Jen Upchurch is February’s featured artist at Hayfields Market
Mr. and Mrs. Nervous Nelly hold all the nerves and anxiety in the Heart Fam Fam community. Mr. Blue is, unfortunately, always blue. Sister Stardust, meanwhile, is celestial and calm. And then there is Mr. Smooth Talker, who is forever in a library or coffee shop, reading and writing.
These are just a few members of the Heart Fam Fam community, an inclusive and diverse fictional group of characters conceived by North Salem artist Jen Upchurch. Upchurch is the featured artist at Hayfields Market this month, where she is exhibiting a gallery of original paintings of some of the roughly 60 characters who comprise the Heart Fam Fam.
The Heart Fam Fam began about ten years ago as a series of doodles drawn on bar napkins. At the time, Upchurch was living in New York City, and the simple drawings provided her an outlet of uninhibited creative expression in between her work as an art teacher and sculptor. While taking a class at The Cooper Union, Upchurch was challenged by her professor to take her drawings a step further, to painting the characters that she had filled two notebooks with.
Inspired, Upchurch began bringing the Heart Fam Fam community to life on canvas, but eventually her real life family and professional responsibilities took over. The Fam had to take a backseat. Several years later, the COVID-19 pandemic forced families and communities apart. People found all sorts of ways to keep themselves busy and distracted during those early days of lockdown. Upchurch chose to re-immerse herself in the community she had created so long ago; in the Heart Fam Fam, being together was always safe.
In the first four months of the pandemic, Upchurch completely immersed herself in the Fam, painting nearly 60 pieces. She could lose herself for hours in her studio, working on several paintings at once, mixing up colors, perfecting a face or layering up the elements of a background.
The inspiration behind Upchurch’s series is the human desire for connection and belonging. “I really feel like as humans we want to be part of an environment where we’re all caring and loving and happy for each other,” she said. “That’s why I created Heart Fam Fam; I wanted that kind of environment for myself. Especially now during COVID, we need to experience more positive emotions and have hope in us, and love.”
In creating Heart Fam Fam characters, Upchurch draws inspiration from the world around her; some characters are loosely based on people she’s encountered. Most are painted in different shades of gray, a nod to the complexity that we all carry inside of us. Each character’s portrait has a bright and colorful background designed to match their personality traits. Ms. Thang has a bold, gold background to match her confident demeanor. Mr. Sun Hearts is set off against glowing yellow.
“You can tell from my backgrounds what moods I was in in that time frame,” Upchurch shared.
Upchurch hopes that people who experience her art see–and appreciate–the beauty in people’s differences. “I think we are all such beautiful human beings and we all have a gift. I really hope it touches as many people as possible, because the whole meaning of it is love."