AN EXPERIENCE OF JOY. The artist Jennifer Guidi works and lives in Los Angeles, California. Represented by Gagosian, Massimo de Carlo and David Kordansky Gallery, her work has been exhibited around the world. Her solo exhibition Mountain Range is on view in the Richard Rogers Gallery at Château La Coste, Aix-en-Provence, France, until September 3rd 2023, and from September 16th to January 7th 2024 the Orange County Museum of Art in California will host her first institutional exhibition in the United States.

You can listn to the podcast of this interview here.

Jennifer Guidi, can you please describe your Mountain Range exhibition, currently on show at Château La Coste?

The show was conceived about a year ago when I saw there was a connection with the mountain range here in Provence and the work that I do in Los Angeles. It felt like a perfect fit for me to push the idea of an inner landscape, and to have these eight paintings nestled in the mountain that’s cantilevered over by the Rogers pavilion and use the view. That felt like an exciting challenge. The exhibition was organized by Gagosian and Paddy McKillen at Château La Coste.

In Provence we are near the famous Montagne Sainte-Victoire, painted and repainted by Cézanne. We are in the fields, painted and repainted by Van Gogh. Was that why you wanted to make this exhibition here?

Yes, since I started painting more than 30 years ago, those painters have been an inspiration for me. Over and over again, those are the images that I look at in terms of paint marks and colour and composition. Those paintings inspire me, so to be here and to see this in person, but also to have more of an imaginary experience – because when I’m painting mountains I’m not necessarily painting a specific mountain or place, it’s a combination of many different places – is more of a journey of painting than of an actual location.

“It is my job as an artist to uplift people.”


Photo credit: Brica Wilcox

© Jennifer Guidi, Courtesy of Gagosian.

Jennifer Guidi, you were born and grew up on the West Coast of America but you moved to the East Coast to study in Boston and then at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Was that important for you?

Yes. I went to Boston University for undergrad. They have a very traditional painting program and at the time I was a figurative painter. I learned to paint and draw from life and that gave me an important foundation, learning how to put a picture together and train my eye to see light, colour, space, composition.

When you completed your studies why did you return to California?

I couldn’t afford New York, and it was between New York and Los Angeles in terms of where painters were. 20 years ago when I moved back to LA you could have a pretty inexpensive life, rent an apartment or a studio for a lot less and have more space. That’s drawn a lot of artists to Los Angeles. You can also have more of a quiet social and living situation in Los Angeles, where New York is very busy and you’re always on the go. In LA you can really remove yourself and spend more time in the studio. Also, the community of artists there is more encouraging and supportive.

You meditate early every morning. Does meditation help you to have an idea for a painting?

It definitely does. With meditation there’s a certain opening in one’s mind that happens naturally, a connection to the universe or just a quieting of the mind so that ideas can come through. If I didn’t have that quiet time, I might not have that moment where I visualize or think of something.

You studied to be a conventional painter but something changed when you went to Morocco and you started using sand for texture and colour, mixing it with paint?

The texture of sand was always something that I was attracted to. I don’t know why, but “How can I use sand?” was an idea that kept popping to mind over the years. I started experimenting with it and mixing it with different acrylic polymers and putting it on the canvas, and by experimenting I was able to come up with the right mixture. Now I will trowel it over a canvas and mark into it, and after that dries I think of that as my armature and then I paint on top of it with oil paints and build on that, but each painting is different. Either the sand will already start with a colour – if I mix that into it – or I will continue to play with colours by painting on top of it.

In your work do you combine both your own abstract idea of the landscape and the actual landscape that inspired you?

Yes, because I can go beyond what is colour in nature in terms of more fluorescent brighter colours, because I want there to be a certain vibration, a certain glow to it. Sometimes I feel it’s beyond nature, more imagination. Or there will be certain things in nature that I’m inspired by, like sunsets and sunrises, flowers, birds and plants.

Your style has been compared to the ancient tradition of sand mandalas, and at the same time to name just one to an artist like Georgia O’Keeffe, who flourished in the landscape of New Mexico. How did you find yourself in that idea of the mandala?

