Jenna Gribbon’s life as a figurative artist took a sharp turn at 2017 when she was 38. “It took me a long time to understand myself and my sexuality,” she told me, “and much of that can be attributed to the lack of images of women in relationships with each other. There are more History depicted and portrayed, but growing up I saw very few examples. I wanted to create work that was impactful but also more immediate and pleasing,” she says.
Jenna was married and divorced to a man, Matthew Gribbon, and then she lived with her partner, novelist Julian Tepper, and their son, Silas. (Jenna and Julian were not married and their relationship was public.) That’s when she met MacKenzie Scott, the indie rock singer-songwriter Torres. Scott, who was 11 years younger than her, became her lover and main object.
When I visited Gleburne in late August, she took me to her Brooklyn studio through a magical secret garden of tall trees, low Stone walls and gravel roads. We descend a flight of steps into a small double height room with a skylight.
Possibly the most glamorous studio in New York: painting for “Mirages,” her exhibition Maramotti in Northern Italy at Collezione (her first solo show at a European museum, opening in October) , hanging on a whitewashed brick wall, the nine paintings on display are by Mackenzie. The eye-catcher is coming for you, a 13 foot long Scott supine stunner on a slab, Under five floodlights, against a green screen backdrop, she is naked except for shorts and cowboy boots. Scott’s long ash-blond hair fell over the edge of the slate. Her pink nipples stood out as if she had lipstick on them. She turned her head and looked at me, just like I looked at her, with a bit of distress on her beautiful face. A patient in Thomas Eakins The Gross Clinic or a half-dead giant in Dana Schutz Presentation comes here with a mind . But this one is something else: Scott’s pose may echo female courtesans throughout art history, but we’re a long way from the male gaze. “People have become accustomed to looking at the naked body in art,” explains Gribbon. “Those are nudes, and they’re considered classy. But I want people to understand that consuming an image of another person’s naked body is not a passive act, which is why I like to make them feel more naked. Like, ‘Oh, maybe I shouldn’t be watching this. It’s a way of making nudity less benign and more real, which is extremely vulnerable to the subject.”
There are two more Drawings from two oversized green-screen exhibits—one of Scott is literally (and somewhat hilariously) on fire; another is a close-up of her face, with one eye poking out from under a blindfold. (Both paintings had to be removed so that Gribbon would have enough room to paint for you. ) The other pictures in the exhibit are smaller and less ferocious . Much of it is of Griburn and Scott’s family life together—Scott, blindfolded and naked, reaching out to touch her reflection in the mirror; Scott, clothed, turning to look at Griburn (and us) as she pulls things out of the dishwasher. Gribbon considers the smallest ones to be “documentary” paintings, but the sensual, masterly painterly handling and sunlight falling on the ash-blonde hair make them look delicious no matter how big they are. The joy that oil painting can bring, which is rarely seen nowadays, is fully reflected here. “I want my work to look pleasing to reflect the joy I feel in creating it,” she told me. “I just started going in that direction and then I met Mackenzie.”
August the week before they met2017 , Scott has had a dream. “It was a sad story about a woman leaving me,” she recalls. “She held my face and said she loved me and had to leave. Jenna did leave me after about a year—but she came back.” They were at St. Dymphna’s, an Irish pub in the East Village Meeting by chance, these two tall young women have long hair, brunette in Gribbon’s case and inevitably blonde in Scott’s. They’ve both been in relationships with women before, and they talk and talk, about their backgrounds, their jobs and everything else. “I’m from Tennessee and went to college in Georgia, and she’s from Georgia and went to college in Tennessee,” Griburn said. Scott kept ordering more straight vodka, and Gribbon dumped half of it under the table. “There was definitely a lot of chemistry, and we were physically intertwined at the bar before the night was over,” Griburn told me. A few months later, she painted a painting of Scott, the first of many. Scott became her muse – Gribbon paints almost exclusively for her these days (with the exception of her son Silas’ current 11 paintings).
The museum is a two-way street. “Somehow her drawing always went into the songs I was writing,” said Scott, whose right arm Gribbon has clearly tattooed the words “Jenna and Silas.” “There are so many songs written about and for Jenna—’Silver Tongue,’ ‘Gracious Day,'” Scott said. A recent song “Don’t Go Puttin Wishes in My Head” has lyrics all about Gribbon: