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Inside Jenny Wu’s “It Depends”: A Continuation of Creative Exploration

Jenny Wu. Right: Delulu is Not The Selulu
Jenny Wu. Right: Delulu is Not The Selulu, 2023. 24 × 18 × 2.5 in. Latex paint and resin on wood panel. Courtesy Morton Fine Art and the artist.

In her latest solo exhibition, “It Depends,” at Morton Fine Art in D.C., sculptural painter Jenny Wu continues to explore the boundaries of painting, building on the conceptual and material investigations that characterized her 2023 “Ai Yo!” show. 

Until March 16, Wu’s newest works, marked by their intricate gradients and sculptural possibilities, challenge and expand perceptions of depth and movement, engaging the viewer in a dynamic interplay of composition, color, control, and chance.

Wu’s commitment to pushing the limits of her medium is evident in this collection, where each piece not only showcases her technical skill but also her ability to weave illusion into her work. “It Depends” offers a closer look at how Wu’s art transcends conventional painting to explore innovative narratives.

We chatted with Jenny Wu to learn more about “It Depends,” reflecting on the evolution of her practice, the new directions her work has taken since “Ai Yo!,” and the personal processes behind her works. 


Jenny, thank you for taking the time to talk to us about your second solo show with Morton Gallery in DC. Your first show, “Ai Yo!,” took place in February of last year. Is “It Depends” an extension of the 2023 exhibition? What are some thoughts you took into consideration for this show?

Jenny Wu: Yes, I would say that “It Depends” is an extension of “Ai Yo!,” mostly because the works still have the same roots as those from last year. Although I have worked in installation, video, participatory, and other projects in the past, I find it very grounding to focus on one thing, to keep exploring how far I can push it. 

Since last year, I have consistently honed in on certain approaches to composition, color, control, chance, and surprise. With “It Depends,” I am introducing a few new approaches, such as blending and gradient patterns, works on a hexagon panel, and works embedded with other fragments.

Jenny Wu, Reset to Zero At Border Control
Jenny Wu, Reset to Zero At Border Control, 2023. 36 × 12 × 2.5 in. Latex paint and resin on wood panel. Right: Detail.
Jenny Wu, I Cringe Every Time I Have To Say My Name Backwards
Jenny Wu, I Cringe Every Time I Have To Say My Name Backwards, 2023. 24 × 18 × 2.5 in. Latex paint and resin on wood panel. Right: Detail.

One series of works resemble a gradient, or gradual change of colors. In “Reset to Zero at The Border Control,” the separation between colors is very soft, and you can see subtle curves and blending of colors in a work which is technically all straight lines. This is the result of overseeing different and independent paint drying processes.

I see myself continuing to make works like these for a while, until either I get bored with it, I run out of ideas, or feel I pushed it as much as I can.

Starting last year, I also began to work using hexagon panels. Compared to placing hexagon patterns on a rectangular panel, I’ve found these hexagon panels allow for a more authentic elaboration of a pattern. Plus, the illusion of space is much stronger on these panels. 

Additionally, I am now reusing my dried, leftover paint more frequently. In this new group of works on view, for example, two pieces use the same shared dry paint. “Sometimes It Cannot Be Translated, It Has to Be Felt” was made first, and the leftover paint from that work was reused in “I Cringe Every Time I Have To Say My Name Backwards.” This accounts for the latter’s frame-in-frame look.

I see myself continuing to make works like these for a while, until either I get bored with it, I run out of ideas, or feel I pushed it as much as I can.

Jenny Wu, Last Name Must Be At Least Three Characters Long
Jenny Wu, Last Name Must Be At Least Three Characters Long, 2023. Latex paint and resin on wood panel. 16 × 12 × 2.5 in. Right: Detail.

You have a background in architectural studies—geometric shapes, patterns, and the sculptural approach inform your work. How did you find your way into fine art?

Jenny Wu: Hm, how do I sum up my somewhat adventurous path in a few sentences? Let me try. As a child, it was hard for me to focus on studying, so my parents signed me up for piano lessons—hoping it could train me to focus for longer periods of time. I quit piano in a few weeks, blaming the biological disadvantage of a short pinky finger. Then, my parents signed me up for classical drawing and painting lessons, still with the agenda that those three hour long lessons would help me focus academically. 

I loved learning to draw and paint so much that I even went to an art high school. There the school experience was a double-edged sword: it gave me a solid foundation in art, but it also limited the possibilities to explore math and science. Hoping for a wider range of academic choices, I came to the U.S. for college and explored art, math, and science. Architectural studies emerged at the perfect intersection of art, math, and science. After college I came full circle somewhat and decided to pursue fine art seriously—and bring what architecture taught me along the way.

That quote by Steve Jobs about connecting the dots looking backwards resonates with me. Not a single step I took was wasted; it all contributed to the work I am making now. I wouldn’t be here talking with you if I altered any decision I made in the past.

Jenny Wu, A Useless Tree Is a Tree and After 15 Years I Finally Started to Understand Fahrenheit
Left: Jenny Wu, A Useless Tree Is a Tree, 2023. 29.5 × 37 × 2.5 in. Latex paint and resin on wood panel. Right: After 15 Years I Finally Started to Understand Fahrenheit, 2023. Latex paint and resin on wood panel. 36 × 12 × 2.5 in.

