ASSASSINATION: Jennifer Keshka, Artist Represented by Ugallery, Assistant to Liselot van der Heijden, Artist, and Babysitter for Eric Heist, Artist
Photograph of Jennifer (or Jen) Keshka. Courtesy of Jennifer Keshka.
Jennifer (or Jen) Keshka is an incredibly sweet young lady and a rather playful and seductive artist who plans to enter graduate school fairly soon. Her bubbly personality combined with her ability to execute work that explores female self-identity, the fashion industry, and deep-seated sexual imagery fostered by a celebration of the harsh joys of life. Apart from her academic studies and hours of studio time, Keshka also works as an artist assistant for conceptual artist Liselot van der Heijden and as a babysitter for the family of New York installation artist Eric Heist.
Her early paintings do have some fascinating surrealism incorporating a nice hybrid between women and costumes, typically that of an animal. Her new work is much more linear in the vein of the superflat tradition yet continues to explore this nature between human and creature in a much more ambiguous and playful manner. Think of Kiki Smith meets manga with a good dose of attitude.
If you have any questions about Keshka’s artwork, feel free to contact Ugallery at (888) 402-1722.
Now here are THE ART ASSASSIN’s details of the “assassination”:
qi peng: To begin off on a lighter note, Are there any restaurants or hangouts such as bookstores around New Jersey or New York City or anywhere else that you wish to recommend us? What are the qualities that you enjoy best about the places that you have chosen?
Jennifer Keshka: I <3 diners. Probably because I am from New Jersey, the holy land if you’re a diner lover. I especially love the Brookside in Whippany, NJ. Go there a lot with my parents for breakfast and stimulating conversation—which usually includes work/family/friend related gossip and discussions of my ridiculous “love life.”
Day time hangouts- N 8th & Kent, on the East River. It’s a gritty, noisy with construction, and rarely crowded reclamation site in Williamsburg with a great view of Manhattan. A good spot to go, think about life, daydream, throw rocks, and doodle on the wooden picnic tables. Also, McCarren Park is great. I love to people-watch there.
Night-lifey spots —dive bars– they are charming and very special. Finer establishments are also nice. Here are some of both: 138 local… or local 138 on Ludlow. (I can never remember). 381 Main in Little Falls, NJ is fun—but the quality of your night will strongly depend on the DJ. Arlo & Esme…. those cute little places in the East Village are all fun to explore.
Lastly, I would like to recommend almost any hotdog cart on the streets of NY, because let’s face it; hotdogs are a disgusting and delicious godsend.
qi peng: What is your opinion of art world journalism and art critics such as Jerry Saltz or Roberta Smith? Do you read periodicals such as ArtForum or ARTnews to get an up to date understanding of what goes on within the art world? Do you have any favorite artistic blogs or websites that you enjoy looking at on a regular basis? Do you feel that smaller, regional art markets like Denver or Salt Lake City will have a chance to expand their horizons into becoming essential and vibrant art hot spots just like Los Angeles or New York City during the recession? What do you think is the current state of contemporary art within the New York City area where you work?
Jennifer Keshka: Don’t know that I have an opinion of them. I KNOW of them, and yes I do have my token subscription to ArtForum. But, my ArtForum functions for me like art porn—strictly visual stimuli. I check out the glossy pages, determine what shows I want to see more of… and then go see it in person. Don’t regularly read artistic blogs, or art websites. I’m sure I should. I will read ArtForum when I’m on the train, and bored. Sometimes the articles make me more bored. Other times, they will make me feel slightly cool, smart and well informed (when someone looks over and sees me reading it). Sometimes too it makes me depressed about my art and art in general. I know from an academic and critical standpoint that you’re supposed to (some extent) be engaged in these critical discussions of this, that, and the other thing. It’s important to know it exists, (and to be able to enter this realm if need be) but it may not be the best for your work or your sanity. I do read art books though, and books about artists. Artist interviews are my favorite. I like when artists write about art and life…as opposed to critics writing about art. They function differently for me.
