Conversations about Creativity
An Interview with Artist-Writer
Jill D. Glenn:
Imaginative Links Through A Lifetime
May 25, 2017
Jill D. Glenn is an artist, writer and public speaker who merges her love of history and literature in her dream-like art.
Ellen: What stands out particularly for me in your paintings Jill, is not only your active imagination but also the connections in your paintings to historical periods about which you have read. The history of years long gone seem quite familiar to you. You feel at home in the places you have visited through your reading,
Jill: And visited through my travels as well. First of all, Ellen, I want to thank you for this opportunity to share my reflections on my own journey into the realm of my imagination.
Ellen: I like the fact you say my imagination. We all imagine differently according to our individual life-experiences and how these might resonate with us or affect us in some way. What are your thoughts on this when you relate it to your own imaginative journeys?
Jill: I see in my ongoing imaginative journeys, the continuum and interconnections of events throughout my life – some seemingly unrelated. All this has culminated in what I now do. I never set out with any concrete notions of producing art or writing books.
Ellen: You never initially saw yourself as becoming an artist or a writer?
Jill: Not at all. I think I have always had a strong desire to share with others the beauty I perceive in the world around me and in the stories of the past. I love moving back in time. So I would say that the mediums I use for my art and my writing, provide me with the opportunity to transmit in some way, what I constantly discover in life.
Ellen: I guess also, that what you discover is a result of what you seek? What are the main things you discover in life?
Jill: Joy and new insights! I hope my work encourages others to see and experience their own sense of beauty and joy.
Ellen: And many sources of your joy have come from immersing yourself in books. To what kind of books have you consistently gravitated?
Jill: I have been fortunate enough – in fact I would say – privileged, to be exposed to the world of great teachings, wisdom, ancient texts, poetry and the arts.
Ellen: And you don’t balk at penetrating them?
Jill: I actually love it! I become removed from the here and now and feel as if I am entering new dimensions when I delve deeply into the books I enjoy reading. Books have been my companions throughout my life.
Ellen: So let’s talk about the books you read as a child, and also about your early education.
Jill: I entered kindergarten at St. Agnes School when I was 4 years old. I had already learned to read at home. The first books I remember reading – and which I loved and treasured, were: The Golden Book of The Bible and A Child’s Garden Of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. I felt drawn by Robert Louis Stevenson to sail away. His poems provided me an opportunity to experience a romantic sense of far away places and a life without boundaries. My heroes and my sense of belonging came from the Bible. At school and at home, reading was highly encouraged and that provided me with a wonderful way of expanding my imagination.
Ellen: Reading has been and continues to be a huge source of nourishment to you. Is reading to you, an essential starting point of a thinking life and so therefore should be encouraged strongly for all children – and of course, for adults, too?
Jill: Reading is a gift. Through stories, we can access lives quite different from our own. Creating enthusiasm for exploring books is so important, whether in schools, at home, or through local libraries. Today, there are so many distractions and demands that fill everyday life that reading has been sidelined to the point of neglect. I feel so fortunate to still be surrounded by “real” books.
Ellen: So now let’s turn to your paintings, Jill. As I look at them, I enter vast landscapes of color and story. Narratives unfold. You are telling me tales and I think at the same time, you are revealing these stories to yourself. Your paintings are large and vivid; yet you accomplish much of this with colored pencils. First of all, did you draw your own stories as a kid?
Jill: When I was quite young, I loved sitting at the kitchen table, drawing and coloring with colored pencils. My favorite themes were Viking ships and all kinds of tents. As I drew, I imagined myself sailing away in the ships (or lashed to the bow of a ship in my more dramatic imaginings) and alternately, living in a tent in wide-open space.
Ellen: And the sense of wide-open space is still evoked in your art today.
Jill: I always loved being outdoors and the sense of the bigness of the sky. Today, I still love creating stories in my art. I enjoy working on large canvasses, applying an acrylic wash as background, and then I begin by entering the color-field with a sharpie pen to draw what just seems to appear on the canvas. I alternate between colored pencils, Cray-pas and Caran d’Ache crayons. I then use the sharpie pen to bring forth the characters, landscapes, and stories that seem to tell me that they want to emerge.
Ellen: And I also see in your paintings, the past and present merging.
