The "Work of Art" Exit Interview: Jaime Lynn Henderson

The "Work of Art" Exit Interview: Jaime Lynn Henderson

This week's casualty of the reality show Work of Art: The Next Great Artist was Jaime Lynn Henderson, the chipper former beauty pageant contestant, whose final piece was an ode to "car-dancing," and featured line-drawing self-portraits grooving around a hubcap. She talks to ARTINFO here about Jock Jams, and how God thinks she's awesome.


What have you been up to since you left the show?

Well, I’m continuing my studio practice. I’ve got a wonderful studio — it’s part of a residency at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago given to me by the Chicago Artists Coalition, which has been awesome. I’ve been working there. And I’m working on an illustration project for a local author, for a book coming out pretty soon.

You’ve been working as an illustrator? Even after the judges nailed you for your fondness for illustration?

I’ve been working to diversify my creative output. I’m looking to start taking my imagery into the commercial fashion world, advertising, store displays, and just all sorts of different kinds of fun and healthy collaborations. And I’m also trying to put together a TV show. I’m not sure how that’s going to work yet exactly, but a TV show about artists, about creative entrepreneurs.

Are you going to take anything from the Work of Art model for your TV show?

No, I don’t think so — nothing else except that I want it to showcase creative individuals. But it’s not going to be a reality show.

How do you feel about the fact that you were criticized so much on Work of Art for making pieces that were primarily illustrations? Did you take any of that criticism to heart?

I appreciated it, and I understand why it came to me. The big problem was that I was not able to present the judges with something that was visually stunning enough to carry the work beyond its girly, high school, 17-year-old subject matter. Normally, in my practice, I have a lot more time. And that’s not an excuse; I should’ve been able to come up with something, but normally I’m able to build up the surface of a painting to the point where there really isn’t a question about the subject matter. It’s such a confident painting that people take it for what it is. Whether or not they like it, they at least consider it a valid way of working. There are a lot of other things you can look at in the surface quality, it’s not just “this is a painting of debutantes in high heels riding a whale — like, what is this?” People get over that quickly when you provide them with something that’s visually interesting enough. And I unfortunately wasn’t able to do that for this particular set of judges.

Your work this week for the Audi challenge was about “car-dancing.” Can you explain what car-dancing is? Is it just dancing in a car?

It is just dancing in a car. And it did not come off the way that I thought it would. Car-dancing sounds like, I don’t know what! Maybe dancing with little mini cars in your hands? I have no idea. But it did not quite translate the way that I was hoping it would. My friends and I, in high school, would go on these road trips and just blast pop, hip-hop, Britney Spears. That was when Britney was super hot, I mean "Toxic"? Come on. There’s nothing better to dance to than that song. I actually danced to that in a pageant a long time ago. And I won, let me just say. I had like a little hat and a blazer and it was ridiculous, but I love dancing, and when we were driving those Audis we were able to crank up the music, which we normally were never able to do, and just jam. It was awesome! You know you release endorphins when you’re dancing — you’re exercising, you get your blood pumping, there’s just nothing better. And really, what a fitting piece to go home on! I mean, it was so me. Anybody who knows me would’ve looked at that piece and known it was mine. It was ridiculous. It was the most ridiculous piece of art I’ve ever made in my entire life. But it’s also the piece I would’ve wanted to keep the most, out of all of them. Because it reflected me so truthfully, as ridiculous as it was — I’m ridiculous!

Do you have any other recommendations for would-be car-dancers? Other good songs? Any prime dance moves?

Oh man! The Black Eyed Peas always works, and tried-and-true Jock Jams, Volume 1, always works so well. You’re kind of limited in a car, obviously — there can be no hip movement and there can be no leg movement, otherwise you’ll wreck your car. But you can definitely groove with the shoulders, a couple of fist-pumps, you can work your hair around. You’ve got to car-dance with your hair down. If you do it up then you just look silly and spastic, but if you let your hair down you look sexy and cool. It’s really best for long stretches, where you’re not going to have to be turning. It’s definitely not best for New York City driving. I do not recommend it for driving in Manhattan. But Simon de Pury, Abdi Farah, and I definitely tried. Let me tell you, Simon’s got some hot moves!