In 2014 Tibetan monks came to the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles for two weeks to work on a sand mandala. I liked watching how they worked together, working around and out in a circular motion; and when they finished they wiped it away. I don’t erase what I make. My mandala stays, but I like the idea of the centre point and this source of energy moving out, to be able to put this energy that I have within myself into the canvas. So it is this idea of energy moving in and out, but it is a permanent piece.

“The texture of sand was always something that I was attracted to.”

How come your Italian gallery, Massimo de Carlo, took you to Villa Croce in Genoa? 

I’ve also shown with them in Milan, but my first show with Massimo was in London in 2016/2017. Ilaria Bonacossa, who was at the Villa Croce at that time, saw my show in London, and from that visit she invited me to do a show at Villa Croce.

And how did your solo exhibition Full Moon at the Long Museum in Shanghai in 2022 come about?

I was invited by the museum. I wasn’t able to go to Shanghai for that show because of Covid restrictions, but I went to Hong Kong and Shanghai in 2018 when I had a show with Gagosian. That was a very special trip for me, another turning point in my life. I went to a lot of temples and something really resonated with me. I don’t consider myself a Buddhist, but I have a lot of affection for the Buddhist beliefs and philosophies. I was able to bring a large survey exhibition of five years’ work to the Long Museum when they had been closed on lockdown for many months. It was a very hard time, and my show was the first one that opened where people were able to go and see art, to go to museums, to even come out of their homes. I had so many messages from people who were able to go to an exhibition that was about colour and joy and meditation.

Later this year your own country is calling you back with a show titled And So It Is at the Orange County Museum in California that opens in September 2023? 

Yes, this will also be a survey, of close to ten years of work from when I started making abstract paintings after I went to Morocco. I wasn’t working with sand right away because those paintings came out of looking at the stitches on the backs of rugs and taking photos of those and making works on paper. That was how I was able to take a realistic object and turn it into my own abstract mark painting, where before I felt I had to paint an image. I was able to empty that out to where it was about a practice of hand repetition, and through that practice of repetition and painting over and over was how the connection with my meditation practice happened.

Those first paintings were all black and white. Why do you now make a strong use of colour?

I want there to be an experience of joy. I also think there’s a connection in colour. Naturally as humans we are drawn to colour. Whether it’s a field of lavender or a sunset, there is a beauty in that that we all love, and I am connected to that as well. But it really depends on the mood of what I am trying to create.

Some painters try to show how terrible life is or depict tragedy. Do you try to do the opposite?

There is tragedy in life, obviously, but there’s also a lot of joy and a lot of amazing things to live for. That’s really what I connect with on a personal level and what I put into my work and want people to get out of it.

Is this also why you like being in California?

In Los Angeles there is that connection with nature, with the light, with the mountains. That’s something that feeds me. I know I need to be there to have that to feed my work.

Jennifer Guidi

Jennifer Guidi
We Live in a World of Wonders (Painted Natural Sand, Rainbow Gradient Sky, White, Green, Orange and Black Mountains, Yellow, Black, Turquoise, Pink, Mint Green, Green and Purple, Black Ground), 2023
Sand, acrylic, oil and rocks on linen
27 × 34 × 2 1⁄ 2 inches (68.6 × 86.4 × 6.4 cm)
GUIDI 2023.0009 © Jennifer Guidi, Courtesy of Gagosian

Jennifer Guidi

Jennifer Guidi
Miracles of Nature (Painted Natural Sand, Blue-Pink-Purple Sky, Multicolor Mountain, Black Ground), 2023 Sand, acrylic, oil and rocks on linen
27 × 34 × 2 1⁄ 2 inches (68.6 × 86.4 × 6.4 cm)
GUIDI 2023.0001 © Jennifer Guidi, Courtesy of Gagosian

Jennifer Guidi

Jennifer Guidi
Morning Wrapped Land Aglow (Painted Natural Sand, Orange Gradient Sky, Multicolored Mountains, Black Ground), 2023, JGPSH.F003.23 Sand, acrylic, oil and rocks on linen
74 × 92 × 2 1⁄ 2 inches (188 × 233.7 × 6.4 cm)
GUIDI 2023.0011 © Jennifer Guidi, Courtesy of Gagosian

