Jill McVarish

Jill McVarish brings to her painting an avid interest in art history, as well as an astute grasp of contemporary culture, from retro TV series, to fashion, music and iconic cartoons. This mix of highbrow and lowbrow, beauty and dark absurdity, is what defines her style. As she plays with these juxtapositions, the artist renders her vision in a manner that harkens back to painting techniques of the 17th-century masters, evidence of her post-graduate studies in Amsterdam.

She grew up in the foothills of the Sacramento Valley, happily ensconced in an artistic family, one of eleven children. Her father, also a painter, encouraged her inventive nature and fostered the considerable creative talents that she exhibited at an early age.

In 1993, she graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Art from the San Francisco Art Institute and then continued her academic pursuits abroad by enrolling in the prestigious Garett Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam. While in Holland, she studied the Dutch masters and visited the van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum to experience the Vermeers, Holbeins, and, most remarkably, the Rembrandts first-hand. McVarish often reflects on that time as the most definitive in the formation of her style, blending her passion for contemporary art with a reverence and admiration for more traditional ways of painting.

Although my work is primarily figurative and speaks mostly of the human experience, I often employ animals and toys as subjects to convey humor or relatable human scenes in an anthropomorphic way. Hopefully, the dramatic features of a toy or puppet or the expression of the face or body of an animal remove the specificity of a certain human model and evoke a universal empathy for its situation.

If I have a mission with my work, it is not to tell the viewer something they didn’t already know but more to trigger empathy for a subject they might not suspect they had.