Artist Jessica Burko was first featured on The Nice Niche in September 2013
What have you been working on lately?
I have recently embarked on a new chapter in my work that I am very excited about, though I don’t have many photos of it yet because I’m still deeply engulfed in the process. For the past six years I have been exploring narrative through collage focusing on paper quilt and encaustic collage techniques. The collages combined some original photography but mostly were combinations of found ephemera. My new work focuses strongly on a series of self-portraits fused with encaustic that I am carving into with line and text. In addition to this work being exciting because it is a new format for me, the entire process is completely different primarily because it is much slower. There are many steps to create each piece, and there are steps between steps, and the experience of slowing down my art making practice is revealing the benefit of giving me more contemplative time. The process is almost meditative in its pace, which I think is exactly what I need.
Extremely cool! How did this new process and format come about? I’m always interested in what inspires artists to leave the familiar and try something...
I’ve been working with encaustic since 2006 and have always enjoyed experimenting with it and seeing how I could combine different types of contemporary media types into the ancient medium. Since my background is in photography, I have been drawn to incorporating photographic images into my work throughout. For the past several years transferring images on top of encaustic medium has held my interest, but with this new work I am transferring the image to the canvas first, and then painting over it with many layers of un-pigmented medium. My reasons are largely conceptual surrounding my visage sealed/preserved and also buried/smothered in/by wax. The idea for carving into the encaustic also has multi-dimensional meaning for me. On the one hand it is a way to incorporate text into the work, and from a different point of view it can be seen as branding the body in any number of ways. Because the photographs are self-portraits and the un-pigmented encaustic has a similar tone and texture to fair skin like mine, the surface can be seen as flesh and even the non-figurative section of the canvas as an extension of the figure.
I noted from your Twitter account, you have been teaching — is teaching your method a form of inspiration with your own work?
For the first time in years I am teaching an art class, a mixed-media collage class at The Eliot School in the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood of Boston (http://www.eliotschool.org/classes/collage), and it has been thoroughly energizing. I’ve been introducing the students to a range of collage and image transferring techniques and providing them with independent work time to explore materials and methods. I’ve been encouraging them to challenge themselves in thematic and compositional directions and it’s been thrilling to see their creativity blossom. The third 10-week session is starting soon and more than anything I realize how much I have missed working with art students. So much so, that I am developing a few smaller workshops to hold at my studio later this spring.
What is your best advice to someone starting out as an independent artist?
Don’t give up!
If you really want to do it, you can find ways to make it happen. Artists are inherently creative and so should think outside of the box when it comes to earning an income and capitalizing on a creative skill set. It’s a funny business to be in because unlike most other fields earning advanced degrees doesn’t necessarily correspond to a higher salary, and many people will say things like “Give it up and get a real job.”, and one could spend hours at work and not have anything intrinsic to show for it. Being an artist is something that one forever has to justify, but it is some the most personally fulfilling work that one can ever do.
You live in the Boston area where snow has created a city within the city, are you ready for Spring?
I am more ready for spring than I have ever been! In fact, it’s about 40 degrees here today and I’ve been driving with the windows open and I am only wearing the lighted jacket. After three consecutive blizzards any temperature above 30 is cause for celebration!