We “Crossed Our Heart” | PT 2 of Artist Jennifer Korsen’s In Depth Interview

IMG_20141223_222810 When we last left Jennifer Korsen, "Cross My Heart" was opening at Stone Malone Gallery, she was part of Art of Elysium'sPieces of Heaven” silent auction and art book, Doing live art at Kidspace Children's Museum,in a benefit show for Unicef & curating and helping paint Melrose Utility Boxes… and that was just the last two weeks of February. As February, also known as Heart Month, comes to an end we bring you an in-depth look at this complex artist; a heartfelt and honest look into who she is, her need to create & her passion to giving back to her community. I think out of all interviews I’ve conducted this one touched my heart the most, and we hope it will capture yours as well.
    An in-depth interview with Jennifer Korsen | Q & A
      DSC_0582 At one point, when you were younger, you wanted to become an art therapist, what drew you to helping others through this type of therapy? And why did you change your mind?
        When I was a teenager, making art changed my life. I was in a terrible place, had experienced a lot of trauma, a lot of loss and was making a lot of terrible decisions that lead to even more trauma and loss. When I was 13 after a bunch of school suspensions, running away from home, and other “behavioral issues”, I was sent to a residential placement for at-risk youth called Vista del Mar, and put into an art therapy program. I started creating regularly and I honestly believe that’s what helped me keep going through the next 5 years of intense craziness I experienced while in and out of “the system”. When you are creating something you are forced to make decisions and problem solve and THAT really helped me. I wanted to be an art therapist at one point, to be able to help people through art, like I was helped, but when I looked into it, I wasn't as into the clinical stuff. What I wanted was to inspire and connect, not analyze and “fix”. So I’m kind of figuring out my own way of helping people through art while also being able to focus on my own work and contribute to the community.
          What did being at Vista Del Mar and some of the other places mean to you? In what ways did they affect you?
            I never had a “normal life”. My childhood from age 3 on was filled with hospitals, death, therapy, and confusion. After my Mom died when I was in first grade I always felt like people were looking at me like some kind of freak, so I just kind of let myself become one. It’s much less painful to be made fun of for choices you made than for things that are out of your control. I clearly remember in third grade a girl named Trisha looked me in the eye and said, At least I have a mom. That one little interaction changed something in me. I felt like I had to be tough, I wanted people to think I was crazy so they would leave me alone .I was just pissed off all the time, seeing what kinds of trouble I could get myself into and out of, and really just not caring. It didn’t matter if I freaked people out, I didn’t want to talk to them anyway. Being in various placements for years I met and lived with a lot of other people who had experienced a lot of gnarly shit. People were getting into fights all the time, I had friends committing suicide and dying of overdoses, I ran away from various placements, spent stretches of time on the street and in shelters, and was exposed to, witnessed, and did a lot of really crazy things at a really young age. It's hard to just go be a normal person and have a normal job and talk to people about normal things when you have never experienced anything normal. Life was always very real to me, I had cops and therapists telling my father I would be dead before I was 18, in front of me. I never really thought too hard about what I would be when I grew up, since everyone,including me, assumed I would self destruct before then. Now I’m 34 and like, ok, I’m still here, I might as well do what I love and share what I’ve been through and maybe I can make it a little easier for someone else. I’ve never said any of this stuff before in an interview or anything because I don’t want to come across as a victim or like I deserve sympathy. Life is hard for everyone for different reasons, I survived a lot of horrible shit, you can too, art helps. I guess that’s the bottom line.
              One of your ways of helping others through your art was your collaboration mural at Hope House through Creativity Heals and Saving Innocence. What can you tell us about that project?
                The mural project for Saving Innocence at Hope House was a collaboration between them, myself, the arts organization Creativity Heals. Blick sponsored all the materials and I was able to create a mural with the help of some young women who had survived child sex trafficking. Saving Innocence rescues and rehabilitates these girls and the Hope House is their drop in center We made an oak tree which is a symbol of strength and a sunrise to represent new beginnings. Another part of the tree idea was so that the girls who passed through over the years could “carve” their name on the tree.It was a really great experience for all of us, you can see the video here: http://www.creativity-heals.org/creativity-heals-x-saving-innocence-feat-jennifer-korsen/
                  Why do you feel such a strong need to give back?