On the Denver and SLC question— It’s hard to say since I am not familiar with either scene. I think growth in terms of creative exchange is always positive. But from a commercial standpoint, do you want them to be super commercial like a lot of NY and LA? I imagine that the art scene in Denver & SLC might be more accessible financially, and that sounds, to me, desirable. Maybe artists in those markets are happy being somewhat under the radar? I’m curious about the quality of the work—it’s not like all great artists would live or frequent NY or LA, they can come from and exist anywhere. Maybe these locations are good “as is.” Just don’t know. I’m guessing at a lot here.
Contemporary art is alive in NYC and the surrounding area. I just know it.
qi peng: What are some of your hobbies outside of your painting and drawing? How does these things relate to your studio practice? Do you find yourself having to enter into the studio out of discipline or inspiration or a mixture of both? What are some of the practical challenges that fine artists have to face inside or outside their studio time? How do you balance your social and personal life with your painting work time?
Jennifer Keshka: In no particular order….I like to relax with my cat, Tiger. Hang with my parents & friends. Have alone time. Collect things I plan on incorporating into my future art—aka hoarding. Reading, napping, and cuddling. Going to galleries and some museums. Observing others. Finding new music that I love. Row boating in Central Park. Going to stores that sell old things. Pizza parties. Traveling. And, last but not least, talking to people about relationships; any kind really, but most notably romantic and physical relationships. This is something that interests me on a level that exceeds the gossip of it all. I like to get details from people, and have them tell me secrets too.
This all relates to my artwork directly. Everything I come in contact with potentially serves as influence weather it be visual, thematic or otherwise. My art serves as a platform to document, investigate and explore my curiosities and obsessions of things encountered in everyday life.
I enter the studio out of motivation, necessity, and discipline. Let’s make it clear that at this point the “studio” is a concept—which can be referring to my kitchen table, a living room chair, my basement floor, or a train (I am constantly in transit between NY and NJ so the train is like a second home to me).. The bottom line is I have no studio. (But I will when I start grad school… hooray!) Anyway, I have a particular chair in my house that I like to sit in to draw. It’s sort of ritualistic. I feel very focused in this chair. It’s mauve, and valour-ish, and it rocks (this refers to both its motion and its coolness factor).
Discipline–The “business” or “professional” aspect to being an artist, like applying to shows & residencies etc., is tedious and requires discipline. Liselot (more about her later) always tells me its important to continuing making your artwork and documenting your ideas even when everything you do it total sh-t. That takes discipline; to ignore the embarrassment and frustrations of artist’s block and just keep doing. On the other hand, I also believe the ability to be ok with yourself slacking off once in a while is a really good thing. You need to know when to take a time out. Thomas George a very well-lived (read old) painter I got a grant from while in undergrad once told me some advice. He said something to the effect of “Just because you’re doing nothing, doesn’t mean you’re getting nothing done.” He was referring to the importance of thinking and just existing. I think this is valid. I know the two ideas just expressed seem somewhat contradictory, but I believe in both.
The motivation and necessity of my art making comes typically at night time—my brain goes to this place late-night…the creative juices get pumping. It’s kind of like I experience a fuller gamut of “aliveness” which happens regardless to if I am sleeping or awake. If sleeping, I have wildly imaginative surreal dreams, lucid dreams, and lots of nightmares. If I’m awake and working on art stuff I get really focused—like I exist in a dimension free of time where nothing matters or exists but what I’m doing.
I can’t think of great ideas when I sit to think of ideas, they just come to me, when I’m lying in bed, or driving home, or partaking in Saturday night debauchery.
Challenges Inside the studio: Making what I want to be making—sometimes I feel really unconnected to what I’m producing.
Challenges outside the studio:
In my experiences one of three things happens when someone hears that I am an “artist.”
1. they snicker and eye roll
2. something is said like “Oh what do you paint?” “I love Picasso.” “I did a great drawing of a (insert object/creature here) in high school.” or “Can you make me something?”
