’m trying to capture.”
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Annesley works mainly in watercolour, which she is a clear master of, being an elected member of the Federation of Canadian Artists, the Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour, and most recently a signature member in the American Watercolor Society, but she also appreciates working with the bare-bones nature of charcoal. “Watercolour’s the hardest medium, as they always say,” she shares. “But I think it has a real ability to render light and luminosity because you’re using the white of the paper as the source of light.” This helps her achieve in her art a “poetic realism”—a term she credits to fellow Edmonton painter, Robert Lemay.
Annesley doesn’t give her work descriptive titles because she wants the viewer to find their own sense of self in it, a concept that her mother coined as a “silent transfer of beauty.” She wants anyone who brings home one of her paintings to have an emotional attachment to it: “I hope they see a sense of place and that it speaks to their heart.”
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