                    A lot of my life experiences were just so dramatic and intense and art was always there as a safe escape. There were so many people I met over the years that had been through similar things and came back to mentor and inspire. It seems like a no brainer to me to give back since I made it through. There are a lot of people I met along the way that didn’t, it’s the least I can do. The day to day stuff of being an artist is really self focused, I need to balance that out or I would go insane.
                      Even though you didn’t pursue a career in art therapy, it seems that you are endlessly involved with a variety of charitable organizations, volunteering your time and your work. Can you elaborate why this is so important to you and which organizations you seem to collaborate a lot with?
                        Being a working artist is really self-serving; you have to be constantly talking about yourself, your work, making sure people see it, and doing all kinds of shameless self-promotion online. It gets old and exhausting and makes me feel pretty lame sometimes but its necessary until a certain point. Volunteering keeps me balanced and lets me share what I love with people who appreciate it and may not have access to it all the time. Art of Elysium, which brings art to kids in medical environments, and Creativity Heals, which bring creative expression to kids who have experienced trauma, are two of my favorite organizations to work with. I’ve also gone back to Vista del Mar to volunteer and brought the “What’s in Your Heart Project,” to an event Branded Arts had there where the kids helped Buff Monster paint a mural. That day I got to reconnect with staff members who were there when I was there, share my project with some kids who were going through what I went through, and hang out and paint with an artist I had been following online for a long time, it was an amazing day.
                          People know you for your Heart Series. Recently since you brought your “What’s In Your Heart Project,” to The American Heart Association, how did this all come about?
                            The What’s In Your Heart Project started as a series of collaborations I did in 2012 for my first solo show. Seeing all the different ways other artists interpreted my heart really inspired me to spread it. The heart is a perfect template to be creative; it can be as simple or complicated as you want, its small and not intimidating to people who aren’t comfortable being expressive. I’ve brought it to several different events and populations including at risk youth, after school programs, adults and children in medical environments, and the staff at the American Heart Association. I’ve also incorporated them into live art at Kidspace Children’s Museum and even handed them out to strangers. I collect as many as I can, maybe Ill do a book one day, or show them, or just see what happens.
                              IMG_20150131_181808 Tell us about your fascination with “The Heart?”
                                It started as a series of 3 and just kept growing. It is a symbol of life and death, power and vulnerability. The heart is like the gatekeeper, it’s the first sign of life they look for when you are expecting, and it is the last sign of life they check for when you die. Your heart keeps working non-stop until you die, that’s amazing! We all have these electromagnetic fields stemming from the heart that communicate with everything that’s alive. The heartmath concepts are really interesting because they show how we are all connected and affect each other whether we intend to or not. I think a lot of this stuff is too complicated for us to be able to break down and understand, and we don’t have to, we are all alive and sharing space, and having really individual experiences all at the same time. We all have hearts that power us; it makes sense that some kind of unconscious communication is happening there.That is totally something worth making art about.
                                  Melrose Utility Box
                                  Melrose Utility Box
                                  Last weekend you curated as well as painted for The Melrose Electrical Box Project on Melrose Between highland and Fairfax, how was it to curate, run a contest and also to paint?
                                    The Melrose Electrical Box Project was fun and challenging and kept me really busy the last couple months.Because of my involvement in Fame Fest, and painting and curating some stuff in the fame yard over the last year, I was brought in to curate the 16 boxes down Melrose Ave. I picked 11 artists who had been involved in art on Melrose or had backgrounds in street art and graffiti because that is what the area is known for, I also put together a contest so that other artists would have opportunities to paint the boxes on the side streets. March 1st we will be live painting all the electrical boxes down the street like a live artwalk. Nothing like that has been done before in LA as far as I know, it's going to be fun and I’m really excited to see it happen. I'll be painting on the first box I ever put a poster on, that’s pretty exciting. But not everyone is thrilled about the project, the boxes have always been considered a safe place for street artists to get up, but they are being painted all over LA. I’m really lucky I was approached, Id rather be involved and help give some of those artists a legal spot than sit back and complain about why there are a bunch of landscapes and boring art down a street known for decades of graffiti. My aunt lived off Melrose my whole life so I was there all the time, having a hand in public art somewhere that meant a lot to me growing up is pretty awesome and kind of surreal.
