Despite having grown up in a small West Texas town, I spent my formative years with a number of interesting people who grew up to be fascinating adults. One such lady is artist/actress/entrepreneur Jhenai Mootz. Talented, smart, and definitely a free-thinker, Jhenai shares her thoughts on art and the business of being an artist.
Your artistic style can be termed eclectic. What elements most frequently appear in your work that are decidedly you?
HA HA! Eclectic is such an elegant word for “an artist who gets into EVERYTHING… seems to have trouble committing to any particular art form… has little reverence toward the traditional applications of such art forms & likes to play and experiment.” Lets put it this way: frequently the element that I hope most often appears in my art is a sense of humor about the process and passion. When I find myself in danger of losing those two elements – I close the door to the studio and grab a glass of wine.
On a more tangible note – I guess the element that most defines my art style is my love for SHINEY THINGS. I’m a magpie at heart, and love playing with mirrors; they throw light and this seems to give motion and life to inanimate objects. If I’m feeling classy, gold & silver leaf may make a marked appearance.
On a personal note, your mother is one of the most outstanding and unique women I’ve ever encountered. How did she impact your development as an artist?
Umm.. soooooo you have met my mom, right?!
To help you readers out: My mom is incredible, bat-shit-crazy, and amazing, (and yes folks, she is probably reading this). Growing up, my house was a zoo. The Mootzoo. There was always something going on! Melting crayons to make candles, breaking plates to use the pieces to mosaic tabletops, in essence my mom has always been, and is to this day, a one-woman-Pinterest site….
Mom taught us to never see an everyday object at its base value, and to have reverence for nothing if you could create something better with it. She taught us to have absolutely no fear when it comes to our creativity. It was the greatest gift in that it gave me a freedom of thinking. Because of her, I see possibilities everywhere. And don’t get me wrong, we fight about art still to this day, and we love it! We fight about art the way other families fight about politics. Be it balance and structure, texture, and don’t even get me started on pricing! And to this day I still call her when I’m in a fix and need a critical eye, an ego boost, or when I’m really excited because a project is coming together well. (That’s what moms are for, right?!)
What is life like as a working actress?
Stressful. Hard. Brilliant. Like breathing.
It’s funny really. It is all I have ever wanted to do. EVER. For me being on stage and speaking someone’s beautiful words and sordid emotions is akin to being given permission to be the most alive part of yourself. You don’t have to put the everyday damper on your soul, you get to let life come out of every pore of your being with no apologies.
The rub is that you have to get the job first!
What roles that you haven’t already played would you most like to tackle?
I’ve always had a younger look on stage. I ain’t complaining–it has served me very well, and I have been very lucky. At 31, I’m just getting to the point were certain roles will pass me by if I don’t tackle them in the next few years…G.B. Shaw’s St. Joan. I’m an unlikely candidate for it, but the text sings to me like none other. I HAVE to play her. I would love one more shot at Roxanne from Crayno de Bergerac…but I have a few years left to catch that boat. Honestly I’m pretty lucky in that I think the best parts of my acting career are ahead of me. The Medias, Lady Macs, and Shrews are all in front of me. I’m okay saying goodbye to the Ophelias; I think the transition and what is coming next is going to be a brilliant ride!
Many artists, performers, and writers struggle with balancing the business aspect of their industry with the artistic. As someone who does both, what advice do you have?
When it stops being fun, BREATH and ask yourself if you are really on the right path. If you can imagine doing anything else in life, well take a deep breath and find the fun again.
Both art and acting are highly subjective, critical disciplines. How do you grapple with those elements while maintaining your individualism and optimism?
When it comes to acting, it is a collaborative art form. You are a piece of a whole, no matter the project. You can come to the project with your whole heart and very definite opinions, but you have to bend and weave to become part of the director’s vision and to work with your fellow actors. It can be frustrating when you don’t agree, and brilliant in that you are never alone when creating. In your most alone & naked moments there are so many people on that stage with you.
Both are devastating, gorgeous, heart-rending and inspiring ways to make art. I use them to balance each other out.
You recently added Creative Director of Renegade Websites to your resume. How did this project come about?
Oooh! Now you’ve got me on my soapbox!
Here is the deal: I have been living in the world of actors and artists since I could first draw a breath. As artists we are taught technique, balance, to find inspiration in everything, how to bring a new vision to the world. As actors we study voice, dialects, many different forms of movement, taught how to research (if you don’t think that being a good researcher and being interested in EVERYTHING is part of acting, you are sorely mistaken). We are taught how to express words on paper and breath new life into characters that are hundreds of years old. The one thing that we are NEVER taught… is the business. There is a reason for the stereotype of the starving artist! As actors and artists we hone our skills, and then have no idea how to get the job, or approach a gallery.
This is why I started Renegade Websites. To help artists with the business side. Renegade Websites is unique in that we understand the actor and artist, can build you a solid web presence for your business, and then teach you how to maintain it, putting the power completely back in your hands.
Today everyone Googles first and asks questions later. For instance, a few weeks ago I was pulled into be a reader at the Chicago Equity office for an audition. A lovely actor came into audition and fit the part perfectly. Having never worked with that particular actor before, the director immediately got on his phone and looked up the actor. When he could not find a website, he Facebooked the actor to see what business acquaintances they might have in common.
I myself search for an artist online when they submit to my gallery. It lets me see more than just the body of their work – but how far along they are as a business person and what I can expect.
WE ARE OUR OWN BUSINESS PEOPLE. No way around that, even if you have a very lovely agent. Your work will always be the top priority for you, this makes you your best salesperson. That doesn’t mean you have to get good at schmoozing . . . okay, that unfortunately does help.. but it does mean always putting your work forward, and in today’s world, that means the internet.
A) How easy you are to find? People assume that if you are the first thing their search engine pulls up and if you have a web presence, you must be somewhat successful. (Not necessarily true, but such an easy thing to cultivate!)
B) How well does it present your work? A website is a portfolio and archive for an artist. Target audience for artists are people who you would like to hire you, potential customers, and yes . . . mom. A website is a presence that works 24/7 for you. You have far more control over your customer understanding the breadth of you work if you can invite them to your website.
Thank you Jhenai for giving me some of your time and insight. You can enjoy more from her at Renegade Websites and Jhenia Mootz. (Someday, when I can afford her, I’m placing a custom order for a mirror.)