Jennifer Guidi

Jennifer Guidi
Dreams Stretched Along the Roof of the World (Painted Natural Sand, Sunset Sky, Multicolored Mountain, Black Ground), 2023 Sand, acrylic, oil and rocks on linen
74 × 92 × 2 1⁄ 2 inches (188 × 233.7 × 6.4 cm)
GUIDI 2023.0012 © Jennifer Guidi, Courtesy of Gagosian

Jennifer Guidi

Jennifer Guidi
Hawk Soars Skyward (Painted Natural Sand, Yellow-Orange-Pink Sky, Green, Purple and Black Mountains, Red, Blue, Purple, Turquoise, Yellow, Orange, Lavender and Green, Black Ground), 2023
Sand, acrylic, oil and rocks on linen
27 × 34 × 2 1⁄ 2 inches (68.6 × 86.4 × 6.4 cm)
GUIDI 2023.0008 © Jennifer Guidi, Courtesy of Gagosian

Jennifer Guidi

Jennifer Guidi
Truths Woven Within (Painted Natural Sand, Blue Sky, Lavender, Yellow and Green, Green Mountain, Multicolored, Pink with Yellow, Lavender,Black, Blue, Green and Orange, Blue Ground ), 2023
Sand, acrylic, oil and rocks on linen
40 × 80 × 2 1⁄ 2 inches (101.6 × 203.2 × 6.4 cm)
GUIDI 2023.0013 © Jennifer Guidi, Courtesy of Gagosian

“I don’t consider myself a Buddhist, but I have a lot of affection for the Buddhist beliefs and philosophies.”

Jennifer Guidi, California is also a technological centre. Do you relate to that side of things?

Like we were talking about an artist going to either New York or Los Angeles, those are big centres and big energy points on the earth and I think there is a reason why people move to certain places. It does draw many great minds, very talented people, and it creates more excitement. I’m not a super technical person. I don’t want to say that I don’t pay attention to that, I know it’s going on, but I really stand back and watch to see what’s going to happen. Similar to when NFTs were all the buzz, but I’m not interested in that. The conversations that I’m having with my artist friends are about paint and clay. Humans will always be drawn to make things with their hands and want to look at and experience that. We’re going to keep coming back to that.

Are you slow or fast in your work?

It really depends. When I’m working on something like the mountain paintings that are in this show I’m fairly slow, because I don’t have a clear path from A to B of this is what I’m going to do. It’s a journey, and sometimes a struggle to get to what I want to accomplish.

Do you work on one piece at a time or several pieces together?

Maybe three at a time, because I also have to wait for them to dry; and other times I don’t really know what a specific picture needs, so I’ll leave it up, work on something else and I’ll make a move on one painting and then that’s what the other painting needs too. It’s a constant back and forth, with paintings communicating with each other.

How does your work develop and change over time?

We will see what the paintings tell me! I always have ideas, so it’s about putting an idea onto canvas. Every once in a while I will go back to black and white, but I’m a natural colourist and I’m drawn to colour so it’s hard to stay away from that. It depends on the mood of what I’m trying to create.

Is it difficult to be an artist?

There’s always struggle within art, because an artist can get to a place where you feel like you know exactly what you’re doing and then sometimes the paint will tell you something different. That’s also the exciting part that helps you push through to the next level.

Nowadays there is an explosion in the visibility of artists from parts of the world such as the Far East, Africa and South America. Is this here to stay?

Yes, art now really does include the whole world. That started when I joined Instagram over ten years ago, that you could be communicating with someone in Japan or China or Africa. You have a window open to the whole world and access to talent that we never knew existed before, so it’s only natural that art from everywhere has more exposure. It creates more interesting dialogue between artists, seeing connections no matter where we are.

Are there some contemporary artists that you admire and associate with socially?

I am a fan of many artists. In Los Angeles there’s not a particular place that we’re going to or the same cafe or bar to meet, but there is a supportive community and we see each other at gallery openings and the occasional party. A lot of my artist friends have children, so we’re busy making our work and also raising families.

Do you think art can change people?

I do! It is my job as an artist to uplift people. I focus on the beauty in the world in order to provide solace, peace, and joy for people during dark times as well as the good times. I hope that what I create achieves that. I am an optimist.

Thank you very much, and good luck with your exhibitions at La Coste and in Orange County in the fall.

Portrait of Jennifer Guidi. Photo credit: Brica Wilcox © Jennifer Guidi, Courtesy of Gagosian.