Since most of my Art Matters interviews are done via Zoom, I was thrilled at the opportunity to chat with Jean Jack at her Freeport home. Sitting in its folk art-filled living room, I imagine I could be inside one of the classic Maine farmhouses that Jack paints. Only rarely does she offer a hint of life within her signature subjects; windows are occasionally adorned with simple white curtains, and the outlines of a car or tractor might be barely visible in the dark open bay of a barn.
Jack’s focus is instead on the exterior architecture, which she whittles down to basic elements, sometimes just a rooftop or a façade. Her settings are equally spare, defined by swaths of color and few details. And while her colors are not always what you would expect—in one painting, the sky glows gold-green over a barn roof, and in another, two identical white cottages sit under a pink sky next to a lavender sea— her scenes always feel familiar.
Jack and her husband, Claude, lived in California, Connecticut, and Santa Fe (where she owned a folk art gallery named The House That Jack Built) before moving to Maine in 2011. She began painting seriously in the early 1980s, when her three daughters were in high school. “I painted the water and the window with the flowers in it—all those things,” she says. On a snowy day drive she happened upon two yellow barns, one on either side of the country road. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is what I want to do.’ It was very hard to photograph them because the road was windy and there was no place to park. I just held the camera out the window when I was driving.”
Jack still finds and photographs her subjects on drives, but usually with Claude at the wheel. She works in the barn-like studio attached to her home about five days a week in the afternoons. With the photos as inspiration, she sketches out the design, and often places buildings in a different environment than where they are in real life—a rural farm may end up on the water, for example. Her choice of colors fluctuates depending on her mood. “Right now I’m doing dark blue skies, but I’ll get over that,” Jack says with a smile, indicating a large work-in-progress on an easel and two smaller pieces propped up against a paint-spattered table. “Sometimes what happens is that I’ve almost finished something and I realize I don’t like it, and I make it way more minimal by just blocking out things. “I’ve become more minimal and abstract as time has gone on.”