By Dean Haspiel
I’ve had the honor of knowing Jen Ferguson for over 20-years. I first met her when I was a waiter in Soho, NY at Nick & Eddie restaurant while on my journey to becoming a professional cartoonist and she a painter. I had the pleasure of dabbling with her on impromptu collaborations, late night bar napkin drawings and scrap paper sketches, as she showed me the freedom to abandon expectation for spontaneity and to draw what came from your heart and not necessarily from your mind. I admit that kind of spiritual immunity terrified me as I honed my talents towards making deadline-oriented, commercial-sized entertainment but I never forgot Jen’s innate lesson to “let go.” To this day, my drunken bar napkin art is my best stuff.
It wasn’t until 15-years later that we would reunite and there she was, still creating and amassing those spiritually free paintings, only now her art was populated with a world of haunted misfits, mischievous creatures, and apocalyptic architecture; where iconic characters dressed up in their best dreams and structures wore their history with the exhaustion of pride. A place where Schiele tag-teamed Grosz and Dix and put Matisse in a headlock while Herriman’s Krazy Kat threw a brick at his cranium just to see what would happen. And, what often would happen is a curious illumination of romance and sensitivity, not unlike the feelings you might get from a sublime Hopper vista to mull and ponder. And therein lies the twist. Jen was no random folk artist who drew under the radar like a shut-in with a secret talent awaiting recognition from the gallery world. She built her customer base one client at a time and even teaches art to some of their children at Possum Paint Studio in DUMBO, Brooklyn.
It was Jen Ferguson’s unbridled sensibility to celebrate the banished and blow the whistle on human infractions in her art that led me to commission her works for TRIP CITY. It was my desire to digitize Jen’s analog art and help shine a light for the social-networking universe to ogle and debate. I was proud to match Jen with composer JG Thirwell for their comix collaboration, “DUMBO, A Pagan Walks Among Us,” and publish her exhibit, “Delerium Imaginarium,” among other projects like her drawings of trolls, monsters, bridges, horses and sushi. Her brush exists to react honestly on canvas. Her art speaks for itself but Jen is the real deal.
Recently, Jen started illustrating “Out Of Luck,” a free weekly series published at America’s Best Racing website, written by lifelong horseman, John Perrotta, who was one of the writers of the HBO show “Luck.” This is their depiction of an imagined racetrack-based story which includes some of the characters depicted in the short-lived “Luck” saga.
I asked Jen some questions about her OUT OF LUCK collaboration and what she’s doing next.
How did you get involved with illustrating John Perrotta’s OUT OF LUCK series for America’s Best Racing website?
“My artwork initially ended up in John Perrotta’s hands through a film editor who knew my work and who was hired by David Milch to work on writing LUCK. She gifted Milch and Perrotta prints of my “Railbirds” art, a series of drawings I made at Aqueduct Racetrack. Some of my work, as well as the “Railbirds” book, was hanging around the LUCK production office so it got some eyeballs on it. Anyway, John really responded to the tone of the drawings and liked what I was doing, and he helped me gain some access to the track at Saratoga and Belmont as well as the Saratoga yearling sales. He is extremely knowledgeable about just about every aspect of racing. I learned a lot by following him around. Ever since he saw my work he wanted to do something together, so when this opportunity came up he generously asked me. I was thrilled.”
“I really loved it. I thought the characters were wonderful and the story was evolving into something truly engaging. So, I’m sorry it got cut short. I liked how the story reeled around within the groups of characters and I enjoyed the drama and pathos that was created amongst the strange rhythms of the track. The photography alone was stunning.”
What attracted you to drawing race horses and railbirds?
“I enjoy drawing at the track because there’s so much to look at. The horses are stunning and a real challenge to draw; they are in constant motion and every inch of them is pure beauty.
There’s also a sort of circus element if you will- the brightly colored racing silks, the pageantry of the post parade and bugle call, the winner’s circle and owners milling about. And what happens on the track, in the starting gate, the race itself is an explosion of power and violence that’s hard to describe in a drawing, but I’m still trying.
As far as the railbirds, there’s no better place to draw people than at the track. If the horses are in constant motion, the railbirds are almost the complete opposite; usually only getting up every 20 minutes or so to place a bet, but otherwise set in place hunched over a racing form or planted in front of the simulcast monitors. They’re great subjects. Everyone is so focused on their racing forms that they don’t notice another person next to them with a notebook (me, drawing instead of handicapping). It’s a good place to work. I find that people who go to the track, and work there, are extremely friendly and helpful. There’s a very communal aspect, despite the appearance of people doing intense math by themselves. It’s a sort of “everyone in the same boat” attitude and in general, I find race fans to be particularly optimistic and fairly impervious to the inevitable losing streaks. People celebrate each others wins and commiserate when you lose by a nose. Between the horses and the characters, you could say I’m drawing the most beautiful creatures in nature, and the most interesting.”
“I’m always working on way too much at one time, but my short list is: a big mural for Sunny’s Bar in Red Hook, Brooklyn, some new large architectural paintings, and lots more racetrack sketches, as well as some racetrack oil paintings I hope to complete by the beginning of summer.”