Jacqueline Baerwald describes herself mostly as a painter, but her body of work encompasses a variety of genres, including mixed media, assemblage, and sculpture. Her current work combines painting, found objects, and poetry.
The ‘My Melondy: Issues of Adolescence’ series is conceptual, featuring the recurring image of a young girl painted on stacks of found books. The books, which are entirely thrifted, found, or gifted from friends, are carefully curated and arranged so that the titles form a found poem, which ultimately becomes an integral part of the piece.
The work explores the issues faced by young women today, including body image, abuse, and the effects of family dissolution. “The work isn’t based on my life as much as a handful of close girlfriends who experienced rather massive trauma in their lives. The darker paintings of the Melondy series, well… I can attach a name or several names to each one of them,” she explained.
“Melondy is this sort of cartoonish character I created. I started painting her in 2011, and for a long time, I really only associated her with the average teenage girl… I only personally related to her here and there,” she said. “It’s strange, because I used to feel very different from her, but now I’m realizing that she embodies a lot about myself.”
Baerwald has enjoyed seeing how viewers relate to the work. “The work reflects a lot of pain,” she said, “but also hope- the idea that this isn’t the end of it.” I don’t know how comfortable I am with the word ‘activist,’ but the work is meant to instigate some sort of change. I don’t want to tell the viewer what that change is, but instead inspire them; to start a thinking process in their minds. I want art to be beautiful and interesting in technique, but also to make me stop and think about life, other people’s lives, the impact I have, and what I can do to make this world a better place, even in my small sphere of influence. At the core, that is what I’m trying to do with the ‘Melondy’ series.”
Prior to this series, the artist had been painting in a more realistic manner. “I want children and young people to enjoy the work as much as adults. This is the first time I’d tried something more cartoon-like, more whimsical. It’s been an interesting detour to go down this road, and [the work] seems to resonate with a lot of people,” she said. “The concept and symbolism- the ideas that I am going to convey through the imagery come first.
The work uses this cute little character that people fall in love with to address issues that they don’t want to talk about. But she draws you in, and you want to love her, and you think about how she’s experiencing a lot of pain, and decide, ‘Let’s stop brushing this under the rug.’”
Baerwald has no shortage of concepts for new work. “I have a long log of ideas. If I had more time, I’d paint all of them. I do a lot of reading on all sorts of subjects, and I have a huge interest in the human condition. I end up reading a lot of things that have scientific or religious components to them, looking at different worldviews, various societal issues and mindsets. Ultimately,” she said, “my work distills more about what is going on in the active mind, how we can monitor our own thinking, and how our actions follow.”
Jacqueline Baerwald’s work currently can be seen at ZIA Gallery.