Just before artist Jennifer Mourin puts gouache to canvas, it is the Universe that she calls upon to confirm her inkling. The self-taught artist, based in Malaysia, has grown up with a strong awareness of the world she inhabits.
Working with gouache, acrylic and oils, her art features and celebrates strong women in all facets of their daily lives – women responding to the on-going changes in their environment and communities, women seeking spiritual balance and love, women as care-givers of mother earth, as monitors of the development affecting her environment, and as resisters of destruction.
Themes of motherhood and nurturing feature heavily across Jennifer Mourin’s art, where bold colours, curvaceous figures and spiritual messages unequivocally converge in this playground of life through the eyes of Mourin herself. An ode to Mother Earth or Gaia.
“Gaia is all around me,” states the Malaysian-born Jennifer Mourin. “Overlooking the hills near where I live there are red spots. You see all the red earth – it’s like Gaia’s bleeding. It gets me mad when she is abused. There is a nurturing energy about being a woman. I see it in Mother Earth. But take care of her. She is sustaining us but humans trample on her constantly and for what – greed, vanity. There are red patches here [Malaysia] because people have cut trees, but why not replant what you take.”
Strong women are celebrated across Jennifer Mourin’s artwork and she is thankful for growing up in a family of strong matriarchs. With grandmothers of Thai origin on both her maternal and paternal side, Jennifer Mourin has been inspired by her mother’s Thai village in Kelantan, east Malaysia. She has even claimed the sarongs that the women in Kelantan wear as a totem for her identity and art. The beautifully coloured, batik-style prints feature heavily throughout her pieces.
“Female energy comes to the fore for me,” she says. “The colours and dramas in my mother’s village were an influence on me. I’m not really a floral kind of person – but suddenly this world of florals came to the fore for me.”
The women that Jennifer Mourin depicts in her art are voluptuous and shapely women – beautiful and truly feminine. “There is a certain look and view of a woman’s body that takes precedence over what is real,” she says. “The pictures I draw are very real. Women are not model thin, that’s not reality. The point is the variety of our shapes and sizes, and the fact that unites us is that we are women.”
One woman that Jennifer Mourin has a huge amount of respect for is her mother, who was also the first person to recognise her daughter’s talent from an early age. “My mother had to take care of two precocious children,” she laughs. “It was because of her that I got into art.”
“My mother’s creativity amazes me,” Jennifer Mourin adds. “She used to trace these cartoons and whatever she used to see in my books. She’d do outlines and then she’d get me to colour them in with a very basic children’s paint and brush set. She would sit there and say ‘go on then’. I could lose myself – it was almost like taking me to another space and my mum would leave me to it and let me get on with it.”
But Jennifer Mourin’s own creativity journey was not one that would take her down a “formal” route. The Eurasian artist didn’t go to art college and she is purely self-taught. Inspired by human rights, the environment and women rights, Jennifer Mourin pursued a route which saw her spend time working for women’s liberation magazine, Spare Rib, writing about race relations, feminism, human rights and environmental rights, whilst living in London during the 1980s. She also worked in various roles in Malaysia for the Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific, and the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development.
In 2009, she decided to take the plunge and pursue her art. Going from full-time employment to part-time consultancy so she could work on her art, she admits “was scary”. But fortunately Jennifer Mourin’s consultancy work at the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) and work as an artist has bode well. “Concurrently in my part-time job at WABA, it was a space where lots of things started to come together. The struggle for mothers struck a chord. Breastfeeding and the whole issue with visibility and rights.”
Many of Jennifer Mourin’s pieces feature women breastfeeding, an act that she is aware of has become controversial, even viewed as an ‘obscene’ act in society’s eyes. “I reclaim this as well, revelling in the power of mothers supporting mothers, women supporting women,” she adds. “A woman has a right to choose whether she wants to breastfeed her child. When she does choose, it is only right that she is supported to breastfeed and nurture her child whether at home, in the workplace, or in other places she exists as a part of the society that she lives in.”
Jennifer Mourin cites Frida Kahlo and Paul Gauguin as some of her influences. But given she has not been driven by the technicalities of art, she acknowledges that it is their stories that have captivated her. “I absorb their essence as artists, and respect their style,” she explains. “I connect because Frida Kahlo faced her own reality and Paul Gauguin went searching for something and went to Tahiti looking for a utopia and stumbled on other problems. Nothing’s perfect – through the pain of their own realities they found a way of putting it in such a real and beautiful way and that’s what excites me.”
Speaking about her own foray into art, Jennifer Mourin says: “I draw organically from the heart. The technical component can not be the only thing in art otherwise it becomes soulless.
“Just letting my inner voice and the issues that I find fascinating and that vex me, and channel it to come out in ink, colour, gauche and acrylic – I guess I found a trademark signature style.
“I found my voice. I found my signature and people could see it was my work. There was an assuredness and confidence that I gained from having people react positively to my art, rather than having gone through formal [art] training.
“I can never copy something. I always do my own spin. That came through as well. This is my way of putting myself and my thoughts and concerns on the canvas. As long as I am happy with it and it is real, that is my reality check.”
Jennifer Mourin’s art is also influenced by the eternal search for balance and fulfilment of the soul’s spiritual journey, and the pursuit of understanding of one’s reality. Through her paintings, she informs her audience of what is truly going on in the world – including the story of endangered species such as the Horn Bill Bird and Tiger of Malaysia. One of the best compliments she has ever received was from a person, who bought one of her paintings, and said that her art “doesn’t bludgeon you over the head but the beauty and the power of the paintings resonates”.
“It’s not an overt message,” Jennifer Mourin explains. “But it’s there. I’m making visible either what people take for granted or find obscene.”
Selling a piece of her art to someone who understands her message puts things into perspective for Jennifer Mourin. “You could say my paintings are my children. I want it to go to a home where it’s going to mean something to the buyer,” she adds.
“I have turned people down who want to buy my art because I didn’t feel right about it. It’s like giving a piece of your soul away. I can’t do this if it’s purely commercial. It’s coming in different ways and coming in ways that are more acceptable. It’s not about charging a huge amount – it’s about touching a person’s soul for years to come.”
All Pictures: © Jennifer Mourin
Jennifer Mourin’s artwork is available to buy from Fine Art America
Rosalind Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She is a journalist who writes about sustainable life & style, music, entertainments and wellbeing. Rosalind also works as a spiritual life coach and intuitive advisor helping people to become who they truly are and manifest their heart & soul’s desires into their lives: www.rosalindmedea.com