American art Collector article - Jen Mann: The Concept of Self

January 01, 2020

Painter Jen Mann’s new show is a twisty-turny spiral into an almost absurd amount of meta reflection—paintings of other paintings, of art galleries, mirrors, fake magazine covers, film stills of films that don’t exist, self-portraits of self-portraits—but deep down in her hyper-colored world of self-satire and fourth-wall-breaking imagery is a mirror that is aimed not at Mann, but the viewer. 


“I’ve not found myself in my paintings, and I’m not entirely interested in finding myself. I’m mostly interested in the concept of self,” the Toronto-based painter says. “So it comes down to not who I, Jen Mann, am, but what is our culture’s fascination with the self and how can I frame that in a way that’s a happy kind of illusion? I’m always continuously searching for meaning, not so much who we are, but what it means to be alive. I could make a narrative on Instagram but if I look at it closely enough do I really see who I am in it? It’s almost dissociative. It’s hard to know where life ends and a weird simulation begins.”


The show, which is now open at Gallery Jones in Vancouver, Canada, is titled Metonymy,which is a literary term for a word meant to invoke another idea, but with a linked lineage between the two concepts. The common example used for metonymy is “suits” used for any kind of business executive. Executives wear suits, and “suits” is a casual word to describe them. It’s an elliptical sort of substitution, which is what brought Mann to the word. For her new show she’s objectifying herself to the point she becomes an object, and then the objects also relate back to her and her attempt to rationalize the concept of “self”—like the word itself, her motives are elliptical and create an interesting loop of ideas. 


The show includes many self-portraits, which Mann is at ease painting. “It doesn’t feel like me, to be honest. Think of all the people you see in your day…your partner, your dog, your coworkers. My own face seems sort of foreign compared to everyone else. I feel like just a character in my life,” she says. Not only is she painting herself, but she’s also painting herself nude and in intimate and revealing moments. “My work is reflective of myself. I’m really open and honest in person. I do hide behind a lot of humor. On first glance it looks very serious, but it’s often self-deprecating. For my magazine cover paintings, I just thought it would be funny to do that and make all the titles into jokes.”

Works in the show include The Kiss, which is a painting of a painting hanging in a gallery. Adding another level to the work, the painting within The Kiss is a film still of a movie that doesn’t exist except as a movie trailer. The trailers themselves, with titles such as Loneliness & Desire and Love & Romance, will be part of the show as well. The trailers are almost esoteric parodies of HBO’s Girls, but they wink at the audience to help tell Mann’s story about the concept of self. Additionally, she’s also made handcrafted dolls in her likeness, including using her own hair, to punctuate themes of objectification and branding—“I’m quite literally selling myself,” Mann says. “And that’s the point.”

Metonymy will remain on view through December 7. —

Metonymy write up on Juxtapoz

November 07, 2019

Comprised of new large scale hyperreal paintings and short films serving as trailers to features that don’t exist, Metonymy explores how we turn ourselves into brands or 'objects of self' through the internet and social media.


The series looks at our self-obsessed culture, concepts of celebrity, artifact, and reality. In Metonymy, everything is an advertisement; trailers, magazine covers, posters, dolls, gallery show installations, stills from the trailers. It's hard to tell what is real, and what is not. even within the trailers themselves, people play roles of themselves, but everything is cast and scripted.

“Mann, who is known for large hyperrealistic self-portraits, has delved deeper into herself or perhaps beyond herself... and maybe beyond some of her viewers. Her work has always centered around self, and for Mann, that means partaking in the self-absorbed culture of social media. This show is a first for Mann, as she takes a departure into other mediums, film and sculpture. The show centers around the idea of the self as an object or celebrity, separate from the real self. She creates a fake self that emerges out of many different narratives. Mann is literal at times and taunts the viewers. There are 5 films which she plays on repeat. You’re watching trailers to movies that you never see in full length, and from my understanding, do not actually exist. Each film looks at different parts of the artist's self, and her different struggles. These extremely personal fictional narratives, seem more than fiction, and less-than reality. The last video in the set is a documentary about Mann making the 4 previous films to which you just saw the trailers, but this documentary too seems real and unreal, comical even. It takes viewing the whole body of work to really give you a sense of the depth of this series. There are paintings of paintings of film stills from movies that do not exist in galleries they never showed in…… if you understood that I applaud you. 