I believe it! Just to backtrack a little, why did you decide to do the show originally?

Honestly, it was mostly a “why not?” moment when I heard about it. The casting for the Midwest region was at the school I had just gotten my M.F.A. from, so I was familiar with the campus. And I had applied for a whole bunch of grown-up arts-administration kind of jobs, and none of them had worked out. It was a weird thing that none of these jobs had gone through. And then this opportunity came out of nowhere, completely out of left field. And I thought — I think a light bulb went off in my head — I can totally do this! I can at least dress up in my artsy, kind of coo,l kind of chic, kind of weird outfit, put on my red lipstick and my heels, and stand in line to give my little spiel. And before you knew it everything worked out. It was crazy.

Your fashion sense is pretty distinct from the other contestants’ on the show — among other things, you wear a lot of really big flowers. Talk a little bit about your style.

I love fashion. I’ve been obsessed with old Hollywood, old sitcoms, kitschy — oh gosh — cartoon characters, you name it, Disney movies, even Miss America pageant stuff. I’ve spent a lot of time in the South because that’s where my family lives now. I was a cheerleader and a dancer in high school, and we always wore those glittery tops and other strange things. And I don’t know where it all comes from, but I’m crazy about it! I think it’s just as much of a valid art form and a way of expressing myself as making a painting is. My best friends and I, our favorite thing to do is go vintage shopping, and find ways to combine things.

Do you have any favorite items, looks, or accessories?

I love a big floral brooch. I love a ridiculous glittery blazer, and really gaudy rings. That whole rule that you’re supposed to take off a piece of jewelry before you leave the house? Nope. You’re supposed to add at least three, that’s my opinion.

You’re pegged on the show as the religious one. Do Christian beliefs influence your artistic practice outside of the context of the show or was that played up in the editing process?

My relationships with God and with Jesus and with art are all equally a part of me. I don’t always make work about being a Christian, in fact that rarely happens. It just happened with the shocking art challenge because for some reason, when I didn’t know what else to do, I felt like I had to make a public service announcement. Sometimes Christian imagery will come in and out of the work. I normally just don’t explain it so blatantly, to the point where people are like, “Oh, she makes work about this.” I guess I could say that my relationship with God informs my work in that I feel like he’s cool with me. He thinks I’m pretty awesome. He doesn’t have any issue with any area of my life. But I’m far from perfect — I can put all those issues of my life into my paintings, and I’m fine with them there. I hash them out in my paintings.

In the end, do you feel like you’ve taken anything away from the experience of being on Work of Art?

Oh, absolutely. One, I should’ve gotten my roots done before I went on the show. Two, I should’ve worn a different dress for the last elimination. I wish I had known I was getting eliminated, because I had a vintage 1940s gown — yellow, and perfection. I totally wanted to wear that when I went home! I didn’t get to, but it’s fine. Three, the process really empowered me to sort of approach my career from here on out as, you can’t really rely on people to really get you anywhere. The only people you can rely on are your loved ones, and in my case, God. I mean, that’s it! You want people so badly to be in your corner, people that you think are more important than you, people that you think have art-world clout. And when you really hope they’re there the most, they won’t be there. And that’s fine, that’s OK. I don’t ever want be in that situation where I’m not confident enough in myself and I’m just hoping for somebody to throw me a bone and say something nice about me on a blog or on a TV show and for it to get me somewhere. You can’t think of it that way. It’s not going to happen by any human being loving or hating Jaime Lynn Henderson. It’s my own singular vision, my own drive, and if God’s behind it, it’s going to work, and if not, it won’t, and I don’t want it to anyway then. That’s the biggest, most empowering lesson I’ve learned: people can’t do it for you. It’s never going to work. Their tastes are fickle and will change. And that’s perfectly fine.