I hate the #1’s, deal with the #2’s, and welcome the #3’s.
I don’t really paint much anymore, haven’t for about 3 years. I’m into drawing and 3d stuff lately. And collaging. Recently I’ve been balancing art-making and social time by indulging in social time. When I start grad school in September I’ll indulge in art making time. It’s like a binge. But I will find a better way, because that is not suitable for long term.
qi peng: What are some of your favorite artists, books, television shows, sports, art magazines, toys, movies, and other cultural artifacts that you wish to share with your fans of your work here? Do you have any recent galleries or exhibitions that you have seen and would to recommend to us? What things in those shows inspired your painterly eye and imagination?
Jennifer Keshka: Books- I tend to stick to non-fiction because I like to get the facts. But, there is no guarantee that the “facts” are valid anyway. Regardless, I like Mary Roach, she’s funny and informative—a good pairing. Any book about Andy Warhol. Lonely Planets are a great resource when traveling. Dream dictionaries– in a “they’re so wrong they’re right” kinda way. And then there are all those books about relationships, psychology, physiology, men and women. I live for this s–t. Theresa Crenshaw’s The Alchemy of Love and Lust I found to be very interesting. The Male Ego, by Willard Gaylin, is definitely high on my list. Freud is interesting, but from a psychology standpoint perhaps total bulls–t because it’s not clinical. I also like picture books, the kind that can strike up a convo when placed on a coffee table. Lastly, children’s books (which I read when I baby-sit). They seem have a lot of hidden agendas and undertones that are questionable for the 10 and under crowd. Check out Karen Katz’s “Daddy and Me,” a lovely flap book… you’ll die.
TV—Planet Earth, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, M*A*S*H*, Frasier, Good Eats with Alton Brown (on this food network/travel channel kick lately), The Biggest Loser, and What Not To Wear with Stacey & Clinton!
qi peng: Your formal art education was at The College of New Jersey as well as Montclair Sate University. What are your years of education like? Were there any influential professors and fellow students whose ideas or drive influenced your painterly style? Are there any memorable stories from your studio visits or school days? Is your work influenced by some of the trends happening currently in digital or new media art? Also what do you enjoy best about studying art history?
Jennifer Keshka: I didn’t start at Montclair State yet. Begin in September (So Excited!!). My years of art education have been great and fun. A few of my professors really motivated me because I realized that I wanted to be like them—cool, well informed, resourceful, committed artists and professors. While at The College of New Jersey I was lucky enough to have Liselot van der Heijden for like a million classes. She is the greatest. I still work with her. She is my go-to-girl and mentor for all related to the “art world”. Also, Anita Allyn and Ricardo Miranda. I owe them big time, and am really grateful for all they have done for me… and continue to do! All of my professors in undergrad were helpful to me in one way or another and I am thankful for all of them. Also, I should mention that my parents Fran & Warren are super great. They are 100% supportive. Not all kids who pursue art have parents that say “yes, do that.” I love them lots.
qi peng: You are a babysitter for the family of Eric Heist, who is a fellow artist and co-director of Momenta Art out in Brooklyn. What is it like being able to hang out with an artist’s family? Is there any drama going on out there in Bucktown, home of the original gangsta? What is the dopeness that surrounds you at all times?
Jennifer Keshka: This is true. I like this job because I really love the kid. He’s super smart for his age, has a great disposition, and is a little stud muffin. He also has some great one-liners for a 2 year old. “Wet bananas are cute” & (after coloring a little boy in a coloring book entirely brown) “I made a chocolate boy, he is yummy for me” (lick the page) are among my favorites.
Anyway, Eric and his wife Laura Parnes, also an artist, are super busy, dedicated and highly-involved in what they do. Seeing (very much on the outskirts) how they make things happen, and to an extent, how they organize their lives serves as a good model for me. It’s especially interesting to observe how they balance having a family with being active artists. Don’t be fooled. It’s not easy, but they do a really great job.
