Q&A with Painters Jeanette Mundt and Ned Vena

Updated: Aug 16, 2020

Mundt and Vena sat down with Okay Cool Magazine to share how they navigate jealousy and competitiveness while being in the same line of work as their romantic partner.

words by Kitty Knorr

*The original version of this interview can be found in Okay Cool Magazine Issue #2

In a few sentences, can you share a little bit about the each of you and what you’re currently working on, or your latest project?

Jeanette Mundt - I’m a painter and writer living in New York.  I was born in the US, and I grew up in Zurich, Switzerland and I moved back to America to go to university. I am currently working on paintings for a show at a gallery in Manhattan that will open in early 2020.

Ned Vena - I’m 37 and I’ve lived in New York City since 2004. I’m a painter. I use digital printing technologies combined with expressionistic painting to produce works that attempt to reflect the possibilities painting presents to how we look at space and images as those terms and their parameters are being constantly redefined.

How long have you been together? Were you both pursuing art when you first started dating?

J - We have been together for 16 years and we were both artists when we met, yes, though neither of us were showing at the time.

N - We’ve been together since 2003. In 2003 I had no idea what pursuing art meant, and my understanding of pursuing art has continued to change since then. I presume it will continue to.

Has your “style” of work ever reflected or responded to your partner’s at any point in time?

J - We are in constant conversation. I ask Ned about ideas, executing paintings, and exhibiting work - every stage of my “art-making” involves Ned on some level.  We have exhibited together a couple of times. The first time we worked to make works together and we exhibited the installation in Milan, Italy. Recently we worked more in dialogue than collaboration when I began making ‘copies’ of Ned works.  He was making paintings of the tattoos on his body using a photographic-based printing process and painting, so I made oil paintings of a number of his works. We exhibited these works at a gallery in Manhattan in the summer of 2018.

N - Jeanette’s work is different from mine. She is capable of things I could not do, or that I am not willing to do in my own work. We discuss painting and our work every day, so in a way I feel that I am able to participate in a painting practice and conversation outside of my own simply by my proximity to her. She is the person I trust the most to look at my work and discuss my ideas, and we both have very strong opinions of painting. In that sense I feel that my is always a response and reflection of her own. She is an incredibly brave and courageous mark maker and image producer, which I take as a prompt to push myself the way she does, but to a different end.

Who had a taste of “success” first? What was the experience like for the other person?

J - Ned began showing and selling works much earlier than I did.  It was confusing on a number of levels, and I certainly felt quite a bit of jealousy and frustration.  I was very aware, at the same time, of how great of an artist Ned is, how smart and ambitious he is, and so I was able to focus on these elements when the frustration of not exhibiting and selling at the same pace as Ned began getting in the way of our relationship. I had to sit myself down and make very clear the positives of Ned experiencing a degree of “success” before I did. And my awareness of these positives allowed me to focus and keep working at my own pace.

N - With regard to professional success within the art world, I was. I won’t speak for Jeanette’s experience, however, my own experience with this was confusing and turbulent. It was also amazing and a tremendous opportunity. Perhaps it’s possible to interpret how this spectrum of response could have an influence on a relationship.

Describe a time when a career move put a stress on your relationship, how did you work through it?

J - We haven’t really experienced this. The only thing I can think that might fit is when I moved to New Jersey to pursue a degree. This put some strain on us just because we were physically apart for a lot of the time.  But it was entirely manageable.

N - Kind of like what I said before regarding how my style of work has been a reflection or a response to Jeanette’s. I trust Jeanette more than anyone and she has helped me with any career move I’ve made. We give each other a lot of space to be ourselves, I think that we choose to share these things with each other and we are fortunate to be able to do so.

On the flipside, has your relationship ever affected a choice you had to make in your career?

J - I learned a lot from being with Ned when he was showing and selling work very early on.  I learned a great deal about the people, the galleries, the politics, the economics of his experience and was able to apply that to my “career” path.  That exposure at such a young age was definitely helpful. I would not be where I am without having experienced so much of Ned’s “career” path.