 Mann's tendency towards the meta and existential is in full force here. There are paintings of film stills, paintings of movie poster covers, incredibly uncanny and totally creepy fully articulating anatomically correct dolls of herself as each film star, paintings of herself as a celebrity gracing the cover of many different magazines. Mann renders herself something more and simultaneously less than 'self', and also fully placed in the millennial subconscious. She is being bought and sold, A brand, an object, an artifact… Mann is everywhere, and it's all about her, but somehow none of it seems real, and none of it seems like it takes itself too seriously. 

This show is a look at a person who struggles deeply and shows everything but also conversely hides everything below the surface. In Mann's work, the surface is smooth slick finished polished finessed. But her content, the work itself deals with so much more, a troubled person dealing with love and intimacy, the realities of being a woman, an artist, a millennial, and the struggles she is going through, and just like in real life, her sarcastic and self deprecating humour is in her work, laughing, if you’re clever enough to spot it. Mann's true thesis in this work though is so subtle and perhaps most of her viewers wouldn’t even see it. She is depicting our culture, society, and how nothing is real, news, media, politics, not even the narratives we believe about ourselves. The stories we tell, the identity we curate, nothing is real - and just like her paintings of paintings that do not exist, somehow these things that are not real, are somehow still just as real on their own, they become something outside of ourselves. "

-Katie Page


Jen Mann’s solo show Metonymy opens November 7th at Gallery Jones in Vancouver, BC. It is on view through December 7th, 2019.

Book Review on Juxtapoz

July 25, 2018

Look closely, and you can see the human touch. Toronto’s Jen Mann makes work that appears so much like an altered photograph, you’d have to put nose to canvas to tell otherwise. Sometimes the oil-on-canvas work is done all in deep blue hues, or pinks, almost like an Instagram filter, but with such hyperreal command, it can be like looking at stills from a film. Endless Quest For Myself (ie)is Mann’s newest monograph, over 200 pages of what she notes as, “poems, essays, short stories, one liners, paintings, sketches and photographs.” This arrangement fits the cinematic quality, as well as the book’s scene-oriented editing. Paintings are surrounded by narration, little thoughts that relate to the works, not so much directly, but in an ethereal way. Mann’s ability to create almost photo-perfect works are playful nods to technology and language, with marks reminiscent of touch-screen scribbles atop her most stunning works. Even the cover, a vibrant work with a "plz <3 me" feels as if a graffiti artist had tagged the works when Mann left the studio. And yet some of the text-based works, like Not the One, appear to be almost projections. In the end, Endless Quest For Myself (ie) touches on these dichotomies, the beautiful and the damaged, the elegant and the playful. Two versions are available: A regular release, and a limited edition of only 100 books with a unique Mann-designed bookplate signed by the artist. —Evan Prico

Art Maze Mag Interview

August 01, 2017

Jen Mann’s work takes that all too familiar feeling of what lies on the other side of our computer screens in the form of likes and emojis and presses it into paint. Sometimes her artwork quite literally features this now permanently ingrained, social media iconography, such as a ‘winky face’, lighting up a subject’s features, while other compositions simply just embody that impending feeling of isolation you get when communicating mostly through Instagram. Her work poignantly brings to surface the complexity that is individual identity in a world where we have the capability to digitally self-construct our own narratives, composing through online photos our own fictions. In her series Q & A, we see individuals haunted by the phrases projected across their faces, phrases like, “Not The One” and “Just Fine”. These words seem to be radiating out of a computer screen that sits facing the subjects, as if to reveal the traces of emotions left behind once the words have been sent via social media. Were these words sent to them, did they send these words to someone else? Mann asks, “Who am I compared to you? Who are you compared to me?” She is interested in how we understand each other; how authentically, or rather, inauthentically we portray ourselves to the rest of the world...