Can you share more about the more unique formats, the hexagon and elongated rectangles you like to explore?

Jenny Wu: In middle school math class, I learned how to use a compass and a straightedge to draw equilateral triangles. And six equilateral triangles form a hexagon, but the pattern could extend indefinitely. My mind was blown; it was pure magic. The 8th-grade me would never have imagined that the future me is still drawing the same equilateral triangles almost two decades later. The hexagon is a mathematically beautiful shape, without an overpowering association. When I think about a pentagon, the association with the Department of Defense is too strong; a heptagon, well, I cannot draw that by hand; an octagon screams stop sign. A hexagon is structure, math, and form. It can be everything and anything. And it allows great capacity to play with the illusion of space.

Looking at my sculptural paintings from six feet away and six inches away can give you completely different experiences. The color blends more as you step further away; the uneven surface is more visible when you are up close.

As for the elongated rectangles, I find it hard to articulate much about them right now. Maybe I need more time to think. The first time I made a piece on a 36 by 12 inch wood panel was a little over a year ago. Something about the thin, vertical format is really attractive. It reminded me of Chinese landscape and scroll painting after the fact. It does something other ratios cannot do; but I cannot put my finger on it. 

I have been working with dried layered latex paint on wood panels for about eight years now. Except for very early ones, almost every work I’ve made for almost ten years has been in a vertical format. This was not an intentional choice; it was something I just did without realizing I was doing it. After I became aware of it, I gave it some thought. Maybe I did this because I was so focused on perceptual landscape paintings before grad school, and I don’t want to make “landscapes” anymore, so these are “portraits”? I don’t know, and it’s probably not that important.

Your works invite the viewer to come close to explore the intricate relief landscapes. What are your experiences with that when people look at the pieces?

Jenny Wu: Looking at my sculptural paintings from six feet away and six inches away can give you completely different experiences. The color blends more as you step further away; the uneven surface is more visible when you are up close.

Looking at my sculptural paintings in person and looking at images of them can also give you different experiences. Two people who have only seen “I Cringe Every Time I Have To Say My Name Backwards” as an image, both asked me if the work is much more three dimensional than my other works. Maybe? I cannot see that, because I know what the work looks like in real life. I wish there is a way to remove prior knowledge so I can see my own paintings differently, in a fresh light too.

Recording time lapse videos makes my studio time more fun. The real-time version—pouring, cutting, gluing, resining—is extremely tedious. Nobody wants to see that, not even my cats.

Looking at any piece from the front compared to from the side, you will see them differently too. These are the moments when the works can be more sculptural than painterly.

I enjoy watching your Instagram—you share how you create your works, pouring thick coats of latex paint, cutting paint layers into pieces, and assembling them on wood panels. Can you speak to the advantages of showing your process?

Jenny Wu: I do want social media presence, but I don’t enjoy talking into a camera. So, process videos and photos are a way to still upload something without much talking, if at all. The content could communicate the sculptural aspects of my paintings.

Recording time lapse videos makes my studio time more fun. The real-time version—pouring, cutting, gluing, resining—is extremely tedious. Nobody wants to see that, not even my cats. They usually nap by the window all day, waiting for birds.

And sometimes I make those “oddly satisfying” videos, such as peeling off dried paint, or putting one last tiny piece on a panel. It’s a dopamine and/or serotonin release, for myself, and for whoever came across those videos.

At the end of the day, I am an artist, not a content creator. But I do need to constantly remind myself not to be too obsessed with views or likes on Instagram.

Can you pick a piece from the show that’s particularly important to you and tell us why?

Jenny Wu: “I Cringe Every Time I Have To Say My Name Backwards.” This was the first time I embedded pre-dried paint into wet paint, and it came out more visually stimulating than I anticipated. I was super excited to see it. It was not planned, per se. I had two extra slabs of paint left from “Sometimes It Cannot Be Translated, It Has To Be Felt” sitting in my studio for months, before I took a risk.

This process generated so many ideas; it opened another can of worms. I almost feel that my hands are not fast enough to catch up with the ideas, which, I know, is a great problem to have. 

And for the importance of my titles, moving on from sourcing titles predominantly from the internet in the past, I now write down a thought whenever one comes to me, or any interesting things I hear people around me say. I let that list sit on my phone for months, and when it is time to name new pieces, I go through the list and select.

Take this one work entitled “I Cringe Every Time I Have To Say My Name Backwards.” In Chinese culture, we put the family name first and the given name last. When I emigrated to the U.S., I had to get used to reversing the order of my own name. Try it, you will never get used to it. I go by Jenny Wu professionally because I want to avoid having to say my name backwards. I now only use my legal name at the airport, doctor’s office, banks, etc. Still, everytime, I cringe.

What’s your next big project?

Jenny Wu: I am making 14 hexagon paintings this summer! Super excited for that! I also have lots of colored pencil sketches on my studio wall. At the moment the ideas come much faster than the speed of paint drying. As I say this out loud, I can hear a mentor’s voice in my head, “this is a great problem to have.”

Wu’s second solo exhibition with the gallery, It Depends, will be on view from February 15 to March 16, 2024, at Morton in Washington, DC.

Installation photo of “It Depends.”
Installation photo of “It Depends.” Courtesy Morton Fine Art. Photo credit: Jarrett Hendrix.