Jill: Yes, I have always loved traveling into the past to far-away places and imaginatively conversing with great minds. I get to feel that I inhale the perfumes of those times and even hear sounds in my mind as I paint.
Ellen: Can you give me an example of what you might hear when you paint?
Jill: Sure – here is an example: One afternoon while I was sitting at the kitchen table, fully immersed in what I was painting on a small piece of canvas paper, I transported myself in my imagination to what turned out to be an Asian landscape of green-tones – complete with a sitting Buddha on a mountain-top. I unexpectedly heard the most delicate symphony being played with Chinese instruments – so different to the traditional Western symphonic music I knew. It was beautiful! When I finished the canvas I was working on, the music stopped and I was amazed to realize that there was actually no radio on, no music coming from outside – just the music in my head originating, or so it seemed to me, from the piece I was working on. So I named that work, Jade Symphony.
Ellen: It is interesting to me that what I see in your art now are interactions between characters against the backdrop of what makes me think of eternal time through which these figures travel. The characters also sometimes connect with other sojourners who they meet en route. That ability to converse with people from the past through your art, writing and the talks you give, is quite unusual. You actually do experience the times in which these characters lived – something you have always done.
Jill: I do. Furthermore, I have always had a restless desire to visit certain places in the world. Fortunately, I have actually visited some of them during different periods of my life. When I visit some of the places I had only read about, I often feel as if I had been there before – my imaginative visits had given me a sense of familiarity.
Jill: You are right, Ellen. For example, there seemed to have always been a magnet drawing me towards Israel, Ancient Greece, Rome, China, The West in America, and simultaneously, cloisters, mountain tops, places where mystics, scholars, and dreamers sojourn.
Ellen: And I perceive dream-journeys captured in your paintings. I see earthly and unearthly places. I see mystics wandering through ancient terrain, and I see skies.
Jill: Characters appear in my paintings seemingly out of nowhere, climbing mountains, wandering through ancient landscapes, discovering who knows what. They are my companions on this journey on which I have embarked.
Ellen: What about the skies in your paintings? They are vast.
Jill: The all-encompassing vastness of night sky filled with all the stars is for me, a reinforcement of certain words which have always called to me: eternal, limitless, infinity, forever, and endless. I love the feelings and ideas of eternity that these words evoke .
Ellen: Are words an integral stimulus to your art? Can you give me an example?
Jill: I guess unconsciously I try to incorporate the emotions contained in those words into my art, into my writings and into my poetry. An example is this excerpt from Flash of Awareness from my book of poems, In The Garden Of Dreams:
intangible truths understood in the soul
communicate deep from within
giving form to the images traversing the mind
connecting now to a parallel time
as they enter this lifetime we’re in.
Ellen: So there is a sense of timelessness in your words – and art?
Jill: In my way, through my writings, talks and art, I try to convey ideas from the core teachings passed down from generation to generation by groups of peoples. I also try to depict how civilizations from the past continue to exist. Something about the timelessness of the universe and my own romantic conceptions about the inhabitants of this planet who still dwell on it, seem to constantly beckon me to explore further just what I feel.
Ellen: And I love the titles of your paintings. Please give us some and how do you choose them?
Jill: The titles pop into my head spontaneously after the paintings are finished. I find humor in many of my works and can crack myself up when the name surfaces. A few examples of the titles are: Angel Baby and the Blue Cow Samba, We Built Easter Island, The Owl and the Pussy Cat, Is Anybody There? etc. There are many titles I can find in a particular piece, but usually go with the first one that popped into my head.
Ellen: So now let’s go back to your education – your choices of what to study and why you made those selections.
Jill: From kindergarten through high school, St. Agnes was my educational home. Looking back, I was given the valuable tools that have provided me with a lifetime interest in the pursuit of knowledge and creativity. I was taught manuscript printing (I never learned cursive writing) and manuscript inspired me to look at old religious texts. This appreciation found it’s way into my recently published book of poems In The Garden of Dreams – in a poem called A Scribe’s Devotion. I was also exposed to classical music, the history of art, had lots of art classes, and memorized poetry. I was provided a broad, rigorous, classical education. Upon graduating high school from St Agnes, I attended Connecticut College, and graduated with a double major in Studio Art and Comparative Religions. At Conn College, I began a more formalized study of painting and drawing, learning how to see positive and negative space, painting with both acrylic and oil paints, working in charcoals, and learning printmaking. I had a passion for doing large colorful paintings of motorcycle engines. I then attended the Boston Museum School of Fine Art for the next two years where I concentrated on more techniques and disciplines in painting and drawing.
