It's through the very act of painting that Jeanine Brito hopes to treasure memories forever or perhaps take ownership of things she'd rather forget, turning uncomfortable moments into "something beautiful". But it's only recently that the German-born Canadian artist has fully embraced her art.
Based in Toronto but originally from Mainz, Germany, Jeanine Brito worked in graphic design and art direction after graduating with honours in Fashion Communication from Ryerson University in 2015. It was part of a grand plan to work in fashion, having spent a happy childhood obsessed with magazines. "I bought almost every title, international editions too," she tells Creative Boom. "Vogue, Elle, Glamour, Seventeen, Nylon, CosmoGirl, and Teen Vogue. I think I was mainly taken with the visuals and the bite-size pieces of advice and ideas."
Then she stumbled into the world of independent magazines. "The one I remember most that opened my mind to what a magazine could be was called Amelia's Magazine," she says. "It was so inventive. There's something magical to me about a magazine, all these different creative elements coming together to form this ephemeral book that accompanies and maybe even informs your life for a short time."
This fascination spilt over into creating many of her own magazines as a teen; little zine projects to "more thoughtful online versions", and then, in her early twenties, she ran an online publication called Sophomore with a group of friends – something that became her main creative outlet during her early twenties.
"I have very sweet memories of my childhood," she explains. "I was born in Mainz, Germany, but shortly after that, my family moved to Rio de Janeiro, where my father is from. After a year in Rio, we came to Canada. I grew up mostly in Calgary, a city at the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. I spent summers in Mainz with my grandparents, who made sure I learned to speak German and also developed my appreciation for art by taking me to lots of museums."
After working for a wellness tech startup, a homeware company and, most recently, a media company, Jeanine has recently gone freelance to free up more time to focus on her art, too. "I did a lot of painting as a child and teen. I went to a fine arts high school but then prioritised fashion school and finding a job. After the magazine ended, I slowly found myself painting again. Then the pandemic shut everything down, and I threw myself into it more. It's really been in the last year now that I've gotten a better sense of who I am as a painter and what kind of paintings I want to make."
"I reached a point where I needed to make more space in my life for art," Jeanine continues. "And that meant letting go of my job and all the stability that came with it, in favour of freelance design work to pay my bills. So my painting isn't my sole source of income, but it's definitely how I spend the majority of my time."
There's a common theme as we look through her paintings – one that is surreal, often theatrical and always based on memories, whether good or bad. "They're often related to some sort of moment that feels unresolved, and painting it is an attempt to reimagine that moment as something that belongs to me, that I can make something uncomfortable to experience into something beautiful," she says. "I also have a lot of anxiety around memory and worrying I'll forget something I don't want to forget, like precious moments with family or the sweet optimism of falling in love. So I also paint things I want to fix in time in some way, and there's a constant tension between what actually happened and what changes when I reconstruct it first in my memory, and then in a painting."
Of the process and where ideas are sparked, Jeanine says she'll begin with a hint of a memory recollection. "I usually sit with it for a week or two to let it take shape. At that point, I might have a sense of what it could look like, and I sketch some quick thumbnails, playing with different compositions until I land on something that feels right. Then I move onto the canvas, and that's where a lot of the decision-making happens, things like colour or patterns, other little details."
Each painting is "dreamlike, a bit off, beautiful but maybe also slightly unsettling," as she describes them. Of her toolkit, Jeanine paints using acrylics and then finishes with a gloss varnish which she believes adds a "plasticity" to the work, only heightening the surreal feeling.
With Jeanine having worked in graphic design for some years, she believes it informs her art in certain ways. "Like the colours I use or the crop of my compositions. These are so innately part of the way I operate because of my years as a designer.
"Conversely, I had to unlearn a lot of perfectionist tendencies – which I do still battle with, but it's an ongoing process. I used to paint from photo references that I'd collage together in Photoshop, and I'd spend hours moving layers pixel by pixel. It just wasn't working for me. I felt a lot freer once I moved away from photo references and trying to reproduce what I saw in them, and let go of prioritising things like perspective and realism."
But the most challenging part of shifting to art? "Creating space in my life for artmaking to be a daily practice. Once I did that, the rest flowed," she says.