Jennifer Mark and Juliet Moran: Artists

L
ess than two years ago artists Jennifer Mark and Juliet Moran founded their artistic collaborative Open Eye Art, LLC. With Moran’s more business-oriented background and experience working with multinational groups, and Mark’s extensive artistic background, the two found a balance of symmetry. One of their most notable projects to date is the Randall Children’s Hospital Transition Project, an installation of several works of art that helped Legacy Emanuel in their journey to a new home.

How did the Randall Children’s Hospital project come about?

Juliet: Jenny was the one who was working with the Randall Children’s Hospital as a volunteer. They were building the new hospital, and a lot of employees were having difficulties with the transition.

Jennifer: I had been working on their campaign to get the last $25 million need- ed to complete the hospital. Legacy is a nonprofit, which a lot of people don’t know. So I got to know some of the people there and found they had some really unusual spaces, and I knew that they were going to need art. They have what are called “lantern rooms,” which are these really tall, skinny rooms with amazing wood chandeliers. We wanted to come up with art that helped with their transition, that the employees could be a part of, and that would be custom to this really unusual space.

Explain how the project was a collaborative effort between the two of you and the hospital staff.

Juliet: So the CEO really wanted everyone to have a way to honor the old, but have pride in the new. Creating this art was a way for them to actually be involved in and a part of their new environment. We had ten different workshops over two days. We donated a free workshop for them, and then they paid us for additional groups at a greatly reduced rate. All sorts of employees participated—neurosurgeons, oncology nurses, physical therapists, housekeepers, groundskeepers…

Jennifer: We had 190 employees that were chosen by their department heads. Our challenge was, okay, we have to work with 190 individuals—a lot of them don’t have more than an hour or two to be creative on this. So we had to come up with something that was easy for them to do.

Juliet: To me, one of the most surprising things was at the end of these work- shops, they’d just gone through this creative process and doing something to- tally outside their zone, yet they created something beautiful. And at the end they would talk about how relaxing it was, or how they kind of shed parts of their personality. They sort of acquiesced and were able to collaborate in a way that they wouldn’t normally.

How many different works comprise the overall installation?

Juliet: We did three different art projects with the Randall Children’s Hospital. We had six 4’x8’ panels with balls, we had six huge 6.5’x4’ birch panels with aspen trees, and 18 butterfly and insect canvases.

What was the significance behind the imagery of the trees?

Jennifer: One of our original logos for Open Eye was going to be an aspen tree. I grew up in Wyoming, and as a kid I loved walking in the aspen tree forests up
on Casper Mountain because they look like eyes. But the image didn’t end up working for us. So we chose aspen trees for the Randall project, and then we discovered they had all these unique qualities. They grow most easily after a big fire because the roots are all protected and connected. It’s a community under there. They’re all attached. And if you go to Colorado and see the colors change—they do it simultaneously.

Juliet: Not only are they a community of roots, when the trees are most di- verse—different maturities—they survive better. So they survive better through diversity. So it was such a great symbol for having a diverse group of people and needs.

Jennifer: We also discovered that everywhere you see the black marks on the trees they’re the scars of where a branch broke off and then healed. And then we thought, oh how perfect, we’re having them write in all of the scars that have healed over. We asked the nurses and doctors and employees to write their healing advice and thoughts…

Juliet: …their words of encouragement. We had scores of employees writing their intentions down. There are also lots of tributes on there to people that have passed on.

Tell me about the ball panel series.

Jennifer: The first workshop we did was actually these ball panels. We tried to get people to think about how, when they’re in healthcare, they have to juggle a lot of balls. Some of those balls are glass and they can’t afford to drop those. They were getting ready for this transition from the old Emanuel Hospital into their brand new children’s hospital, and they were really worried about losing a patient. When you’re wheeling kids over with IVs attached, it could mean life or death for a patient. It’s not just a move.

Juliet: And they were going from these cramped quarters to a much broader space, and so they were afraid that they were going to be dropping balls—that they weren’t going to have as good communication, they weren’t sure what the new systems were going to be like. So they had a heartfelt concern.

Jennifer: Each individual did their own ball, making sure that whatever ball they put on there, each one made sense with the ones next to it. There’s a kite at the top with a kite string that ties them altogether and ties the old with the new. The whole kite string is full of their words, all their positive intentions—that they want it to be a place of healing, that they want to have all the good things that were in the old building brought over to the new building, that they kept their heart and soul… There’s a lot of symbolism. So this is on their lower level, in their day surgery area, and they chose to hang it sideways.

How did you come up with the butterfly imagery?

Jennifer: You choose a butterfly because it’s meta- morphosis. It’s change. Each canvas had four people working on it simultaneously, and they had to work silently. Their communication had to be through eye contact and mimicking each other as they painted, so that it was symmetrical. If one made a mistake, the other had to make a mistake. If one used color over here, the other had to try and make it look simi- lar.