Ellen: And there were times when you had to put doing your art aside?
Jill: There were periods when I had little time to paint because of other work involvement. However, I still remained surrounded by many talented writers and artists. The creations of many of these artists continue to hang on my walls. During my early work career, I worked part-time in a frame shop in Boston where I had the pleasure of working on many diverse and fabulous pieces of art. However, happily for the last eight years, I have been painting and drawing with tremendous abandon and sheer enjoyment – and I still love to work in my kitchen, either on a large easel or on the kitchen table. My paintings have again emerged as a reflection of my dreams, stories and imaginative journeys – similar to what played out in my childhood imagination. My paintings are an open invitation for anyone looking at them – to enter and visit: to sing songs, make up poems, enter the castles, climb up and down the hills, create their own stories and imagine their own journeys into the realms being portrayed. During this creative time, I had the opportunity to be a marketing director of an art gallery where I also curated shows: a terrific way to keep being exposed to so many talented artists.
Ellen: Just as your art and writing today is stimulated through your imagination, it is also a result of your continuous studies. Tell us about the themes of your books.
Jill: My writing has centered on biblical exploration and the teachings drawn from different cultures. I am fascinated constantly, with world-views that emanated from those times. My most recent book of poems, In The Garden Of Dreams, is in many ways, a reflection of my lifetime journey.
Ellen: What are you hoping that your readers will gain from dipping into In The Garden Of Dreams?
Jill: I hope these poems will inspire others to dream as well. Aren’t we lucky to have the capacity within ourselves to dream?
The Dream Veil
The Dream veil casts a shadow
across the dreamer’s eyes
lost in dreams
in life’s routine
the dreamer leaves this world.
Ellen: Dreams, I know come unbidden but I am going now to prescribe a dream for you, one that you can share with us. Here it is – Dream Conversations – where you can merge history with the present seamlessly. I am now propelling you into conversations with people from the past and the present – any guests of your choosing. As for your guest list – thinkers with whom you would like to converse.
Jill: What fun! Good! No hesitation here…. I want to meet and converse with the following people and these are the things I will be asking them about:
First comes Confucius. I wish to meet with him in China – in a quiet garden. In a conversation with him, I will ask him how he received his wisdom and his conceptual thought processes. You see, in his writings, he has referred to himself as a transmitter, not an originator. I would really like to discuss with him from his own perspective, his understanding of the guiding principles of good and evil, of personal conduct, of proper governing conduct, and his awareness of the universe as understood from living in the landscape in China. I would be honored to learn and absorb any wisdom he wishes to share with me
I then would travel to Spain, to meet Abraham Abulafia at a place of his choosing. Abulafia was an eccentric, adventurous, searcher for “higher truth” who was born in Spain in 1240. He was a prolific writer of kabbalistic works, commentary on The Torah and meditations. In his pursuit of knowledge, he studied medicine, logic, science, etc. He traveled extensively around the Mediterranean. I am curious and truly interested in finding out what drove him, what inspired him, how his visions came to him, and what he actually felt as he experienced his insights. I have many questions I would like to ask him.
Then, in real time, I would love to meet Brian Greene and Neil deGrasse Tyson, separately of course as I wish to be able to focus all my attention on each one. Since they are so busy, they can each choose the best place to meet. They are my two favorite contemporary star gazer-dreamers.
So with Brian, I would inquire about string theory and discuss the roots of Hebrew words in the beginning of the creation text in The Bible where I see a correlation to string theory. I have many questions on what makes his imagination see and sense strings and how he travels into the deepest parts of space.
As for Neil, I would want to know more about the properties found in stars and humans. I would ask him just what he feels when he looks up at the night sky. What is it that draws him towards the vastness of the universe? What does he dream about?
And I would love to explore creation with both of them!
Read all Ellen’s interviews in one place in the Conversations About Creativity Book.
Her conversations with diverse creators give readers fascinating insights into the commonalities, the differences, the passions, the persistence and the joyful engagement found in the innovative process. There is no ownership of creativity which exists in many disciplines. These interviews are inspirational and catalysts for self-reflection and creative engagement.