If a portrait hovers between the poles of aspiration and revelation, what can be made of Jana Ireijo’s paintings, which the artist sincerely maintains are self portraits? There is most obviously the question of the dog: why? Dogs appear throughout her work, identifiably and also symbolically as teeth or animal parts, even sometimes as suggestions of tails, hair, prints, or drool through variations in texture and brush stroke. So much a part of her as to be unintentional, the form takes shape to tell a wordless and many layered story.
Ireijo grew up in Hawaii, at the crossroads between East and West. An eighties kid, her adolescent life was shaped as much by highly stylized, ironic Japanese influences as by American movies, club music, and Patrick Nagel’s illustrations for Vogue. Even today, when you visit her studio you’ll find an old sticker album (from Star Wars and Hello Kitty to puffy, google-eyed animals and scratch & sniffs) as well as a picture of Harajuku girls, whose fetishistic femininity conveys a cool dystopia.
During this time, Ireijo would visit her father’s house after her parents were divorced. He had suddenly adopted 13 dogs (who lived in complete chaos indoors) and were given, what appeared to her, all his attention. It was only Ireijo’s sister who reminded her of this many years later, during an interview when, asked why she so often sees herself as a dog, the artist replied, “I don’t really know.”
Ireijo’s work is to follow her story, balancing the natural with the self-conscious. Her painting opens up what is raw and previously repressed, and the irony keeps it taut with speech bubbles, saturated color, and pop culture references. To really follow the flow of these pieces is to peel away the layers by touch. It’s what happens when you let yourself feel the music and just dance without inhibition, rocking to the pulse and taking it all the way. The key is, you can’t think about what you look like in the mirror.