                                      What does success mean to you?
                                        My definition of success changes all the time but basically if I’m able to spend my time the way I want, have food on the table, a place to live, loving people around me, and am doing what I can to give back, I am successful. It’s really easy to lose sight of this though and focus on finances. Being an artist is a terrible financial decision, but I really can’t see myself doing anything outside of the creative fields, this is what I do, I cant not do it, you know? It’s a big cause of stress in my life and tension in my family but I honestly believe if I keep pushing things will come together the way they should and it will be fine. I’ve done a lot in the last couple of years and its only getting better. The only way it can stop growing is if I stop doing it.
                                          IMG_20150103_192000 How did you feel being in a shows with the likes of famed artists Banksy and Audrey Kawasaki at Branded Arts & Tim Burton at Copro Gallery and to show with the likes of Shepard Fairey and other artists of that caliber?
                                            I still get excited about all that stuff. Seeing my art on the same walls and my name on the same flyers as artists I admire is really validating. It inspires me to keep pushing when I’m feeling down about my career or if something doesn’t sell or a wall gets hit. I'm actually working out of Shepard Fairey’s old studio now, seeing his stuff and tags and remnants from artists like Sage Vaughn, Curtis Kulig and all the others who passed through here keeps me constantly reminded that success is possible if you keep working hard.I’ve been extremely lucky to get to show in all the places I have, and with such amazing artists. It’s been crazy.
                                              How do you use social media as a tool to engage with a broader audience?
                                                Social media is the best non art-making tool I have found as an artist. Through social media I’ve been able to connect to strangers, get my art out there and really create something bigger than myself. If it wasn’t for instagram, I have no idea what my career would be like; I definitely would not be nearly as active as I am painting in LA.
                                                  Can you give us a teaser on any upcoming crowdfunding campaigns?
                                                    I’m too busy to make one and too broke to hire someone to do it for me. Hopefully in the future I can get that together, it would make a huge difference.
                                                      wip wood heart wall Do you think women street artists get less or equal respect as men and any backlash that comes with it?
                                                        I don’t know if its necessarily street art that’s rough for women or something deeper than that. Aside from someone blasting my name saying I copied her art a few years ago (and getting me a bunch of followers in the process.) I haven’t had too much drama with other women that is about art but I have had some pretty disturbing stalker-like stuff happen that doesn’t really deserve any attention here. The media fucks women up, if a guy doesn’t like you he won’t be around you, if a girl doesn’t like you, she tries to infiltrate your life, doesn’t make a lot of sense and I really think its based on this weird competitive, princess culture thing we are doing, women are trained to see other women as a threat and competition. The drama can be insane, and really sad. I grew up with a single Dad, I’ve always related more to guys than girls because that’s how it was when I was younger. I’m a really direct communicator, I take risks, I’m a hustler and that’s threatening to a lot of people. Women are still a minority in the art world and maybe that leads to some competition at first to get noticed, but really we can all be a huge asset to each other if we work together and support each other. It’s hard out there for everyone. I’m a huge supporter of females in art and on the rare occasions when an issue does come up I try to communicate and resolve it, but not everyone has to love me. Im doing fine.
                                                          IMG_20131004_171830 We look forward to seeing what's next for Jennifer Korsen as she is continuously working all around LA. She is an authentic woman with a softness and no bullshit attitude that is to be admired. We are honored to say the least of how open and the amount of time she has given to LAiCREATIVES this month. Please follow her on social media and look out for those hearts. Read Part 1 Here http://laicreatives.com/cross-my-heart-an-interview-with-contemporary-artist-jennifer-korsen-part-1-of-2/
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