I think Williamsburg is dope. But, that is to me, a NJ girl. The art crowd is easy to spot. The men generally fit the following description: possibly bearded, tight pants, probably glasses, cool kicks, hoodie or plaid something, slightly disheveled. The girls, depending on the season, shirt/dress, tights/leggings, boots/flats, big bag, big sunglasses. For both sexes: you should have a bike, and a dog.
Luxury condos are going up like the 60+ crowd on Viagra. So, it seems inevitable that the dynamics of the area will soon dramatically change. I’m interested to see exactly how. Not sure it will be positive. Maybe initially it won’t really seem to change because the people moving in are probably the Bohemian Bourgeoisie, so they will be rich, but pretend to be poorish… because it’s cool to be living the struggle.
My favorite thing about this area is the street art. A few months ago I was walking down Bedford and saw a fafinette painted on the corner (they are those cute girls with hearts on their cheeks and a headband and a naughty little outfit, done by Fafi). I adore them. I was super excited—and basically creamed my pants, because I have a female graffiti artists book which included these, but had never seen one in person. That was a big day for me.
And, that concludes my discussion of Williamsburg.
Actually, who is the original gangsta? And, doesn’t Bucktown have something to do with Chicago?
qi peng: Your work has popped up in various places ranging from Metro Pictures with the Visual AIDS Postcards from the Edge Benefit to Momenta Art with their benefit show. What do you enjoy best about dropping science for the peeps out there with your visual stylistics?
Jennifer Keshka: I enjoy being involved in events that are philanthropic. It’s the least I can do. And, I like being active in the scene. I know in the big picture of super-cool and famous artists what I do is nothing. But it’s my own little contribution, and to me it’s important. The events are fun too. Who doesn’t enjoy free wine, beer, maybe a nice cheese & cracker spread and some drag queens (drag queens limited to the Visual AIDS openings). To answer your question, what I best enjoy about “dropping science for the peeps” with my “visual stylistics” would be dropping the stylistics. I like having my stuff in shows. I hope that one day someone will think that what I’m making is significant and meaningful.
qi peng: You described yourself with the motto, “I’m the coolest.” What does that mean as a female, feminist artist, and all-around dope artist? Why is your artwork appealing to the crowds out here in the Big Apple? Also, what makes you a huge fan of Hello Kitty? What do you think about her powerful symbolism and appearance in the art world?
Jennifer Keshka: Oh my gosh! Am I dope?! How exciting! I believe that “I am the coolest” has been quoted from my facebook! And yes, it’s true. I have other mottos too, like “so wrong it’s right.” That is applicable to much of my life, and my art too.
Though I am a female artist, I just think of myself as an artist. I don’t identify my work with “feminist” art because that goes into foggy territory. My work does come from a female perspective, but that is because I am a girl. I don’t try to hide my girly aesthetic inclinations, I rock them. My work addresses the “female experience” maybe even the “contemporary female experience.” It’s something I think about ALWAYS. But, I also always think about what it means to be male. And, what it means to be human.
Usually people have polar responses either they love the work, or they think its totally offensive bulls–t (I’m recalling a certain BFA show where one woman was appalled by my cutesy wall drawing because she detested the penises (or peni?? haha) dribbling on boobs, which I had painstakingly painted the night before). I would say maybe people like my stuff because it’s real, funny, imaginative, provocative, and can be read on multiple levels. Kids really take to the drawings too—like big time.
Anyway, I <3 hello kitty. She is good lookin’. I love when she appears in the art world, or, in the form of a $3ooo diamond encrusted ring somehow connected to Kimora Lee Simmons. In all seriousness though, I think she (kitty) is a powerful symbol… of what I’m not quite sure, but something like cuteness, innocence and values, while simultaneously being oddly obscene. Maybe I like her because I identify with that. That is quintessentially female….isn’t it?
