Bees in the Hive | Discovering Mail Art with Jennifer Kosharek

November 02, 2017 by DANIEL VEINTIMILLA | VISUAL ARTS
In progress work by Jennifer Kosharek, for the Fl Craft Art day of the dead show in April.
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Following recent attempts at connecting with local artists, Creative Pinellas caught up with Jennifer Kosharek. She opened the doors of her home/studio in St Pete, a space that’s colorful and in a state of constant art production.

During our visit, Kosharek’s 3-year-old son served some delicious homemade cookies — thank you, Scout! She showed me her latest find, a teak African hand that reminded her of Sebastian Coolidge. We talked about everything, from how video games help divert confrontations between siblings, to Mail Art, to her interesting Etsy store, where she doesn’t only keep her art, but also a good number of vintage items. It’s “a way to lure people to your site, someone who is looking for something vintage, and finds your art or vice versa.”

Kosharek’s artistic journey has been in search for the unique. A formally trained artist, she studied at our own Pinellas County Center for the Arts. She can clearly paint realistic portraiture, and has used a series of mediums from intaglio to spraying murals.

She loves originality and gets frustrated with the amount of replication and appropriation on the market today. “Don’t steal some guy’s work just ’cause he doesn’t live in the State,” she said. Kosharek has to be protective — she’s created an eye-catching, iconic motif that others less talented may co-opt. Her work features recurring feminine forms such as her big-eyed Gretchen dolls, which make her work recognizable among local, national and international collectors.

The motifs continue to evolve, too. “I do search through the internet,” she said. “If I come up with an idea, and I look for it and I don’t find it, I feel more certain that I should go that route.”
Back to Mail Art, Kosharek shared that she started her doll face drawings because of it. She showed me her meticulously organized collection of artistic postcards, papers and collages sometimes found on envelopes, stamps, independent stickers, artist-created stamps, etc. Her neatly bundled Mail Art folders encouraged me to read more about the artistic movement that started in the 1960s with Ray Johnson, the father of Mail Art.

An egalitarian way to promote community engagement, Mail Art creates independent art distribution on channels, most of the time for free. Its traditions include Add & Pass, where you send an “object” proposing that it be changed by another Mail Artist, and so it goes down the chain. Mail Art is such a foreign concept for our digital generation. The idea of postal art, of sharing a bit of your work, combines friendship and creativity. It involves networking and creating community by way of dispatching media, and in a way, avoiding the more official channels: galleries, markets or museums. Postal art in a way is the Godfather of the more modern cyber community concept, and even Pinterest.     

Being part of the Mail Artist community has its perks confessed Kosharek, she got to personally meet artist John Held Jr. who among other things, made an Archive for the Smithsonian with more than 11,000 images of Postal Art, which Kosharek was part of. “We Mail Artists get into the back door of a lot of museums,” she added while talking about a show presented by Mail Artist Mathew Rose,

“I was the seventh person to contribute to ‘ABAD,’ a mail art-type show, out of about 500 people, and that is archived in the MOMA NYC, MOMA Wales, MOMA Brazil, etc,” she said.

Kosharek herself, through her connections in Mail Art, got to meet Mail Art collectors, historians such as the late Bill Wilson in New York, who inspired her greatly. Bill’s mother was May Wilson, a DADA artist with an amazing body of work. Kosharek visited the son’s home in Manhattan.

“I got to be in a house with all of  her (May Wilson’s) art in it, and Ray Johnson’s art,” she recalled. “I met him in 2009 at the “A book about death” opening at the Emily Harvey gallery. … I had no idea who he was, just that he looked like an older gentleman that needed a chair.  I went and found him one and we became friends. He invited me to his house party the next night.”

Kosharek’s best advice for the artist who wishes to pursue Mail Art: “Everything and everyone in the Mail Art world is like worm holes to other dimensions and there’s also lots of wild goose chases… but the good kind where you are enlightened by the journey.”

Catch up with Jennifer Kosharek and other local favorites at this free event which is part of Et Cultura St Pete 2017 :

Etc StP ART | Locally Sourced

Thursday, Nov. 16
Morean Center for Clay
8-11 p.m.

Kosharek, in her comfortable painting space, shows her conjoined doll bee street-art piece. You can also see some of her more realistic work hanging from the wall.

 

With her artwork ready for the Environmental Art show coming up, Kosharek reveals more explicit, anti-war and anti-pollution messages.

 

An example of Kosharek’s hundreds of books, folders and portfolios, this one is part of her Mail Art collection.

 

Kosharek at her sewing space, where most of the Gretchen dolls get stitched.

 

Close-up of Kosharek’s hands with some of her meticulous artwork.

 

Kosharek with 3-year-old son Scout. We were playing with some awesomely dynamic building blocks.

 

Kosharek’s colorful work desk,where she paints her signature nesting dolls with a variety of creative themes. On the left, Scout also takes pictures.

 

A random page in one of the literally dozens of Kosharek’s sketch books. This one has a more realistic depiction of her older daughter in the middle.

 

Suitcase full of Kosharek’s hand-made plush Gretchen dolls.

 

Up close with painting of two-faced doll bee street art style. You can also see a Russian nesting doll on ball pen on the lower left.

 

Example of the classic big-eyed doll feminine icon — recognizable not just at a local level but also nationally and internationally.

 

 

5 Things to Do – Nov. 3-9 | Community Consciousness Edition
Bees in the Hive | COVEaween Art Bash

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*Creative Pinellas welcomes submissions from practicing artists for publication in our artists directory. To submit, please fill out the form here. Such publication does not constitute on endorsement by Creative Pinellas and does not imply a judgement about the quality of the work or the participating artist.