“People hug me after my classes,” says Jennifer Gonzalez, the founder of Painting on Park, a unique and welcoming art studio nestled into the block at 104 Park Avenue in downtown Rutherford. One of the most memorable of those hugs came courtesy of a 92-year old woman who had just completed a Monet-inspired reproduction at one of the studio’s weekend “Paint + Sip” events. Gatherings where both masters and novices alike congregate to unplug, have a glass of wine, and of course bring their very own canvases to life.
“This woman had never painted before,” says Jennifer of this moment, one of many memorable ones she has experienced since opening Painting on Park. “She’d never even picked up a crayon in her entire life. She was so proud of herself for finishing and rocking it!”
Jennifer sees these types of experiences at her studio as therapeutic for some people, rewarding for others, even transformative for a lucky few. After all, she knows first hand the gifts art can bring to people’s lives.
Inspired by her grandmother, a successful artist and painting instructor whose first studio was located, coincidentally, on Park Avenue in Union City, Jennifer was raised on art and has always engaged with her creative side. In addition to being a painter herself, Jennifer began her career in publishing and worked 14 years at GQ as their Art Production Director. Only recently did she leave her full-time position with the magazine to realize her dream at Painting on Park.
“It was always astounding for me to think that art and creativity weren’t part of the lives of other people,” she adds. “Here it’s all about paint, brush, canvas, and conversation. We’re a social experiment with art as the centerpiece.”
In many ways Jennifer sees Painting on Park as a way to embody her grandmother’s legacy and share with others the same gifts she received growing up. In turn, Jennifer encourages everyone who enters her studio to drop their pre-conceived notions about talent, and embrace the delights of engaging their own imagination. “Creativity should be part of who we are. It’s part of our DNA,” she says, with a subtle nod to the dozens of paintings that line the walls of her studio. All of which come courtesy of Jennifer’s own creations and Painting on Park’s regular weekly students.
Jennifer had always been attracted to the charm and vibe of downtown Rutherford but had taken notice that there was no place in town that could teach kids—and even adults—to paint. Seeing a built-in clientele, she began offering classes in 2009, and then in June 2015 opened the studio on Park Avenue. From there, her classes for weekly art students continued, along with private parties, fundraisers, and corporate team builders, as well as the popular “Paint + Sip” gatherings for adults open to exploring, or revisiting, their creative sides.
“There’s nothing like getting people out of their shells,” Jennifer says, “and helping them create something they’re proud of.”
Passersby can’t help but notice the colorful art on display in the front windows and the funky white-and-orange sign that hangs over the studio’s front door, welcoming the public to the wonders found inside. “Something is happening here in Rutherford, and it was important to us to contribute to the place where we live,” Jennifer says, about opening her studio on Park Avenue and offering the community a place to learn the joys of painting and drawing, and exploring the creative process. “I want Painting on Park to be part of that.”
For Jennifer Gonzalez, Painting on Park is the full expression of a life that has always had art at its center. “My whole life has trained me for this moment,” she says with a smile.