Amy’s Artist

San Francisco artist Jennie Ottinger proves it takes an artist to draw an artist.

There’s a shrine to Amy Winehouse in San Francisco. Until November 1, Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait and the complement exhibit, You Know I’m No Good, will take up several rooms of the Contemporary Jewish Museum on Mission Street.

A Family Portrait is a hugely intimate look at the singer’s life as told by her brother, Alex, whose notes on each piece give an eerily alive picture of the artist behind the (not one-, but five-time) Grammy winning album “Back to Black.” You Know I’m No Good, on the other hand, paints a picture—literally—of how some of best Bay Area artists viewed a contemporary creative.


One such artist is San Francisco native Jennie Ottinger, who sees the world in painstaking detail. She was commissioned for her unique ability to express uncommon perspectives of her subjects. One of her pieces, Mouth to Mouth, depicts a towering Winehouse over three African American women, surrounded by cut-out mouths (both black and white). Ottinger was inspired by an essay she read on Winehouse’s cultural appropriation. The piece serves as a reminder: Winehouse has an amazing sound, and it’s built on her black predecessors, who didn’t get to see the spotlight.


Ottinger is a music lover of every genre (“I really hate to be in silence,” she says) and a creative powerhouse, having exhibited work all over the States and in London. We wanted to know—what does it take to paint Amy Winehouse? For Ottinger, it comes down to three things.

1. Art takes time. Sometimes a lot of time. “I’ll have a quick flash of an idea that is sparked by something I hear on the radio, or something I see in media or on the street. Slowly, I figure out what form it will take. Sometimes it’s in the back of my mind for weeks while I’m working on another exhibit. But when I’m ready to execute, things move fast. I know more or less what role the final product will play in the greater body of work. The individual details—composition, space, color—those I figure out as I go along.”

2. You can’t wait around for creativity to strike. “Since I mostly work in oil paints, I have to have a studio. I work when we can and can’t be particular about the time or the place. When I’m in the studio, I am creative no matter what my mood, because there is never enough studio time and it can’t be wasted waiting for or manufacturing a creativity boost.”

3. That said, there are some things you can do. “I listen to a lot of music and podcasts. I read all the time. Mostly, I just try and pay attention to as much as I can in the world. That way there is more opportunity that something I see, or hear, or experience will strike a chord.”

CJM_YKING_29Photos by Johnna Arnold via the Contemporary Jewish Museum

Title photo by Mark Okah, Camera Press London via the CJM

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