Jennifer Guidi’s career skyrocketed with her 2017 exhibition “San Fernando” at Almine Rech gallery in New York. Guidi’s abstract trance-inducing landscape paintings with bursts of subtle color and texture gradations resulted in a collectors’ frenzy—one so mad, in fact, that dealer Stefan Simchowitz wrote in a frustrated Facebook post, “If another person asks me to get them a Jen Guidi I think I might just vomit in my bed.” While the demand occasioned chatter that Guidi might be the next Yayoi Kusama in terms of blockbuster presence, stylistic and symbolic comparisons point more directly to the likes of Agnes Martin and Georgia O’Keeffe. In keeping with these preeminent painters, Guidi is a desert devotee who is constantly inspired and grounded by the austere and intense landscapes of rock, sand, and sun that she grew up with in Southern California. ARTnews caught up with Guidi to discuss her recent series of “Painted Universe Mandalas,” which she made during the pandemic. And while she describes her monastic life and deep attention to nature, the art world is as obsessed with her as ever: Guidi just sold out her Frieze London booth with Gagosian on the first day of the fair.
You have a strong connection with nature. How did that deepen or change over the course of the pandemic?
Nature became a consolation. My work in general is always influenced by observing color, flowers, and landscapes. But going on hikes, taking walks on the beach—that became a source of regrouping, keeping my sanity.
Did that internal shift manifest in “Painted Universe Mandalas”?
I just wanted to put everything I could into it. I wanted large amounts of color, a build-up. I was thinking a lot about color as both joyful and calming, so I wanted there to be a celebration of color in my work. Also, my studio changed. It was full of paintings, and it created this difference in mood that I wanted other people to experience as well. I wanted to see people excited by color, which was something that was exciting for me during such a dark time.
What was your relationship to nature during your childhood?
I had a lot of fun outside—that was where my childhood was spent. If I wasn’t in school, I was out walking around or riding my bike. At that time the desert wasn’t as built up as it is now. There would be a golf course or field, but other than that it was dirt, it was looking at the mountains.
Do you consider your landscapes to be a preservation of what was once there? A sort of nostalgic gesture?
When I look at where I grew up in the desert in the present, it’s not a place that I’m attracted to go back to. Some of the natural beauty has been lost. For me it’s more about finding new places to go that aren’t as built up. I try to find these areas during a hike or while driving. I’m looking for places where you feel away from people and away from structures.
Has it become more difficult to find that feeling of being away?
Now I don’t have a lot of time. But it’s something that I make a priority because, whenever I get out of the studio or travel, I always find something more than I would on the studio floor.
Are there other places or natural forms that have impacted your art?
The particular light we have here is so important to my work. But if I’m in Colorado or New Mexico or Europe, I’m inspired. It’s hard not to be. There’s definitely places that I’ve traveled where it really stuck out to me like in Morocco, in Afghanistan—places where there are intense pops of color.
Sand is a material that is constantly shifting into new patterns, not unlike what one finds in your work.
Yeah. In the desert and at the beach, being in the sand was a huge source of play for me as a kid. Making sand castles, collecting shells, putting them into a repetitive patterns—that was always something I was attracted to.
Agnes Martin, another desert painter, had that repetitive, ritualistic attraction to pattern. What do you make of the comparisons between you two?
She’s one of my favorite artists. I feel like I relate to her when she talks about sitting and waiting for inspiration—waiting for that moment when she knows exactly what she’s supposed to do. I’ve experienced similar things like through my meditation process. In terms of mark-making, there’s a ritualistic and meditative aspect to trying to embark on this starting point that is going to cover the whole canvas. Though we’re different artists, I think that impulse comes from a similar taste and place. She was so influenced by living in New Mexico and being in the desert, looking at the mountains. Being in nature and solitude and having that kind of inspiration—it all goes hand-in-hand.