Jennifer Valenzuela’s surreal landscape paintings are wondrous windows into her visual interpretation of Maui. Valenzuela doesn’t paint just what she sees—she paints her entire visual and emotional experience, providing a glimpse into her creative and reflective mind.
The fine art painter works in a distinctive style that explores the energy of her surroundings and imagination. Intertwining philosophy and wisdom in her work, Valenzuela calls her style of painting, “imagined landscapes.”
Valenzuela paints lively scenes of the natural world, with tones of femininity. Her artwork includes repeated themes of respect and reverence for the environment, incorporating lessons from Hawai‘i. With each new glimpse, an additional detail reveals itself in Valenzuela’s conceptual artwork.
“Oftentimes I’m taking little vignettes of different places and putting it into one 2D realm so you take a visual journey,” Valenzuela explained. “You can really feel the entirety of the energy of that imagined space.”
Taking a full impression of a place by noting every sensory experience, Valenzuela uses her paintbrush to translate the memory. Valenzuela explained that memory has a different essence and the experience of being in a particular place has an even deeper essence. “That’s where the imagination comes from,” Valenzuela said. “The imagination is your impression, energy, and mana of that space.”
Valenzuela returns to the connection between ocean, land, and sky as inspiration for her visionary paintings. When she imagines those three elements meeting, she adopts an extraordinary perspective. “I remember these are little islands that float on this Earth, which are moving through plate tectonics, which are moving through the universe. I really try to give that feeling that you can float into that space but also float out of it and be an observer in the universe.”
An early appreciation for the natural world has been influential in Valenzuela’s unique interpretation and artwork. In second grade, her grandmother who was a prolific ceramist and painter, bought Valenzuela an oil painting set. Valenzuela’s first landscape she painted was Crater Lake with Mt. Hood in the background.
It was a defining moment for Valenzuela, realizing she can find inspiration in the perfection that exists in nature. Being immersed and making observations of the environment taught Valenzuela to show reverence for all the elements.
When Valenzuela started painting, she was not recreating only what she could see. “I didn’t want to paint realistically—that’s what a camera is for,” said Valenzuela. “It’s about painting my feelings and how I feel when I look at a really special space.”
Looking out from her studio in Pukalani, a 40-foot shipping container she transformed during the pandemic, inspiration floods Valenzuela. She sees the elements connect: the sea surrounds the West Maui Mountains, which are swaddled in white clouds.
Valenzuela’s “Pono” is this scene. “It’s exactly my view—well in my mind,” Valenzuela laughed. The energy from the sky rains onto the mountains and into the ocean in “Pono.” Raindrops shower down from wispy, soft clouds that lead to delicate rainbows. The curvy, lush mountains are transformed into sharp lines of color in their reflection.
In every piece, Valenzuela includes Olelo No‘eau, powerful Hawaiian proverbs. “There’s lessons in nature where we can find wisdom. Hawaiian teachings really resonate with those same lessons.” The Olelo No‘eau Valenzuela included in “Pono” instructs to continue to do pono (good) until the heavens come down. “When I’m out there in my little studio painting, that’s the type of energy I want to put into my paintings.”
For Valenzuela, the artistic path does not limit her to only painting but guides her to share her work. She participates in the Artists Showcase at The Four Seasons Maui every Monday where she discusses her artwork and distinct style of painting.
Photo credit: Amber Caires