Canadian artist Jeanine Brito was fascinated by all things creative from a young age. Born in Mainz, Germany to a German mother and Brazilian father, the family eventually ended up near the Rocky Mountains of Alberta in Canada where she spent her formative creative years.
“I was obsessed with drawing princesses,” Brito tells CR. “My parents were very supportive thankfully, and my family on my dad’s side would sew these incredible princess costumes for me that I’d wear to daycare. I was very lucky to be put in all kinds of classes – dance, theatre, piano – but I always came back to visual art.”
Brito had an early introduction to design and magazine production, founding an online magazine for teen girls aged 12, and having to figure out how to code and design a website during the process. She then started another magazine project with friends when she was 15, this time with a fashion focus.
“When it came time to decide on a university programme, it made sense to do something that combined fashion and graphic design. Then, while in university, I did a semester abroad at the Amsterdam Fashion Institute for a minor in independent fashion magazines. That opened my eyes to what a magazine can be beyond mainstream titles,” she says.
“After graduating, I worked as a graphic designer while also launching a third magazine, fashion focused again but through a feminist lens, and for four years I juggled a job and the magazine until we eventually folded.”
Missing having a creative outlet separate from her day job, Brito found her way back to painting several years ago. She started out slowly, taking several months at a time to complete a painting, but in 2019 decided to make her art practice more of a focus.
“A few months later, we went into lockdown and suddenly I had all this time where I would normally see friends, or go to a movie, or spend the day exploring the city. So I threw myself into art, and worked through months and months of paintings that still weren’t quite what I wanted but brought me closer each time,” she says.
Exploring themes such as fashion and food, Brito’s paintings have developed a dreamlike, theatrical quality over time. As her practice evolved she stopped painting from reference photos, instead experimenting with self-portraits in imagined settings.
“It was sort of a return to my childhood princess drawings, and I found it very freeing to just paint whatever images were taking shape in my head. Those paintings gave me the courage to try working at a larger scale,” she explains.
Brito’s graphic design background clearly has had a lasting influence on her work today. “There are a lot of really useful things I’ve learned as a designer that inform my painting; composition, colour theory, balance, to name a few,” she says.
“Where I’ve found it challenging is unlearning the perfectionism that’s so useful as a designer. I spent such a long time painting from reference photos that I would meticulously collage together in Photoshop, but I’d be moving around layers for hours and hours, a pixel at a time. By the time I got to the canvas, I was already bored of the image. Letting go of that scared me so much, but it was the best thing I did for myself as a painter.”
Brito’s explorations with painting have culminated in her debut online solo show, August and Other Stories, a series of 11 works that evoke the emotions of late summer. “I’ve always been a very nostalgic person, but August is when I let myself indulge those feelings, because it’s already this bittersweet, slightly melancholic ending of summer. Then the pandemic hit and we spent a year and a half in and out of lockdowns, and it became this very intense period of recollection for me,” she says.
“I became fixated on this idea of how fragile memory is, how much the truth of it changes with context or hindsight, and also how it degrades. As details fade away, a memory becomes more of a feeling with little pockets of clarity, rather than a complete idea. The show attempts to capture some of those early 20s memories that I dwelled on, as I remember them now.”
August and Other Stories is available to view until September 18; artistellar.com