Juliet: One thing that Native Americans would do is whisper a wish into a butterfly and let it go.

Jennifer: And it’s supposed to carry your wish to the Great Spirit.

Juliet: We had everybody put wishes into their butterfly. And everybody wrote their intentions for the hospital all around the edges of the canvas, which then got imbedded under the black silhouette. So even though it’s an exercise in creating something beautiful, the pieces also have a lot of soul.

How did the two of you meet and end up deciding to work together?

Juliet: We met on the bleachers of a ball field—our sons are the same age. They played Little League together. I had worked in business for years and years, and you know, people get so brain dead being in their normal profession. I had had the idea that there needed to be some way to exercise the other part of their brain that’s lying dormant. It creates so much more energy for what they’re doing if they can. After I left the business world, I had the freedom to explore all this new stuff and do a totally different kind of work, not being hemmed in by budgets and personnel and this and that. So Jenny and I started talking and brainstorming a couple of years ago, and formed our business idea. We registered Open Eye Art in October of 2010.

Jennifer: Juliet’s the one that makes sure we stay on track. She keeps me from going overboard.

Juliet: I’m the time clock person. I pull her in.

Jennifer, you have worked for over 30 years as a professional solo artist. What made you decide to translate that path into a collaborative one?

Well, I ended up creating lots of art and selling it to the cruise industry. It was the job you would dream of. Paint whatever you want to paint, as much as 12 you want to paint, mail it away and they send you a check. And when you want to go on a cruise and travel somewhere, you just tell them and they say, “Ok, you can do this cruise.” How great could that be? Well after five years of that—there wasn’t any feedback, I wasn’t meeting the people who were buying my paintings—I was feeling totally isolated, totally unappreciated, totally disconnected from the people that were moved by my art. I was also totally isolated from meeting other artists in Portland be- cause, like writers, artists tend to be a very solitary group. And so I was hoping to figure out a way in which I could connect with other artists, and that’s when Juliet and I began to collaborate.

Juliet, you have a strong background in Asian culture—you speak Japanese, paint Chinese-inspired characters, and have traveled and worked throughout Asia. How do these experiences in- form the work you do with Open Eye?

They have a big influence on me and inform my work with Open Eye Art in a few different ways. My art kind of started with Chinese calligraphy, then Chinese brush painting and watercolors and things. But I think I have always gravitated towards that type of art, so I bring that kind of aesthetic into our practice. I think I have a unique way of thinking about collaboration and about how people work together because of my experiences working and living in Asia and working overseas and working with really diverse groups, bringing people that maybe don’t have the same first language together. Throughout my en- tire work life I have been working with multinational groups. So I kind of have always brought disparate groups together.

The main focus of Open Eye Art is bringing art into the workplace. Explain your philosophy behind that.

Juliet: A lot of people can sell art to the workplace, but that’s not what we’re really about. We’re more about the people IN the workplace experiencing it and creating it themselves, and collaborating with each other.

Jennifer: There are so many creative people out there living in a left-brain world. And nobody knows how creative they are. When you’re more clicked into the right side of your brain, you see the whole picture better, you make more connections…

Juliet: …you start tapping into new ideas, and start solving problems in new ways.

Jennifer: And that can be really beneficial to a company, or to anybody. We’d love for people to know that we can come in and help them create—either just a tiny corner or a room in their office space where their employees can come and be creative and incubate and come up with ideas. Pixar does it. Google does it. And so it’s a new method of getting people to interact in ways that are a little more creative than just the water cooler.

So how do your clients find you, or how do you find them?

Jennifer: We started experimenting with friends and invited them to free workshops and we just built up from there. We really like to support a lot of the non- profits. Juliet is on the board of the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine, so we’re currently working with them. We also like to give back to the public schools, because they definitely don’t have enough art. And then we’ve discovered that our biggest market is probably going to be healthcare.

What are your primary media?

Jennifer: What we’re trying to do is bring brand new mixtures and media that people have never seen or used and use them in unconventional ways. I think that makes the creative process more exciting, especially if they don’t have preconceived ideas. It puts a mystery into art.

Juliet: Whatever the situation that the client needs. We have a lot of different projects that we do—and will do. And we’re constantly getting inspiration for new things.

You’ve talked about the importance of helping people break out of their routines by engaging them in more right brain activities. How do you find your techniques?

Jennifer: We’ve studied a lot of the science and the research behind creativity, you know, some of the latest studies. We’ve studied a lot of right brain exercises. One of the things we’re making sure that we do in every workshop is that we cover all the senses.

Juliet: It makes such a difference to have all your senses engaged.

Jennifer: You just can’t put a camera in front of someone and say, okay, we’re going to be creative now. Our brains don’t work that way. You need to transition.

 

About The Author: Jenn Dawson