N - We have shared studios and now our studios are down the hall from one another. I think that maintaining a realistic budget and time management is easier when we work together. These may not be the most obvious career choices, but managing these things is essential.

Both of you work for Wade Guyton, what has that experience been like? Has your time with Guyton impacted your relationship at all?

J - It has been fantastic. We only work there two days a week, and we share just one of those days, which is great. Wade Guyton is one of the most generous people alive, in addition to being an incredible thinker and artist. Working for him has had a very positive impact on our lives.

N - I work with Wade because of Jeanette. Neither of us work full time, and our days are staggered. We also are in completely different spaces of his studio. Working for Wade is incredible and its amazing to be able to do that with Jeanette.

Have the two of you ever collaborated on a project? If not, would you in the future?

J - Like I described above, we work together through everything, and this has resulted in two exhibitions we put together.  We are continuing to work on the ‘copies’ series together, so I hope we will be able to stage more exhibitions in the future of these works.

N - We have produced several exhibitions together. It is important for us that we do not put forward an idealized representation of an artist couple when working on a show. Jeanette has made paintings of my paintings, both with and without my prior knowledge or consent. This has been a huge opportunity for me in my own work, and I think that our relationship provides a very weird and interesting take on appropriation that is not as available to other artists working with these ideas. We try to address the many dynamics that make up a long term relationship. We have made work together and we have presented our own work with each other. We also show at the same gallery in Berlin.

Have you ever found yourself comparing your “successes” / career choices against that of your partner? Do you have any advice to someone stuck in a competitive headspace?

J - I don’t really do this.  While we are both painters in New York, we have had different experiences that take us in different directions as we move along. My advice would be to focus on what really counts, and what really counts is the work you’re doing; whatever it is that impels, propels, compels one, that’s what really counts.  When someone is stuck in whatever headspace, I would advise to get back to the center of your pursuits, the driving force - I certainly do best when I put down whatever has gotten me stuck anywhere, and get back to the simple, familiar, compelling force that has me moving in the first place. The rest ends up being a waste.

N - I think Jeanette’s choices and successes are the result of a very diligent practice that relies on being well informed and true to herself. I just try to do the same with my own. I am always really excited with the opportunities presented to Jeanette and I think she handles them really well. Again I will refer to the earlier question regarding style. It creates an open dialogue about these things, and we can be honest with each other about them. For people in a competitive headspace I would say do not “compare and despair,” and “only look down on those you are trying to lift up.” There are many clichés about this sort of thing. In general I find them to be useful.

Do you have a specific way of showing your partner support? And do you have a preferred way they show their support for you?
J - I’m not sure I can speak for Ned, but I am always interested in what he’s doing, what he’s making, what he’s looking at, what he’s thinking about.  He is a charismatic, unique man with nerve and talent but seriously, he’s incredible, so I am always curious about what’s going on with him and while I can’t claim to know his reasons, he is likewise always interested in me and what I’m doing and thinking about.  This provides a definite level of confidence because someone I trust and think very highly of is interested in me and my work. That’s a massive source of support.
N - Its really important that we talk. Finding the time to do this is important. That's not always easy in New York City.

What has helped you most (advice, habits, book recommendations, etc.) to stay authentic in your work and not get lost in other people's opinions, including your partner?

J - I do not know about the authenticity of my work.  I am more interested in how inauthentic the work is no matter how “real” I try to be.  I am more interested in myself as a socially constructed person, though that sounds very dorky. I am curious about how and why other people’s opinions, including Ned’s affect me.  When I get wrapped up in other people’s opinions it provides me with material to sift through to attempt to better understand what drives me and from there I can better understand the people around me.

N - Being around other people, taking suggestions and understanding that it’s not all about me, which I admit that I do not understand. Have a job, make sure to be physically active and listen to a lot of music.


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