AMM: Your work is deeply personal, indeed a recent solo show “Q/A” and your newest body of work, “self absolved” are centered around questioning yourself. Where do you think the nature of your self-questioning is coming from?

JM: I have always been very introspective, and also very interested in relationships and identity. I find relationships the most fascinating, and the relationship you have with yourself as well. My newest series of paintings, “self absolved” is a look at the creation of the idea of ‘self identity’, and the curation of one’s identity. We are always changing, keeping parts of ourselves alive, and letting other parts die. In this series I look at cultural references, the media, new technologies, and social media, in a coming of age tale of sorts. Creating a visual diagram of self, and maybe through that, a loss of self. Like when you say a word over and over, it loses all meaning, does that also happen when you look too closely at self, the way our generation is so prone to do?


AMM; You’ve highlighted “self”, relationships and identity, whereas previously concepts of feminism, beauty, dreamscapes and even existential philosophy have featured; are they still important to your work?

JM: Most definitely. These themes of existentialism, femininity, feminism, surface vs substance (beauty vs content) and identity, are integral to my overall body of work. My series “self absolved” is heavily saturated in these main concepts. Paintings like “how am I not myself”, “endless loop”, and “wet dreams” deal with existential thought; what am I, why do I exist, and what is life. Whereas paintings like “cult of femininity”, “men are from Mars, women are your Venus” and “they see me rollin they haytin’ “ deal with feminine themes, beauty, and essentially are quite feminist. Because this new series focuses on the self, does not mean that it doesn’t focus on these main themes of my work, but instead gives me a bigger better platform to discuss things that are important to my “self” haha, as I not only explore my identity as a human being, but also my identity as an artist.


AMM: In regard to technologies and social media – these have possessed the whole generation and made it dependent. What is your opinion of social media – what do you think is bad and good about it? Does it encourage us to be superficial in our understanding of who we are?

JM: At this point it is hard to exist without social media and technology, in some form, permeating your life and relationships. Whether it’s texting your friends, curating your instagram, or creating an online profile of yourself trying to meet “the one” – social media has become a part of our first world human culture. My opinion is that it is definitely not healthy for humans as animals to be so sedentary, and alone; something that technologies are making easier and easier for us to be – shop from the convenience of your bed, you don’t need to actually see or talk to your friends, just txt them short quips, shortening and shortening everything until we are only sending emojis. Human contact and physical activity is integral to our overall wellbeing and happiness. Right now social media and technology is an unavoidable evil. My work isn’t really making critiques on social media, but maybe making satire of our culture, and how we use it. Our generation has been sold everything we have in our lives, from our lifestyle, friends groups, and self identity to our toilet paper. We have been sold this idea of “individualism” : “you’re unique, special, different”, and so we go out, and look for how we are different, and special, and end up feeling like no one understands us, no one “gets us”, which inevitably leaves us feeling alone, and unhappy. The media sells us happiness, because we don’t get it from ourselves and connections to others anymore, we get it from the things they sell us, the next achievement, graduation, all inclusive vacation, backpacking across Europe, posting photos with significant other on a beach, photos with the wedding party, the wedding, the baby photos – social media has found a way to use each other to sell things to each other. The idea of happiness, sold to you from your friends, constantly, on any day, right from your news feed; smiling faces of happy people, ‘really doing something’ with their lives. Your “friends” you never see or talk to, but who you know everything going on in their curated lives. I’m fascinated by the complexity of how technology and social media affect the psyche, and our identities, how we cope, and communicate.




