Creator to Creator: Jennifer Hosein

When I first saw Jennifer’s paintings, I was immediately immersed into her world of surreal figures aroused in depths of emotions, dripping along the canvas in vibrant colours. Then, I listened to her poetry readings, where I found myself conjuring up her bold blues and arrays of yellows and purples colouring her words. While her words evoke figures embraced by intense poetics and stories, her oil paints and ink blots are another language to her expression.

Read my interview with Jennifer Hosein as she shares her art practice as a visual artist and poet, and what role the two medium has in her creative expression. She also introduces us to her “favourite” poet – take a look below! (psst major teaser for next Creator to Creator!)  -Mirae


Can you tell us about your creative career? What drew you into painting?

I began drawing at the kitchen table when I was four or five years old. I drew horses, as many little girls did, and I drew people living their day-to-day lives. My favourite pastime was drawing a cross-section of an apartment building with the inhabitants going about their lives which seemed infinitely more interesting to me than my own, at that time. At bedtime, I could not fall asleep so I made up stories to lull myself to sleep. I wrote my first short story in Grade One. It was something that I had to do. I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t imagining or dreaming.

My teenage years were very difficult, so I learned to pull the pain out of me and put it onto paper. I drew and wrote and painted as soon as I got home from school.

What did I want to be when I grew up? A writer and artist of course. I had been thinking about a career in graphic design, so I took a summer course at the Ontario College of Art and Design, but I am colour-blind and found it difficult to work to the demands of others. Then I thought I might do a PHD in English. I ended up majoring in Fine Art and French at the University of Toronto, with courses in Creative Writing. I learned a lot about drawing and a little about painting.  I used to draw a lot and work with oil pastels and pastels. Now, I work primarily with oil paint and have recently started working with watercolour and India ink. I also incorporate collage into my work and am planning to try acrylic paints again, soon.

There were some gaps in my creative life, when life and making a living got in the way, but I always came back to art. I am also a full-time English as a Second Language instructor with the Toronto District School Board.  But now, finally, I am putting my creative career first!

You describe your paintings as displaying tensions of “ugliness and beauty, terror and pleasure, the erotic and repulsion.” What does painting, or the process of painting, signify to you?

Painting, I can pull the pain out of me. Try to make sense of things. Try to fix things. Make people look and think and maybe act.

I have always had dreams of monsters and other creatures of the night world. I experienced some trauma that was brought about by the monsters that are inside people. And we also see on the news or hear from our friends about the terror that human beings create.

The painting, Utah, came about when I had dreams in which wolves featured. The painting draws together wolves (humans), a skeletal being (human), and mountains. There is terror and pleasure, the erotic and repulsion. The painting, Me and the Beast, refers to the relationship between a woman and a beast (man); there is love and hate and ambiguity and sex. The painting, Scarborough, shows the aftermath of a rape. The painting, Burning Bed, depicts control and abuse.

What drives you to create? Where do you get your inspiration?

The process of living drives me. What I go through; what I see others going through. The sky. Mountains. Dreams. Seeing other artists’ work. Going to an art gallery. Reading. When I get started I cannot stop. Sometimes it gets quiet though.

What are some questions or themes you’re currently exploring, or interested in exploring more?

I was in a car accident a couple of years ago, and began working on the series Written on the Body. The poem, History, flew out of me onto paper and morphed into a drawing which turned into the painting, Written on the Body. If you look closely, you can read the poem in the painting. I had to spend a lot of time in bed, and to keep sane/happy, I had to make art. I wrote in bed and painted in bits and pieces, through the pain. The paintings in the series, Written on the Body, are all about the body.

I have also been working on a series of portraits of friends and of people who have passed away. I try to put a part of them onto canvas.

I am about to embark on new paintings that cover the same themes but are more abstract and textured, and I am waiting for a new theme to come to me. Something meaningful.

Besides visual arts, you also write poems and short stories, including public readings of your work – what role does writing have in your creative process? How does writing influence or relate to your paintings?

Sometimes the writing comes first, sometimes the drawings or paintings. They feed off each other. The poem, History, spawned the series Written on the Body, and those paintings inspired me to write about issues that women face with regard to their bodies: body image, abuse, rape, aging, etc.

What can we look forward to, in your creative career, in the next few months?

I have so many ideas for new paintings; I have just returned to painting after months away from it.  I just completed a poetry manuscript, and I am working on a collection of short stories. Also, as I have enough new paintings for one or two exhibits, I am going to look around for a venue.

Lastly, what does your identity mean to you?

This is something that I struggle with. I was born in Montreal and moved to Toronto when I was twelve, but I was not accepted as Canadian for the longest time. I faced so much racism, isolation and harassment in high school that it took me a long time to find a footing in self-confidence. My parents were from Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean, but my father’s parents and my mother’s grandparents were from India (now India, Pakistan and Nepal), and they didn’t have a lot of roots in Trinidad. They assimilated pretty much into the Canadian culture of Montreal and Toronto, as did many immigrants in the 1950s and 1960s. There wasn’t the concept of multiculturalism when I was growing up. My parents held on to parts of their culture: ways of parenting, interacting, and, of course, food. All I have is what I grew up with, some Montreal and lots of Toronto and a little Trinidad, and a whiff of India. I want to learn more about my roots, study up on India, etc.

I was finally feeling comfortable in my skin, here, in Toronto, when the American election happened in November. With what’s happening in the States now, and here in Canada, too, I am at a loss. I thought I was home. I don’t know now.

I guess I am just me!


Check out Doyali Islam’s works here. And take a look at Jennifer’s portfolio here, and follow her on Facebook and Instagram!


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