Interview with Jenni Madden

Jenni Madden is the featured artist for Volume 4. Madden created the below pieces over the past year in response to our “wind” theme for volume 5, our final issue in a series of four exploring the elements. Her whimsical and surreal creations evoke a wide range of emotions and have a surprising sense of playfulness. Madden is an American living in Ontario with her husband and six children.

Red Commando by Jenni Madden
Red Commando by Jenni Madden

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Interview with Jenni Madden

Border Crossing: Where do you find your inspiration for your work? Would you be willing to share the particular inspiration for one or two of the pieces we’re featuring in this issue of Border Crossing?

Jenni Madden: Everything about the process of my art changed when I was making the art for this issue. I had a theme to portray: “wind,” which wasn’t easy because up until then, I was drawing only images that came out of my head and flowed, eventually, onto the paper. Suddenly I needed to think and plan. It was exciting. I asked my son for help in various stages… I made lists, jotted down ideas, and scribbled sketches and notes. I surveyed the landscape… The particular inspiration for “Grumpy Mr. Candle Man” was actually my brother, Jerry, who could be grumpy, but loved incense, candles, candlelight, open windows, the colour red, billowing curtains, wind, nature and natural phenomena. He was also a Stoic. He would have stood there and glowed through curtains blowing around, frigid temperatures, blustering wind all around him, until he was no longer needed. Then he would have rested. My inspiration for “The Big Mouth” was actually God, [evidenced] through the forces of nature. He powers the wind, the sun, the moon, the Universe… all is balanced if the laws of nature are followed. But then there is that freak windstorm; the sirens screech, the radio warns people to take cover, batten down the hatches, put the chickens in the coop because there may be a twister. In the drawing, I wanted the black, white and grey tones to underscore the fact that when disaster strikes, the colour and frivolity of life often drain out of us.

BC: How would you say your process and product have changed over all of the years you’ve been making art?

JM: In my earliest stages of learning to paint, sometimes my nose was six inches from the canvas from morning to noon to night, and I was working with a brush that had just one hair on it, and I needed it to make a significant difference in what I was painting. My father would try to get me to stand back, loosen up, and make large sweeping strokes with bigger brushes. It didn’t work for me. As for the product, I was into doing portraiture and especially copying beautifully captured photos for a long time. That artwork is nice and accurate, but I think I have advanced, since then, toward allowing my head to empty out on to the paper without a photo to copy or a clue in my brain to tell me where the drawing is going or where it ends up.

BC: What is the most challenging part of making your art?

JM: When I am stressed out, filled with anxiety, worry, fear, anger or depression, I have a hard time expressing those emotions without sounding manic or theatrically dramatic… I get excited about normal, insignificant things around me, such as finding the perfect piece of driftwood that I can peel, sand and polish, finding a smooth rock or a fine-point Sharpie that nobody knows about but me, or reading words that hit that nail of significance right on the head. Rather than spewing out my feelings in speech, with the limited narrative skills that I possess (which include mumbling, pausing for a long periods of time trying to think of the right words, stuttering and causing my audience to deduce that I am nobody worth listening to), I smile, frown, cry, and feel a longing for peace and stillness in my mind. How do I get that? The art supplies come out and are set up, then the music goes on…

BC: What part is the most enjoyable?

JM: The moment I decide to jettison the other parts of life to follow my inspiration.


MaddenJenni Madden is an American living in Ontario with her husband and six children. Her life is ordered around the interconnected priorities of God, family, friends, and self expression. Her art allows her to express and project her emotions–both positive and negative–outward, while incorporating a sense of play.