Create Magazine Interview

July 21, 2017

Tell us a little bit about your story. When did you know you wanted to become an artist?

I've always had an interest in people and relationships. That interest found its way into my work in the form of portraiture on many occasions, though people are not in all of my work. I think it's somewhere a lot of artists start, with figurative works, and over time institutions try to squash that out of us, and so we move away from it... I wasn't going to move away from something until I had exhausted it, and until I decided I was ready, not because someone else told me to. 



Why do you feel that painting is still so relevant in today's fast-evolving art world?

Relevance is funny. I'm not sure what is relevant really. I just make what I make and hope that it connects somewhere, with someone. If paintings have maintained their relevance, it is probably because paintings are very easily turned into commodities, and people can easily envision them within their own spaces and collections. Paintings are durable, iconic, and have a long history and authority to them. 


What are some of your favorite ways to unwind and recharge outside of the studio?

My studio is a part of my living space, so I never truly leave. Taking my dog to the park, watching movies, reading, writing, cooking... those are the main ones, other than obvious other carnal pleasures. 

What is your new work about? What was on your mind when creating it?

My new work is a look at self, identity, and how we create it and maintain it in today's society. 


How do you approach marketing your art? Do you enjoy social media and if so, how has it influenced your career up to this point?

Social media hugely impacts my art. Half of my work is about the effects of social media on the way we understand ourselves and the people in our lives.

What would you say are some challenges that you overcame in your journey as a painter? 

I'm not sure we are ever done overcoming hurdles. Even the ones we think we have jumped in the past will come back into view on our next lap around the hamster wheel of life. 



WOWxWOW- guest blog (What is the Female Gaze Even?)

January 30, 2017

I’m unaccustomed to writing about topics and much more familiar with addressing an audience with images, and maybe a one-liner. Although I love words, formal writing is unfamiliar to me, so bear with my disjointed scatter-brained and very opinion based piece.

The cult of Femininity

January 12, 2016



In a lofty studio beside The Hoxton, there’s a portrait hanging on a wall of a woman in slimy glitter. Her eyes dart away from the camera and her reflection bounces off mirrors like she’s swimming in a pool of glass. Her pigtails are tied with ribbon, adding a weight of innocence to a grown woman in her late twenties. What looks pretty on first impression is now uncanny. Figurative painter Jen Mann does this on purpose; the woman in her new series is her.


“It’s called Cult of Femininity,” Mann says. It’s one of several photographs that Mann will paint onto canvas and paint with oil. Preparing for her next series, Mann is an artist who understands what it means to be a woman in the Internet age: Painfully self-aware, naïve and demoralized. She tells this story in her new large-scale portraiture series; a collection of subtitled movie scenes, moody self-portraits and reverberating light projections. She’s the lead character in a foreign movie about her life, documenting herself through degrees of separation from a person, photograph to painting.

“We narrate our lives through the Internet. Self-Absolved is about how we understand identity through that portrayal of ourselves.”

It’s not a new revelation, but it’s a relevant one that most women obsess over. Scroll through Instagram and you’ll find a stream of feminist quotes, movie stills, outfits and selfies. We find pleasure in seeing things that have patterns in online avatars (e.g., fonts, white borders, copy and content pillars). Mann plays with representation; how we define ourselves in the Internet age and what genuinely holds meaning.

In a portrait cloaked in cobalt blue, Mann captures the stark, moody moments of being a woman. One can’t help but make a reference to The Virgin Suicides; the dream-like montages that made audiences fall in love with the tormented Lisbon sisters. Mann’s repeated use of blue sticks out in all of her paintings; a colour many women can associate with Maggie Nelson’s Bluets – exploring the restraints of love and suffering in the colour blue. Juxtaposing beauty with ugly in each piece, Mann repeatedly forces audiences to wonder, Is she liberated by the representation of femininity or disgusted by it?

