Artist Spotlight: Jessica Burko, Mixed Media Photography

Jessica Burko is a Photographer based out of the Boston area who typically works in mixed media application. In a chance encounter, we happened to meet during a concert and began talking about selling our art and where we do so. We left at the end of the show exchanging cards and when I began looking into her work knew she would be a perfect fit for an interview! In our short conversation there were many points we did not cover and I was delighted to learn that Jessica is far more eco friendly than even she originally let on.

Describe a day in your personal or professional life.

Since I am self-employed, I don’t have a standard schedule, and no two days are alike. This type of calendar agrees with me because I am then open to delve into different projects on different days and work as early or as late as I need. Two standards my days however are beginning the morning with reading emails and blogs over breakfast, and ending each day with knitting on the sofa.

Who or what inspired you to become a Photographer?

I have been studying and practicing photography, working in a wet darkroom and exhibiting my photographs since I was ten years old. I began this practice at an arts summer camp in New Jersey (Appel Farm Arts and Music Center) where I spent five glorious summers taking theatre, art, and music classes. My two earliest photographic influences were Dorothea Lange and Diane Arbus.

Can you tell us a little bit about what a Mixed Media Artist does?

“Mixed-Media” is a wonderful term meaning: anything goes. It is the theory that it is OK to mix different types of art materials onto one canvas, to not be bound by traditional methods of producing visual work, and to be free to experiment with found objects and art supplies equally. Mixed media is hardly uncommon in contemporary art, but in the past it was unheard of to blend different mediums and I even had a photography Professor once tell me that I should choose to use EITHER black and white film OR color film because my work would never be taken seriously if I continued photographing with both. Currently I photograph with a variety of film sizes, colors, and transparencies. I scan my film and print with ink jets onto watercolor paper, I then combine my original photographic images with found paper, vintage photos, and other materials such as thread, wax, and wood.

What is the largest scale mixed media installation you have completed?

In graduate school I produced an installation piece that consisted of three oversized, handmade pieces of paper each measuring approximately six by eight feet. The paper was made from pulped egg cartons, pages from old journals, drawings and letters, and consumable waste (coffee grounds, onion skins, tea leaves). The paper acted as oversized book pages and bore images and text transferred from photocopies with wintergreen oil. The pages were suspended from the ceiling in a dark room in an alter-like configuration and lit with strong spotlights. It was very liberating to work at such a large scale and made me view my work and process of creativity (literally) from a new vantage point.

What mediums do you prefer to complete your work on (canvas, paper, etc)?

I create most of my mixed-media work involving wax on wood panels, either salvaged plywood or store-bought wooden canvases. The simultaneously hard and porous surface of the wood accepts wax and other adhesives well. Much of the work I have created in the past year are paper quilts that are combinations of original photographs and found papers stitched together only with thread. These pieces are fairly fragile and I have been exhibiting them framed.

How do you find beeswax holds up over the long term?

Beeswax is a great archival material to work. There is evidence as far back as 100 BCE of the ancient Egyptians painting portraits in a material called “encaustic” which is wax melted with resin, and those portraits still survive today. There is a vibrant movement of encaustic painters in contemporary art who use wax, resin, and pigments to create works that have texture, translucency, and three-dimensionality not possible using other mediums. The wax that I use in my work as a collage material and over coating is a non-pigmented encaustic that I make from pure, granular beeswax and Dimar resin. The addition of the resin insures that the wax hardens over time.

Why is it so important to go green? In what other ways do you work in an eco friendly manner?

I remember clearly a musical instrument that we made in nursery school out of an old frozen orange juice container, navy beans, tape, and paint. All my life I have loved the idea of creating instead of wasting. Collecting scraps of paper, small objects, old books, postcards, and sketches to incorporate into art is something that I have always practiced, and once I learned how to make paper I delighted in asking all my friends to save their cardboard egg cartons for me to pulp and reuse. For me the idea of “going green” with my artwork has happened fairly naturally, and the more supplies I collect for my art from what other people discard, the less expense I go through in making my work, and the more I can experiment with bringing my ideas to fruition.

Can you tell me about your creative process?

I am constantly looking, writing, photographing, and collecting. It is what I see, thoughts I put into words, images I capture, and items of detritus that I have all around me that inspire my artwork. I usually create my work in bursts, gestating an idea and collecting materials for a couple of months and then going into the studio and intensely making work for weeks on end until I have amassed a new series/collection.

What have you incorporated into your lifestyle to facilitate going green and conserving energy?

My Husband and I are avid recyclers, and we have CFLs in almost every light in our home. I also read a few great tips for conserving water on a blog called “The Sietch Blog” and now I have reduced the hot water I use for showers, and when I run the sink tap to get hot water I collect the what comes out first and water the plants with it. We also have a whole collection of canvas bags that we use when shopping. Someday when we have our own house we plan to incorporate methods of conservation such as solar panels, a clothesline, and a rain collection system for garden watering.

What challenges have you had in your work?

The biggest challenge I’ve faced is showing and selling my work. Making it comes naturally, and I hope someday having the work collected will come just as naturally.

Do you feel that the Internet has a positive or negative influence on art?

Very positive because through the internet art can be shared across continents, ideas can be discussed between artists and art historians from all over the world, and it is the most democratic way that art has ever been exhibited.

As a fine artist, what challenges have you faced by exposing your artwork to the world via the Internet?

None really, it has only been a positive experience for me. Since I first launched my own web site and have shown my work through other sites such as Etsy my work had been found by collectors, curators, publishers, journalists, arts foundations and all of these discoveries have led to getting my work exhibited, purchased, published, and written about. The exposure for the arts facilitated through the internet is very powerful and propels my work forward every day.

What are you currently working on? Can you tell us about it?

My most recent series consists of paper quilts: collages of original photographs, found papers, and vintage photographs connected by stitched thread. With each quilt I create a narrative through text from old book pages juxtaposed with photographic images and colorful patterns. I love making this work because of the endless possibilities I find as I sift through piles of collected ephemera.

What advice would you give to an artist just getting started in their industry?

Do your homework. Research galleries that are suitable for your work before sending them a submission, go see lots of art, read about art, write about your own work and the work of others. The more a young artist becomes immersed in the art world and their local arts community the more opportunities they will find and the more their work will grow.

What green product would you recommend to our readers?

Canvas and fabric bags – any kind at all! I always make sure to keep bags in the car and at least one empty bag with me at all times just in case someone tries to offer me a plastic one I can say “no thanks!” and pull out my own.

What is your best going green tip?

Changing light bulbs to CFLs. They are better for the environment because they save energy and they are GREAT for keeping the electric bill low.

Is there one green practice you do daily that has become second nature?

Using less hot water in the shower. Really hot water is not good for skin, and by keeping the tap turned down I am not wasting water, so it’s two good things rolled into one!

Do you have a website or online presence that showcases your work?

My web site and I also have an on-line shop for my work

Is your work featured in a gallery or other brick & mortar location?
My work is currently on view at New England Bio Labs through September 8th
I also have work that will be exhibited in the 15th Annual Jamaica Plain Open Studios Juried Show from September 12-18 on view at Maliotis Cultural Center.
Additionally, my work will be on view at my studio (35 Wareham Street, between Harrison and Albany Streets) during the South End Open Studios September 20-21
Also during the Jamaica Plain Open Studios September 27-28, where I will be showing at The Eliot School.

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