The Woman in Red in the ‘House of Blue Nights’
Edmonds artist Jonlee Nunn goes where her heart leads
BY CAROL BANKS WEBER
The artists and the people in Edmonds have been so amazing.”
Jonlee Nunn brushes aside first-place ribbons, honorable mentions, and newspaper clippings to get to a canvas, where her heart is.
Her blue-green strokes meet up against a fading sunset in a field of “sensuous, undulating” hills that remind her of Northern California and Tuscany. “I paint from imagination,” says the mixed media and acrylics artist, drifting from one canvas to another in her private Edmonds studio.
She returns to the rolling hills often. They’re her favorite, a reminder of travels with photographer/writer husband Tom through Northern California, and then, later, visiting breathtaking Tuscany.
“When we drove through Northern California, the rolling hills just fascinated me with the multi-green colors, and the appearance of movement. The slow, sensuous, undulating curves of these hills, they just went on and on. When I came home, I could still see the rolling hills in my mind, so I started to paint them — all from seeing and imagining, seeing and imagining,” she describes, lost in the moment. “After spotting cypress in the rolling fields of Tuscany, I just combined them.”
She soon entered a world of her own, where memory and fantasy mixed, painting more and more. The rolling hills began “to evolve, and that’s what a series is.”
Another series features women in red (“I like the color”), born from Nunn’s childhood fascination with fashion, dressing paper dolls, and seeing ladies in their fashion statements — hats, gloves, and frocks — shopping with her mom at downtown Seattle’s Nordstrom’s and Frederick & Nelson.
After a few paintings, fashion began to turn inward. Her “Red Dress” series evolved from what the women wore to the women themselves. The series “stems from my admiration of women. It’s mostly about connection, solitude, resilience,” she states. “When we go through troubles, we are alone, we’re contemplative. I’ve seen many women who go beyond pain, whether it’s breast cancer or divorce, all sorts of things… They don’t know they’re resilient at the time, but they are resilient, they will find their strength. I really believe that.”
She paints her women as impressions, walking away, or alone. A notable feature is the absence of one.
I don’t paint their faces, because that’s where the eye goes, and that’s not the point. The point isn’t the face, the point is the mood.
She continues, as if caught in an internal storm. “If I put in a face, you don’t see the whole picture,” Nunn says, giving one of the red dress women a direct look. “I like people to linger, I like their eyes to discover things, you look, there’s texture, what’s this little figure? Oh yes, that’s a little something over there, a lot’s going on in my paintings.”
She’s devoted about four years, and over 20, maybe 30 pieces to these strong women.
The women have been a long-running series in her life. “And my houses…”
Her blue houses are everywhere, in other paintings from other series, recalling a childhood spent roaming her West Seattle neighborhood at twilight, picturing happy families behind half-lit windows. “…houses like wishing wells.”
In her ongoing “Neighborhood” series, blue houses beckon and wave dreamily. They seem to float in a lazy current. “I never noticed that before. Oh yes, here’s that blue house. How interesting.” The front door of her studio is the same blue, an open portal to the houses of her childhood.
Nunn has shown in galleries in Oregon, Palm Springs, Seattle, and Edmonds, won awards in several juried shows. They include the prestigious Edmonds Arts Festival, one of the biggest in the Northwest, Art Walk Edmonds, and Seattle Co-Arts, where she’s a member.
She received a B.A. in Arts & Sciences, and did post-grad work for her teaching degree from the University of Washington. Taught a little, took more classes and more workshops, learning from respected artists, such as Jacqui Beck, Bob Burridge, and Skip Lawrence.
Nunn’s current inspiration is New York artist Brian Rutenberg. “Rutenberg is like a philosopher; you’d like him. When he talks, his painting behind him, he’s so down-to-earth and smart. He’s a Southern guy in NY, doing his art. I always get something from him. He knows what he’s talking about. It’s all from the inside and who you are, what makes you tick. He’s irreverent, but he’s himself. It’s very freeing to listen to him.”
Her contemporary impressions of women, places, and abstract paintings can be viewed at Cole Gallery online.
Her first medium in watercolors helped feel her way through sad faces, familiar forms, and the beginning of what would become her specialty, moving pictures dressed in light and shadow, startling lines of vibrant pinks, boysenberry, and wine, keeping her company in this little corner of the world. “I like water. I like darkness, I’m not afraid of emotion, of sorrow. Some people distract themselves from [those feelings], but I don’t. Just as I don’t jump away from joy,” she remarks, glancing over images she intends to paint over, when the mood strikes…
A burst of orange on a canvas near her studio drawing board hints at a bouquet of dahlias under the noon-day sun, right before a sudden downpour. Another canvas drenched in sheared sapphire and cracked porcelain wants to breathe in a starry night on an empty street somewhere else… “I intended to paint a clear vase for these white flowers, but…” she trails off.
“First, I choose colors that excite me before I start a painting. I often stop and look at the painting I’m working on. I start brushing on layers of color and texture on the canvas. Sometimes, a figure emerges, suggesting the story I want to develop, and really, it is about the stories,” she resumes. “I wonder, is she alone? Waiting? In a group? Are they together or just passing by? Going to or coming forward? Is the mood festive, contemplative, or mysterious? From here, I paint freely, developing the composition as I go. Add or take away. I try to stop when the painting is 90 percent done, as it is so darn easy to over-describe, taking away the viewers’ imagination.”
And, when images become art that speaks to people…
When I watch someone stop in front of my painting, getting up close, seeing from their eyes, or catching a memory or their imagination, that’s the most rewarding thing ever. When someone buys my painting, it is pure joy! ✦
I want to share this with you…”
Acrylics/mixed media painter Jonlee Nunn enjoys meeting people and seeing their eyes light up at various art functions throughout the Edmonds area. One of her favorites is the annual fall Edmonds Art Studio Tour, put on by the Edmonds Arts Festival.
Held on the third weekend of September, the free, self-guided tour allows the public to visit participating artists in their private studios, a true interactive experience. The tour’s grown into a fan favorite — for all ages. On Sept. 21 and 22 last year, 35 artists in 19 studios gave fans the thrill of a lifetime.
At one of the past events, Nunn was able to do that when she opened up her studio just a little while longer for a very special art fan. As the tour came to a close, she recalled observing a car slowly approaching, a young girl peering out of the window, a look of disappointment on her face.
Nunn promptly ran out to greet them. The girl’s mom apologized, thinking they’d missed their chance entirely. “I invited them in,” the artist says, “and I spent a good 30 minutes of one-on-one time with them,” showing her art and describing the process. Nunn was heartened to see disappointment turn to joy. Before leaving, the young girl shyly asked, “Can I have your autograph?” which meant so much.
“It isn’t selling a painting, it’s connecting with young people. I just wanted to tell you that.” ✦