In another photograph, Mann floats with her head above water in a bathtub filled with rose petals. French subtitles translate to: I wonder if life is as romantic as what I dreamed. “We like to imagine ourselves as the main character in a foreign film,” Mann tells me. “I’m dealing with human issues, and painting very literal things or puns to make my paintings relatable to people. Audiences see meaning more clearly with things that are representational.”


Mann describes how femininity projects onto women. I want to know why she purposely makes audiences feel so uncomfortable with femininity. “Anything that’s ugly in today’s society is alluring. We grew up with bombarded by advertising with slick commercial ideals of beauty, and we’re attracted to it because we’re accustomed to it. But we’re also repulsed by it and want something that’s a little off.” Self-Absolved shines a light on that; the meticulous growing pain of achieving some idea of “uniqueness” in a society where nobody wants to be the same.

Being a kill-joy, I can’t help but preoccupy my thoughts with the dark side of Mann’s work. Continuing her theme of existentialism from her previous series, Self-Absolved caters to the optimist and pessimist in all of us. Aware of this, Mann isn’t pretentious or high-brow about her work; quite contrary. She’s laughing. “I want people to get it. I want people to be engaged with my work, instead of having pretentious work that nobody gets. I want them to enjoy it for whatever they enjoy it for, and if they appreciate it purely on an aesthetic level, that’s fine. If they enjoy it because they relate to it, even better.” Mann says.

Like a word repeated too many times, Mann forces us to consider the meaning of the word femininity over and over again. Capturing the attention of her audiences with large-scale portraiture, romantic hues of pinks and blues and shifty eyes, the work itself holds a stark realism that’s beautiful and disgusting. The only thing left to do is to laugh at ourselves.


ARTSY article - “Sweet Nothing” with Jen Mann and her Pink Palette

October 18, 2016

“I am always exploring the world around me: how we relate to each other, how we understand each other, and the honesty of relationships, or maybe the dishonesty,” says up-and-coming Canadian artist Jen Mann. Now, for her U.S. solo debut at Cordesa Fine Art in Los Angeles, “Sweet Nothing” features a selection of candy-colored paintings from her recent series “Self Absolved.”


Working from photographs she has taken, Mann’s paintings explore identity, femininity, and an individual’s relationship to society, often by using lines from her journal as a jumping-off point. Mann works with oil on canvas in a hyper-real style, saturating her images with color. In portraits, nudes, and still lifes, she unfurls a coming-of-age tale across mid- to large-scale canvases. The images of young girls and women are painted in a vibrant palette of pink and peach, with references to notions of nostalgia, pop culture, and our age of selfies.


Yet Mann also confronts what she sees as the hypocrisy in the way that society defines love, desire, and self-image. Among the works on view is upside down smile emoji (2016), featuring an upside-down smile emoji overlaid onto the back of a young girl’s head. At once unsettling and humorous, this interrupted portrait points to the shorthand ways we share our thoughts through premade symbols, which do not always get to the heart of who we really are.


In another work, a still life titled Donut Diet (2016), an array of sugary donuts on iridescent cellophane spells out: “DONUT DIET.” The dark irony in this tableau is tempered by the over-the-top absurdity of these donuts: With their mounds of sugary frosting, they look practically poisonous—but also delicious. Mann builds this tension between beauty and harshness into all her works. “There’s a slickness and a beauty to it that kind of draws you in,” she has said, “and then there’s something maybe a little painful when you eventually look into the image and connect with it.”


—Karen Kedmey


Jen Mann: Sweet Nothing” is on view at Cordesa Fine Art, Los Angeles, Oct. 15–Nov. 22, 2016.


Jen Mann: intimacy, brutal honesty and a hunt for magic

November 20, 2015

I finally had the chance to invade painter Jen Mann's studio with photographer Devon Little and had the most refreshing conversation while we shifted her canvases around the studio on the hunt for a good shot. Mann graduated from OCAD University in 2009 and now currently lives and works in Toronto. She's represented by a total of three galleries: Neubacher Shor Contemporary in Toronto, in Amsterdam and Rostad Edwards Gallery in Miami. We chatted about everything from surface versus substance, conservativeness in the Canadian art world and why artists are (sometimes) assholes.


