It was a milestone birthday, and Jenan McClain was celebrating in style.
She invited two dozen friends to her home to welcome a new chapter in her life—sage was burned, the house was cleansed, and an oracle reader was on hand to provide insight to her guests’ lives. A “poetic painter,” McClain marries her love of poetry with acrylic and oil paintings. During the fete, she chatted with a high school friend about how healing her newfound creativity was for her soul.
Well, she thought it was a new endeavor. The friend reminded her that as a teen, McClain had gifted her a book from a photography project, where her photos were paired with short poems.
“You’ve been writing poetry,” her friend told her. “It’s been in there all this time.”
Today, the Mount Pleasant artist is working on her fourth book of paintings and poetry, part of an anthology chronicling grief, healing and rebirth. It was after her daughter experienced a health crisis six years ago—she’s fully recovered now—that McClain had to face her past traumas. Through therapy, meditation, breathwork and journaling, she found a way to bring together her creative outlets in a way that has been helping not just her, but others.
“None of the art, none of the writing was ever with the idea or intention of sharing or selling,” McClain says. “It was truly a way to process a really difficult time … I just started exploring and became more curious.”
McClain attended art school in her youth, where she learned the rules of perspective, shadows and light. As an adult, she says, she spends her time at the canvas “breaking all those traditional rules.” Four years ago, she left behind a career in real estate to pursue art full time. Her works are layered with paint, mimicking a pile of flower petals, sunlight bouncing off the ocean or the background for an abstract dancer.
“A lot of my art and poetry go hand in hand in that they’re intuitively based and drawn from emotional experiences,” McClain says. “Repeatedly, I’ve had women say, ‘I feel your words, your art.’”
It was 10 years ago that McClain made her way to Mount Pleasant, after years of living in the Caribbean, working in real estate. She still traveled back and forth, but during the pandemic, she had more time to devote to her artwork, discovering her style and aesthetic.
She started collecting her poetry and self-published her first book, Peace by Piece. Then every six to eight months she would release another book: Set Her Free, Love Me Anyway and a currently unnamed fourth is in the works. She shares that the book is centered around finding power, freedom and your inner voice. McClain is also working with a graphic designer to find more ways to share her work at a lower price point: notebooks, posters, candles, cocktail napkins and other small pieces that can encourage healing and growth.
In the art studio she built behind her house, the floor-to-ceiling windows allow the sun to pour in. When she’s writing, she cozies up on her back porch to let the words spill onto paper. But with so much planned in 2023, she’s spent most of her days in the studio, preparing for exhibits and completing commissions. In May, McClain will host a poetry reading and painting workshop at the Emeline hotel. In August, she’s scheduled to host a three-day poetry reading and gallery exhibit at the Montage Palmetto Bluff.
“My dream one day is to travel around and do public speaking and poetry readings across the country; that’s the bigger vision,” she says.
Whether it’s her larger-than-life canvases, coffee table books or whatever else she has in the works, McClain has learned that this is something she’s always had within her. It just took a little work—a little therapy, a little meditation, a little time at the easel—to find it.
“I think it was always within me, but I never really expressed it fully until a few years ago,” she says. “When somebody says that something I did helped them feel more whole or heal in some way, it’s the biggest blessing.” *
Christiana Lilly is a freelance journalist in Pompano Beach, Florida. See more of her work spanning the arts, community news and social justice at christianalilly.com.