Local artist makes what she ‘likes to look at’

Mike Hall

Local painter Rachel Jernigan displays her pornographically influenced paintings on the walls of The Zephyr in Kent. Jernigan has worked at The Zephyr for 14 years and has been painting for 12.

Credit: Ben Breier

Astute, petite and lightly tattooed, Rachel Jernigan, a Kent-based artist, stands in line waiting for coffee at the corner deli on West Main.

The topic of discussion is reality television and the A&E documentary series, “Intervention,” which she refuses to watch after catching a portion of the March 20 episode.

“When I saw that, I tuned out,” Jernigan said. “It was just sad, and I don’t care to watch peoples’ lives fall apart on television. It’s just not entertainment to me.”

Left of the deli stands The Zephyr, where she shows her work and tends bar part-time. Currently, about six works of art are displayed at the bar.

On one wall, hollow profiles of past decades’ centerfold models hover above brightly contrasted geometrical shapes. It is her images of innocent, yet sensuous, representations of the female form that are provocative.

Unmixed acrylics like Avocado, Burnt Sienna and Marigold are flatly sponge-brushed and cut on sheets of Masonite as canvas. To a person viewing the work, the three pieces present themselves in cascades of innuendo concerning female exploitation.

The illuminating colors and enigmatic subject matter of Jernigan’s artwork has a Warhol-like gloss, although she feels her strongest influence as painter derives from Frenchman Marcel Duchamp.

Another piece, stationed high on the opposite wall, is a painting of a 1972 portable stereo.

“I used to paint appliances,” Jernigan said.

Rachel Jernigan does not have to live the clichéd starving artist bit: Her work is priced to sell, and it does.

Some of the work ranges from $100 to $170 per piece at the Zephyr, which could be considered a modest sum for artwork.

“I want people to be able to buy them,” she said.

Other venues that display and sell Jernigan’s work include the Lime Spider and the Fuel Lounge in Akron.

Jernigan is a woman who is not afraid to take on multiple jobs in order to sustain herself.

“I’ve worked two jobs since I was 16 years old,” she said. “As well as attending Kent State for a better part of a decade.”

Eight years to be exact.

At Jernigan’s brightest, she earned a 3.6 grade point average. She recalls “lost momentum” as the key issue concerning postponement of her graduation at Kent.

She has lived in the area her whole life, coming from a working-class background, and has also endured her fair share of hardships.

“You always hear of that really bad landlord, I never had to deal with that,” Jernigan said. Once she shared living arrangements with five of her house-chore-less guy friends in order to get by. “I’m not trying to eat Ramen noodles ever again.”

Classic rock serves Jernigan’s musical appetite. She also listens to bands like Black Keys and Kings of Leon frequently.

“Rolling Stones are my favorite,” she said.

Jernigan’s product has a similar magnetism to Christina Kubrick’s contribution to her husband’s groundbreaking, satirical film Clockwork Orange, although Jernigan insists her nude outlines have no personal significance or “meaning.”

Jernigan contends she does not dwell on her artistic content as a vehicle for personal statement, although she prefers working by herself.

“I’m not very good at coordinating with other people,” she said while smiling. “Plus, I like to get all the money.”

In fact, she has little interest in professional collaborations to date, though she has worked with one other local artist, Mike Neesom.

Jernigan’s admirers are varied in background, creed, sexuality and financial situation, making the idea of knowing or catering to a specific audience impossible.

The flexibility of interpretation of meaning is only as broad as an artist’s audience.

Jernigan suggests “overt” as a word to describe the Zephyr viewing.

“I make what I like to look at,” she said while sipping her coffee and putting out her cigarette.

Contact ALL correspondent Mike Hall at [email protected].