Juxtapoz feature

November 01, 2014

Jen Mann is featured in the December, 2014 issue of Juxtapoz Magazine and Juxtapoz Hyperreal book. 


Ask Jen Mann where she likes to spend the majority of her time and the answer comes easily: “my studio.” Other answers, however, are not so quickly accessed. Mann’s continued foray into painting comes from a deep-seated love for existential philosophy, and working becomes a way to examine these sometimes difficult and often endless ideas. Still, despite such esoteric thinking, this type of processing works flawlessly for her. The Toronto-based painter creates stunning, hyper-realistic, pastel-colored works that look both comfortingly commercial and mysteriously melancholic. Enthusiastic, with dreamy, long blonde hair cascading down her back, she thrives when surrounded by her work, arm’s length from a paintbrush. All the time spent in her workplace has paid off with a solo show at Toronto’s Neubacher Shor Contemporary in November, a self-published book and thousands of Internet supporters. Jen Mann is poised to make a transcendent impact on the international art scene. —Jess Carrol

Juxtapoz Hyperreal, features a new generation of painters who have excelled at photorealism and hyperrealism, but have taken the mediums and injected them with new styles, techniques, ideas and individual personality. 


HEH Designs - An Interview With Jen Mann The Colorful Painter From Toronto, Canada

December 03, 2014

Jen Mann has a talent for connecting light cultural symbols: cupcakes, glitter, and smiley faces, to more weighty themes: introspection, communication, and coexistence. After graduating with a degree in  printmaking, Jen transitioned into painting with acrylic, now oil. And whether she was painting women with wild animals or women with colorful smoke, Jen always found a way to bring fantasy into reality…or reality into fantasy. Over the years, Jen has become known for her dreamy color palette and realistic portraits of honest/ unposed faces. Her recent series: "Q&A", represents, the personal becoming public. This series contains a myriad of subjects, painted with projected text, images, and textures, all within a hyperrealistic style. Both vulnerable and unapologetic, “Q&A”, truly marks another point in Jen’s brilliant evolution as an artist and individual.

I highly urge those who can make the trip, to check out Jen’s show at Neubacher Shor Contemporary (5 Brock Ave), before the take down on December 20th! 


1. How do you choose your colors? Is it by what looks good, or are they meant to relate with the subject’s expression/mood? 


It’s both aesthetic and mood, but I think they work hand in hand.

2. You’ve painted people with flowers, people with smoke, people with birds, and people with wild animals. Describe your progression and how you ended up with your current work? 


I have gone through a lot of transitions in my twenties, like most people. And I think I am finally at a place where I am comfortable letting a bit more of myself out in my work. Being a bit more honest, and maybe raw. My work has always looked at similar themes of identity, but my new work is more me, and I think everyone eventually finds a way to communicate that in some way eventually.


Hedbanger interview

April 15, 2015

Jen Mann is a Toronto based painter. Mann’s paintings are about themes of Identity and Relationships. She has exhibited in numerous shows across the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom and is also a recent recipient of the Emerging Artist Grant for the Ontario Arts Council.

Jen Mann; Artist | Q&A - AMMO Magazine

May 01, 2014

Jen Mann is a painter based in Toronto whose colorful portraiture speaks without words and encompasses a full range of human relationships, narratives, and emotions. They’ve silently spoken about topics ranging from social conceptions to self-reflection. Her capture of surreal, vivid, and true to life moments have left many admirers gap-mouthed at her canvases and prompted countless reblogs. But not only does her work speak in articulate volumes, so does she. Her work reflects the perceptive and thoughtful mind behind the brush. AMMO was given the pleasure to hear her thoughts from beauty to batman. 

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