Jessica Drenk. Photo by © Mauricio Toussaint

JESSICA DRENK: Second Nature

JESSICA DRENK is an artist who lives and works in Clemson, South Carolina. Her fascinating and intricate work explores ‘the chaos and beauty that can be found in simple materials’. Her work has been featured in Sculpture Magazine and seen in shows at the International Grounds for Sculpture in New Jersey, the Albuquerque Museum, the Tucson Museum of Art, the International Book Fair of Contemporary Creative Books in Marseilles, France, as well as galleries across the United States.

To view more work by Jessica Drenk, please visit: www.jessicadrenk.com

Interview by Melissa Unger

Soft Cell Tissue. toilet paper, wax, glass © Jessica Drenk

HOW DID YOUR CHILDHOOD PASSION FOR THE NATURAL WORLD EVOLVE
INTO MAKING ART?

I have always loved making things and did a lot of model building when I was a kid, and I always loved drawing and painting as a kid too.  I think it became clear to me that I had a real passion for art when I was introduced to ceramics, which was both incredibly fun, but also taught me a lot about responding to the material you are working with.  You can shape clay into anything, but you really have to work with the clay and know it’s limits in order to do so.  Later, I realized that the same was true of any material; you can reshape and change anything from books to PVC pipe, but you need to work with and respond to that material.  From there on I felt like an artist, because I knew I was not bound to use any particular technique or material and I felt free to explore and play with anything.

WHAT INITIALLY INSPIRED YOU TO EXPLORE THE TRANSFORMATION OF ORDINARY OBJECTS INTO ART?

I’m not sure where the initial impulse came from, but I do know that I kept doing it because it was just more fun to me than working with more traditional materials.  With a lot of art (drawing, sculpting, painting) you sort of have to create from nothing: you have a blank piece of paper and you need to decide what to put on it.  But when I start with an object that already is something, I get to respond to the object, rather than create it.  And the finished work of art has both the qualities and meanings of the original object and what I have done to re-shape it.

Porcelain Skin IV. Gauze dipped in porcelain slip and fired 6″ tall © Jessica Drenk

HOW DO YOU APPROACH THE CREATION OF A NEW WORK?

If I want to begin a new body of work, I make myself work go into the studio and make anything I can for about 24 hours.  It is a trick I learned from my sculpture professor in college, and it definitely still works for me today.  The spirit of the 24 hour studio is to just make anything you can as quickly as you can, and then move onto something else, and so on; after a few hours I run out of old ideas and start reaching out for new ideas, materials, techniques, anything.  At the end of 24 hours, I always have something new and unexpected… something I never would have thought to make without pushing myself to just keep trying things.  It is a really helpful exercise, I encourage anyone who makes art to try it.  While none of the results are ever close to being finished pieces ready to go out into the world, the exercise always gets me moving in a new direction with an old material, or working with a new material.  After that I spend time refining, giving myself time to really let it evolve.  Sometimes this takes years: I made a piece last year, Bibliophylum, that took 6 years from start to finish because there was no direct path to get to the final piece– I had to let myself figure it out at my own pace and be willing to keep working on it until it felt right.

CAN YOU DESCRIBE WHAT YOU EXPERIENCE WHILE YOU ARE CREATING?

Well, a lot of what I do is fairly repetitive, so I will listen to music or movies while I’m working.  But there are times when I can tell I’m getting close to what I want to do with a material, and I just can’t stop thinking about it.  I get incredibly excited about progress and figuring out how to make my work better.  I have heard it referred to as the a-ha moment, where things come together in your mind and you are exhilarated.  It doesn’t happen often, but I cherish those days when I feel that way.  Of course, I don’t think I could get to that place if I didn’t also have many many days filled with repetitive tasks that allow me to let my mind wander.  And there are also days where I am propelled ahead by just wanting to know what the piece will look like when it is finally finished!

From the Reading Our Remains collection books, wax, clay 3 pieces, 7″ tall, 5″ tall, 6″ tall © Jessica Drenk

 

DO SCIENCE AND SPIRITUALITY PLAY A ROLE IN YOUR WORK?

My work is clearly inspired by the shapes and forms of nature, the complexity of patterns and texture that one can find by closely examining the world.  Science is one way of trying to understanding the world, and science has revealed to us some of the amazing complexity of everything around us.  I see my art as another side to this quest for understanding, though I have a an intuitive, rather than a scientific approach.  I am amazed by the beauty of the natural world, and part of my art is just looking for that beauty in everything, even in mundane man-made objects.

DO YOU HAVE A MENTOR OR MUSE?

The person who has helped me the most in understanding my own work is my husband, who is a scientist.  Though we have very different disciplines, we are both looking to discover through our work, and we both need to be experimental and exploratory to do so.  I don’t think art should be accessible only to artists, and I value having his perspective on what I am doing.

Cerebellum. Books and wax detail of 36′ x 60″ piece. © Jessica Drenk

WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT OBSESSION?

Oh no.  I always have an obsession, and usually it is a little closer to being an art-inspiring obsession than it is right now.  Right now I’m really into Scotch– not just drinking it but learning about how it is made, the history of Scotch, the history of Scotland, the archeological sites of Scotland, the Callenish and Pictish stones… my obsessions just sort of get a momentum and lead where they will.  Previous obsessions began with such topics as: lichens, the creation of systems of writing, gems and minerals, chaos, and maps.  I’m sure these all feed into my art somehow, though not in an obvious or direct way.  I believe it is important to have curiosity and to follow that curiosity in life so I have something unique to say with my art– I soak it all up and then let it come out as I make my work.


 

M.U. 2012

Published: March 6th, 2012

Previous in this series:

S+ Stimulant: Charles Darwin



2 Comments

  1. Jan Mullen wrote:

    What a great interview! Super questions. Very helpful inspiring answers. Curiosity, passion and intelligence. Shifted my current creative block – thanks!

  2. Sweet Freak wrote:

    I have a new girl crush! Love Jessica’s responses, attitude, thoughtfulness and work!