Clean sharp lines, attention to detail, black ink flowing with assertive, quick, precise strokes, and just a dash of bright colour in the form of a fluttering butterfly are the trademark of Jenna Lopez’s animal portraiture minimalist artwork – that she describes as ‘illustrative’.
Zebras, cheetahs, chimpanzees, elephants and giraffes with their calves: the stately beauty of wildlife is reproduced on paper with the poetic grace of the true artist and the anatomical precision of a naturalist, sternly clinical in their accuracy if it wasn’t for the cheeky fly-past of oranges, blues or reds that the butterfly offers, sometimes as an understated accessory and more often claiming the full attention of both the subject matter and the onlooker.
“Wild animals are the inspirational force behind my recent works of art. All creatures in our world are beautiful despite their wild nature, and yet, their existence in this world might be as fleeting as the fragile existence as a butterfly,” says Jenna, who bases her work on hi-def photographs and National Geographic extracts. “To me, butterflies are a deep and powerful representation of life: their average life span is fleeting, but unfortunately, so is the life of all wild animals of this world. Each day different types of animal species are nearing extinction, which I find sad and disheartening. At the same time that my butterfly stands for the fragility of existence, it is also a symbol of renewal and rebirth. I hope this idea will raise awareness that these creatures should be regarded as precious and taken care of, together with their habitats, so that their ecology can exist for longer. I have visited zoos before in many countries, however, I have not returned to these places unless the organisations prove to be beneficial for the animals kept such as sanctuaries. I find zoos too cruel otherwise, as animals don’t interact as they would in the wild. My dream is to eventually take my own trip to Africa on a safari and witness these magnificent creatures wild in their own habitats, snapping pictures myself.”
Jenna’s fascination with wild animals was sparked by her attentive watching Animal Planet documentaries with her father. “Especially horses: I was enthralled by them, the way they looked when the jumped, galloped, turned and pranced, so I used to trace photographs from my father’s collection of natural pictures of wild horses and go over and over them, until finally, I knew how to draw horses by heart.” She has been doodling, sketching and drawing since the age of two and went on graduating in Art & Design. “I drew on everything, which drove my parents crazy,” she confesses. “Once, my mum feared she’d lost me around the supermarket, and eventually, she found me sitting in one of the aisles, cross-legged and a notebook in my lap, intent at drawing the cans on the shelf.”
More ‘shop’ surprises for Jenna’s mother were on another shelf: “I was asked by my first school to draw a Christmas image, but I wasn’t told what purpose for. It turned out that St Mary’s School headmaster entered my work for a fundraising art competition that would have the winning picture printed on a Christmas card to be sold for charity. I had won, but only found out when my mum spotted my drawing printed on the Christmas cards on sale at a local shop!”
Later, Mario Finlayson discovered her talent catching her doodling outside her ballet class at the Arts Centre. “He encouraged me and taught me a few life lessons regarding art that still stay with me to this day. After completing my education in Westside Comprehensive, I opted to go study in the UK and apply for university, obtaining an unconditional offer with my chosen university – Kent Institute of Art and Design in Canterbury, now known as UCA (University for Creative Arts). After achieving my honours and graduating, I proceeded to work at the ‘Lilford Art Gallery’ in Canterbury, where I learnt the best tricks of the trade from the owner and curator David Lilford. Although my work with him was brief, he showed me how to single out customers who were genuinely interested in the artwork exhibited.”
Jenna declares herself a huge fan of animation and comic book illustration, which surely but originally transpires in her style. “I would like to be an illustrator, unfortunately, I lack the skillset using modern technology such as Photoshop, etc. but I would like to learn it, however, old habits of using traditional techniques suit me just fine now.” Her favourite comic book artist is Frank Miller, who made his illustrations using only black ink and the occasional splash of colour, such as shocking red or green, a technique Jenna relates to. She also likes Art Nouveau and artists like Alphonse Mucha, Boris Vallejo, Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt and, from Gibraltar, Mario Finlayson and the much underrated Lorraine Buhagiar.
Recently exhibited in the bumper Alwani Summer Art Show at the Fine Arts Gallery, Jenna believes that the committee has come very far in bringing to the audiences’ attention the diversity of styles and artistry available in Gibraltar. “Competitions are becoming more popular and women are gaining respect within the art world. Taboos are breaking down, slowly but surely, and I believe the modern world of technology is helping advance the world of art in Gibraltar as well.” Personally, she feels that art is an expression of release, in which imagination and creative force can be translated and fixed on paper. “I also love the idea that I can give joy to others with my work of art.”
And what if she was commissioned a portrait of a newly engaged couple as mermaid and merman with specifics on hair colour and length, and a framed photograph of a lighthouse painted in the background? “I didn’t ask questions, but it was a first to me! The end result matched the clients’ expectations, and all that matters to me is they were happy about it and treasured their gift.”