Monday, November 3, 2014

Corazon De Oro: A Studio Visit with Jennifer Korsen

I first met Jennifer Korsen at a bad weather moment. It was this past July, and we both had tables (she was expecting a booth) at Art Expo San Diego. Unfortunately the expo was taking place at the exact same time as Comic-Con. The bleed over foot traffic everyone at the Expo was hoping for never really materialized. Very little art was sold by anyone. On top of that, Jennifer had an ailing family member to worry about. She wasn't the happiest of campers. There was a lot of down time at the expo, and at one point, I looked across this vast room and saw every artist there just staring at their phones, everyone but Jennifer. She was in constant motion; rearranging her display, cutting out collage materials, pasting, drawing, hanging and re-hanging shadow boxes. She probably thought the extent to which I watched her was creepy, but Jennifer's restless, creative energy is truly something to behold. That "can't sit still' desire to create at all costs is the spark I look for in any artist. She has it in spades.

If you live in Los Angeles, and have even the slightest interest in art, it's hard not to notice Jennifer Korsen. She leaves her heart everywhere she goes. If you follow her on Instagram, she seems to be collaborating with other artists everyday. She's in a new gallery show almost every week. You can spot her hearts in episodes of Transparent, the Fosters, and the upcoming film, "Burying the Ex" People are literally wearing her hearts

I will, from time to time, for whatever reason, get questions from young artists seeking advice about how to establish themselves in the unwieldy art world. My answer used to be Bukowski's epitaph, "Don't try." But now, I tell them "Watch Jennifer Korsen. She's doing everything right." She stumbled upon 'the heart thing', saw it connect with people, and pushed that snowball along. Finding that thing, that style, that entry point for the public to your art is difficult. You have to be astute enough to spot it, and tenacious in your promotion of it when you do.

But the hearts are just part of the story. I know that any artist with that kind of drive has a body of work that the public rarely, if ever, sees. I wanted to see it. Her current studio has been the workplace of many artists, including Shepard Fairey (and has the nasty punk rock bathroom to show for it). Several artists have left their marks on the walls including Neckface, Curtis Kulig, Sage Vaughn and Lister.  The studio is large, dark and masculine. It's a shared warehouse space, and Jennifer's colorful sliver of it stands out among the dusty stacks of wood. There's even a skate ramp.

When I got to her studio she started pulling out these paintings of dolls heads. The dolls are unadorned and the perspective is extremely close, creating very little space between you and the cold, lifeless doll eyes. They have a slight, but convincing smile, suggesting they are at peace with their hollowness. No heart, no feelings. Jennifer pointed out four abstract paintings she did. Each one is layered in washes of color and forms that look like gnarled bones and/or melting candles. They are mesmerizing, absolute stunners. I asked about how much of her work she keeps to herself, versus what might be "expected" of her.
Yeah, I have a lot of stuff like that. I'm trying to be careful what Im putting out there until Im a little more solid on what Im doing. I'm kind of feeling this all out. I wasn't really expecting people to be paying attention this early, and sometimes I feel like I have no idea what Im doing. Obviously I do a million different things artwise. So, I try to be careful about what I put out publicly, until I'm pretty solid on what I'm trying to build, or be. I'm a crazy emotional person, but a lot of it, I feel, I can't show. The art world is harsh and quick to label and judge. It's weird though, street art has been the best advertising I could ever hope for. I had no idea I would get this deeply involved in any of this.
Being an established street artist and showing in dozens of galleries, Jennifer has to deal with a lot of sexist garbage. At a recent panel discussion about women in street art, the artists on the panel were sharing some of their horror stories about the sexual harassment they've endured. There was a cranky, older guy who chimed in and said, "But do you really think it's different than any other job?" Jennifer was lightning fast with a response. "It's absolutely different! Because the art world is completely unregulated." It's true. The art world plays by a loose set of rules. The 50/50 gallery/artist split, for instance, exists simply because that's how it's always been. So, of course a market with zero oversight is still going to have a casting couch.
I've become such a raging feminist, just from dealing with a lot of dudes in the art world. There's no H.R. department to report harassment. You're just supposed to suck it up and deal with it. If you say something, then you're causing problems. I have crazy screenshots of text messages from other artists, where it's like 'How do you think it's okay to say this to me?!' It's not okay! I've gotten threats from guys saying they're gonna kill my career because I wouldn't sleep with them. From artists! Nothing good can come from that. Nothing good.
Jennifer and I had a much larger discussion about this which has to stay off the record. But trust me when I tell you, Jennifer has endured a colossal amount of bullshit. We talked for about four hours and I left wanting to stomp on a few skulls. But what I wanted more than anything, was to go home and paint. My afternoon with Jennifer was completely inspiring. She is a mad torrent of creativity. I trust her opinion. She speaks her mind. She doesn't pull her punches. Artists like her are the reason this blog isn't all about me. I am surrounded by these crazy, talented people and I'd be kind of an asshole to not acknowledge them and their influence on me.

I did learn how to get her to sit still for more than ten minutes at a time. You give her some paper and pens, and just ask her to draw you something. She gets into this zone, and she seems really happy to be in it. I brought my copy of Gray's Anatomy and asked her to modify a heart. She lit up like Christmas tree! She did the heart. Then she did another heart. Then she did a bleeding heart couple. Then she drew some wild wounded creature indigenous only to the recesses of Jennifer's mind.

I'll be writing a lot more about Jennifer Korsen here in the near future. I plan on doing a Korsen art tour of Los Angeles with her and we talked about collaborating on a piece or two. Jennifer will be in the El Velorio show at Plaza De Le Raza opening November 8th and her piece for that is just beautiful. You HAVE to see it in person! Also, we will both be in the Wish List show at Gabba Gallery opening on Nov. 15th. After November, Jennifer plans to take some time off from showing to focus on her upcoming solo show at Stone Malone Gallery in February.

On target.

Skate ramp collab with Septerhed

From the El Velorio show.

Custom DJ crate.

Notes to self.

Korsen pay phone.

Corazon De Oro


Korsen's Arsenal

My absolute favorite Korsen heart...and it's mine!

Korsen's Anatomy

Soft in the Center

Wounded water-buffa-lion-goat.

History of a bathroom #1

History of a bathroom #2

History of a bathroom #3

History of a bathroom #3

Note: the photo captions are my own. The proper titles are unknown to me.

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