Kitty is enviable.
qi peng: Some of your paintings look darkly humorous and cartoony. Are you influenced by manga or some other kick-ass s–t that I don’t know about? Who are your rocking artistic influences? What do you consider to be the underlying philosophical overtones of your paintings? Also what do you enjoy best about working in acrylic on canvas? Where do you get inspiration from?
Jennifer Keshka: The painting I think you’re referring to spawned from a Hong Kong Cosmo which I picked up while I was there for a week, during Semester at Sea (Fall 05). While looking through there was this section on toys, which is not included in the American version of these magazines and I began to realize that these specific toys seemed to portray the reality and range of people more accurately than the images of actual people in the magazine. The idea was that people are sometimes faker than plastic. When I think back to my paintings I find the common theme to be “facades,” critiquing /questioning notions of cuteness and beauty.
I saw a David Lachapelle documentary recently. There was a quote that I feel applies to my ideas surrounding this painting and life in general. He said, “Glamour is fabricated, ridiculous, and hilarious.”
I have a million artistic influences. Quickly, here are some: Vanessa Beecroft, Andy Warhol, Marcel Dzama, Amy Cutler, Jeff Koons, Henry Darger, Nicole Eisenman, Juergen Teller, Guy Bourdin, Dali, Gustav Klimt, Cindy Sherman, Ion Birch, Laurie Simmons, …. & a million artists whose names I don’t know & lots of street art, and things that are not intended to be art, and things made by people who don’t call themselves artists.
qi peng: You have been involved with Ugallery, which is one of the foremost online galleries. You have a few nude studies as well as some experimental cartoon landscape work there at the moment. What has the experience been like? What are some avenues which you are trying to explore within the art market today?
Jennifer Keshka: The experience has thus far been positive. The concept of UGallery is a good one. Personally, I find it conservative. But, maybe and hopefully with time that will change. It’s certainly an excellent platform for emerging artists to get their work out there and sell some pieces. I think currently they cater to a certain crowd to whom the work is “safe” and “acceptable” and therefore really “sellable.” But, I can see it getting a little more “edgy” and not losing the following. As far as Contemporary Art I wouldn’t say it’s at the forefront. I also don’t believe that is their intention. For the community of artists represented by UGallery it’s beneficial that they put on physical shows like the recent “urban landscapes” in NY and being part of the Affordable Art Fair also in NY. That physical presence in the “art world” should pay off. I’m happy they exist.
Avenues I would like to explore… how about streets?… 523 W25th Street, Nancy Margolis Gallery. I always like the work they have there, and would love to have my drawings in there one day. My drawings and their walls should be friends.
qi peng: What are some of your future dreams and upcoming exhibitions that you will be undergoing? What are some potential challenges or past hardships that you have overcome and that you are proud of? Do you have cool things, subjects, or themes that you would love to explore within your paintings?
Jennifer Keshka: My future dreams include more traveling to anywhere and everywhere. Peru, Bhutan, any of Europe, Cambodia, Kenya, and Egypt are some I have particular interest in. I would love to get back to Burma/Myanmar too. I was there in 2005 with Semester at Sea. It was very profound and powerful to experience this place and its people. .
Also, in the future I would love to be in a really great relationship with an honest, caring, motivated, creative and studly man. This relationship should include zero bulls–t., and no drama, because I hate that stuff. I just would like someone who I can be sweet to and who will be sweet to me. Sounds simple, but thus far it’s a no-go. One day a family could work, but not yet.
Art/career wise I will continue building my career as an active artist. I would love to be a professor. I think I’m supposed to be one. I have loved all my previous jobs that dealt with teaching art, and have always felt really committed to the students I was working with. I am a great motivator and excellent resource, and obviously as I continue to grad school and beyond, like a fine wine, I will only get better with time!
qi peng: Do you have anything else which you would like to share with fans of your paintings, and other fly art-related adventures here?
Jennifer Keshka: In the event that I do have fans beyond my parents they should know that I <3 them. And, that they should email me at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can be friends. Of course, facebook friending me is also an option.