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Jenny Kendler brings the wild to art in her SLOMA exhibit Bewilder | Be Wilder 

From the moment she uttered her first word, “picture,” it was clear Jenny Kendler would be an artist. 

Growing up in Virginia, Kendler spent her childhood digging up worms and picking flowers to be pressed. Her Californian parents made sure their home had solar panels, and vacations were spent in sunny San Luis Obispo visiting Kendler’s mother’s family.

click to enlarge A HAPPY ACCIDENT:  A porcelain bird of paradise that was broken in the mail was reborn as Camouflage V, one of Kendler’s sculptures. - PHOTO COURTESY OF JENNY KENDLER
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF JENNY KENDLER
  • A HAPPY ACCIDENT: A porcelain bird of paradise that was broken in the mail was reborn as Camouflage V, one of Kendler’s sculptures.

“I was lucky enough to be raised in a family that was supportive of my art and was very environmental,” Kendler said. “I never wanted to be anything but an artist. In Virginia we lived next to a lake and I would explore for hours in the woods. I always wanted to be outside.”

Today, Kendler and her husband live in Chicago but return to San Luis Obispo every year to spend their winters in California, where it’s still warm enough to spend their time outdoors, where Kendler finds most of her artistic inspiration.

“My favorite medium is the one I haven’t tried,” said Kendler, who got her start in drawing and painting. “The core of my practice is ideas, not a medium.”

A philosophical thread that connects Kendler’s body of work is the idea that humans aren’t so separate from nature after all. Kendler and her husband will often go on bike rides, binoculars in tow, to go bird watching. This passion sparked a group art project, One Hour of Birds, in which Kendler asked artists from around the country to send her all the images, even the blurry ones, that they got from shooting photos of birds continuously in one shot for an hour. 

click to enlarge WILD ONE:  Jenny Kendler (pictured) is an environmentalist and an artist with roots in Virginia and San Luis Obispo. Her exhibit Bewilder | Be Wilder is currently on display at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art. - PHOTO COURTESY OF JENNY KENDLER
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF JENNY KENDLER
  • WILD ONE: Jenny Kendler (pictured) is an environmentalist and an artist with roots in Virginia and San Luis Obispo. Her exhibit Bewilder | Be Wilder is currently on display at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art.

“I wanted to share that experience with others,” Kendler said. “The natural world transforms when you take the time to sit and be silent. It also changes the way you use the camera. It stops being this techie thing and just sort of becomes this extended eye.”

The collaborative project, along with some of Kendler’s solo works, is part of her Bewilder | Be Wilder exhibit currently on display at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art. One photo from the project, shot by Kendler from the deck of the Polargirl on the way to see the Nordenskiold glacier off the coast of Greenland, is a black and white shot that shows a flock of birds flying so closely together that their wings overlap and they appear as one, with one clear inquisitive eye staring the viewer in the face.

The exhibit also features some of Kendler’s sculptures. One of those pieces, Camouflage V, has the body of a porcelain bird of paradise tinged with deep yellows, oranges, blues, and a splash of green. Where the head should be is instead a gold three-dimensional polyhedron. This little guy, for which Kendler paid more than she’d like to admit, was never intended to be art; he was supposed to be merely decorative. But when the shoddily packaged porcelain bird arrived in the mail with its head broken off, Kendler knew what she would do.

click to enlarge BIRDS OF A FEATHER:  This photo of a flock of birds was taken by Kendler from the deck of the Polargirl on the way to see the Nordenskiold glacier off the coast of Greenland. It’s part of the collaborative One Hour of Birds project. - PHOTO COURTESY OF JENNY KENDLER
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF JENNY KENDLER
  • BIRDS OF A FEATHER: This photo of a flock of birds was taken by Kendler from the deck of the Polargirl on the way to see the Nordenskiold glacier off the coast of Greenland. It’s part of the collaborative One Hour of Birds project.

“It was obviously meant to be one of my sculptures,” Kendler said. “I’m very fond of that piece. It feels like it has a personality.”

Kendler hopes that her snapshots of a moment in time spent outside will inspire others to dive deep into nature.

“We can’t fully understand the human experience without understanding nature,” Kendler said. “There’s no special equipment that’s required. Just bring your animal body. Everyone is welcome.”

New Times Arts Editor Ryah Cooley is luring humming birds to her deck at rcooley@newtimesslo.com.

- UP IN THE SKY :  Jenny Kendler’s Bewilder | Be Wilder exhibit is on display at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art through May 30. Admission is free and the museum is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Tuesday. Visit sloma.org and jennykendler.com for more information. -
  • UP IN THE SKY : Jenny Kendler’s Bewilder | Be Wilder exhibit is on display at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art through May 30. Admission is free and the museum is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Tuesday. Visit sloma.org and jennykendler.com for more information.

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