Jennifer Vitalia is a pure example of someone who needed to be trained to realize her own talents. As a young girl she would travel to Ohio in the summer where her grandmother and step brother lived. While she was there she typically would want to play sports with her step-brother. But her grandmother would pull her away and introduce her to the world of art and photography. At the tender age of five years old her grandmother opened her eyes on how to draw and how to look at things differently. Since then Jennifer has laid out her own canvas and has created an artistic path that is meant to touch everyone in a positive hue. We caught up with her during some of her “down time” so she can fill us in on her mission in the art world.
Avenue 1: We understand that you were inspired by your grandmother growing up? Can you fill us in?
Jennifer Vitalia: Yes! My grandmother was an art teacher in Ohio, and her son is a top photographer that has his own studio and has been published in many books. We used to visit his studio while he was working, and I knew I loved everything, from the smell, to the lifestyle, to the undeniable amount of creative energy in the area – the camera, the lighting – it was my definition of a fairytale. You just know when you are at home and have found what you love! I went to Ohio for the summers, and my grandmother would always make me draw. I was a big tomboy, and always wanted to play football with my step brothers, but she would always make me come inside because she said young girls should not play boys sports. At the time I hated it because I wanted to play. Though, I did love learning different drawing techniques, so I didn’t mind once I was at the table drawing. She would teach me to close my eyes and just draw what I feel. Now, as a five year old, one can only imagine the scribble that I used to draw, but the lesson has stuck with me to this day, and looking back I am so appreciative because she taught me well. She showed me you can create shadows, emotions, and speak without ever talking. I was very lucky to have had that exposure at a young age!
You moved on and studied Graphic Design and Photography. Where did you study?
I have always been in art. In high school, I had an art major, which meant I was able to take two classes a day (sometimes more) of art, rather than just one session. I had an amazing high school art teacher that I credit highly, because I learned the most from him out of all my instructors. I loved photography so much that he actually turned a closet into a darkroom for me since our school did not have one! I learned off film. The darkroom was the best place in the world for me. It was a place to escape, to learn a new technique, a new life. It affected me so much that, while in 11th grade, I was actually accepted into a college course at Kean University for photography. Here I was, this young kid, among much older individuals with loads of talent. It was home to me again, and I knew that I never loved anything more in life than being surrounded with my love for art and photography, and like-minded people. I continued to go back to school since I graduated and learn everything that I could. I think I will be taking classes even in a senior home in my wheelchair someday!
Your style of painting is of an abstract form, which you use also in your photography. Can you educate us on your style?
This actually stems from high school and a figure drawing class in college. The raw basic foundation of art is to draw what you see. You are taught form, function, design, shadows, and so on. I had to draw for many years exactly what I saw, and I started to not like art. Artists refer to this as a transition in style. Right around the time where I was bored with that, and thinking I didn’t love art, I got an assignment to draw abstract. It was a face drawing from a sculpture, so I drew the face exactly as it looked. The professor came to me and said, “No, I want you to draw what you see and feel or you will get an F.” An “F” grade in art is like a heart attack for an artist. It doesn’t sit very well. I didn’t understand when he said, “Do you see the person here, or see them there?” Then it clicked, and art was running crazy in my mind again, I fell in love with abstract again, and by the time I was done, the image had horns, was flying, abstract was so different from art that has to look real. When you are used to drawing real, and go to abstract, it is a little scary. With real drawings, the work is done for you, you don’t have to create as much, and you use techniques. Anyone can draw; it is a skill that can actually be taught, despite what people who think they can’t draw say. To create something out of nothing, you have to be born with that! It has to live inside of you, because it means being in touch with your emotions and shutting off your mind. It’s euphoric to let go, and sometimes very scary in the beginning, then it becomes addictive and you can’t get enough of art in life.
Was there any painter that you were inspired by, and have you used their techniques in your work?
Oh my, you know what’s funny, I ask this same question to the celebrities I interview for my magazine, Everything Is Art, and they always say, “Oh, hard question…” Now this is what I am thinking (note to self), stop asking this question LOL. I don’t know if I can say one artist, because there are so many, and so many factors that come into play. I am obsessed with Yayoi Kusama. To me, her story is amazing, and she is one of today’s living master artists! If you aren’t familiar with her, I strongly suggest looking her up. She is a huge inspiration to any artist. I also get inspired by people who stand up against things such as the dolphin slaughter, animal abuse, and domestic violence.
However, my biggest inspiration is my son Antonio, who is 13 years old. He has taught to me love life, to smile every day, laugh, shut off the phone, and chase your dreams. He once said to me, when I left my job as a CFO, “you have to jump, life is short, look at Grammy (my mother who passed away when I was 24), she died without doing everything.” I just looked at him, and realized I was taking life advice from a child. But children see things for exactly what they are. As a CFO, my salary was great, but I was miserable. I knew I needed to be doing my art, and not sitting behind a desk. I was scared, but knew I had to go after what I wanted. And so I jumped, and never looked back. He was right. He is my biggest supporter, and I am a true Sicilian mother, because I put him right on that pedestal where he belongs.