Special Feature: Reflections

Reflections on 2018 by Kovi Konowiecki

Artist, Los Angeles

WFU Class of 2014

DeacLink is pleased to present a new blog series titled ‘Reflections’. As 2018 comes to a close, a selection of DeacLink Panelists consider the year they’ve had and share those thoughts with you. Enjoy these recaps, absorb the lessons relayed, and get excited for a great 2019!

A shot from the project ‘ Borderlands’ by Kovi Konowiecki. Credit www.kovikonowiecki.com

A shot from the project ‘ Borderlands’ by Kovi Konowiecki. Credit www.kovikonowiecki.com

Hello everyone and thank you for taking the time to read my post. If my blog post helps in any way to open up your mind or perspective in life or in art, that would make me very happy. Below is some very simple advice, but something I remind myself of everyday amidst the daily struggles of being and artist.

For those of you that are artists or pursuing artistic endeavors, have you ever really asked yourself what you want to say with your work? This is not the same as thinking about your work, or what you want it to look like, or what you want your work to be about. What do you really want to say with your work? Whether you are taking photographs, painting, making sculptures, etc., it is really important to consider the essence of what it is you are doing. I can spend an entire month making pictures every day, and the hardest thing to do is constantly bring myself back to that simple question. What am I saying with these photographs? For me, this is the difference between someone who makes beautiful art and someone who is an artist.

A shot from the project ‘ Borderlands’ by Kovi Konowiecki. Credit www.kovikonowiecki.com

A shot from the project ‘ Borderlands’ by Kovi Konowiecki. Credit www.kovikonowiecki.com

Let me take a step back and say that acting on emotion, spontaneity, color and light is very important. Often times when I take photograph on the road, I am acting on some sort of inner compass that is not predictable, nor does it make much sense. But I am also working within a certain framework, and this is very important to me. Rather than creating something visually beautiful, I try to use photography to express my feelings with real depth. There is a very dense world out there with so many important stories to be told and voices to be heard. It does not matter if you're shooting with a digital camera or an analog camera, or using a paint brush versus a pencil. What matters is the message and the voice behind the work, and I challenge all of you to think about this idea. Really think about it.

A shot from the project ‘The Hawks Come up before the Sun’ by Kovi Konowiecki. Credit www.kovikonowiecki.com

A shot from the project ‘The Hawks Come up before the Sun’ by Kovi Konowiecki. Credit www.kovikonowiecki.com

Your message matters, you philosophy matters, and your work matters! Find your own path, find your own language, and find a way to share that with the world.

I hope you can take something positive away from this.

-Kovi

A shot from the project ‘Borderlands’ by Kovi Konowiecki. Credit www.kovikonowiecki.com

A shot from the project ‘Borderlands’ by Kovi Konowiecki. Credit www.kovikonowiecki.com

Keep up with Kovi’s career by following him on IG @kovi.konowiecki

Visit his website for the latest projects at www.kovikonowiecki.com

Spotlight Interview: Bentrice Jusu

Bentrice Jusu: Artist

New York City

WFU Class of 2013

Double Major: Film Studies & Studio Art with Honors Distinction

Artist Bentrice Jusu is best described by the word ‘passion’. Every project and venture she carries out is infused with a palpable and pure energy. Take for instance ‘Both Hands’, a non profit youth arts program which Bentrice founded in 2011 as a sophomore. Purposeful, fiery and refreshingly honest, Bentrice catches us up on all things in her world.

 

DeacLink: Tell us about what you’re doing right now.

Bentrice Jusu: I’m a full-time artist. Everything I do is about creatively composing ways to use my professional and educational skill set to make money, earn a salary. 

In addition to making work, I’m still Executive Director of Both Hands [founded in 2011 while at Wake], and Founder and Creative Director of the Become Club, a fashion and interactive multimedia business which incorporates fashion, music and videography. 

All three of these operations combined are definitely not sustainable, so I have to think creatively about how to be a good artist, how to work in media I excel in, and how to utilize the business mindedness I honed before and during my time at Wake. The key is applying business savviness to your artistic practice.

 

DL: Take us through your journey to your current occupation since leaving Wake.

B: I founded Both Hands while at Wake in 2011, so coming out school that was my primary focus, keeping that going. In 2015 I went into research development for the Become Club. And throughout my time since Wake I’ve been producing artwork of my own and executing commissioned projects... I try to seek commissions all the time. I had a showing in Trenton at the New Jersey State Museum recently, which was an annual showing for my organization as well as my artwork. I also have a few potential events brewing in Philly and NYC. My website and social media accounts will announce those projects officially in the near future.


DL: Did you consider a graduate degree after Wake? 

B: I literally just hit ‘submit’ on my applications last week! I’m applying to a few MFA programs. One particular program I had my eye on, I’ve just missed the deadline for. It’s a dual MFA and MBA at NYU. Through my other research I discovered another great program- UPenn offers a Masters in Liberal Arts now. 

 

DL: How much did your studies or Wake in general inform or drive your career path?

B: Everything revolved around Both Hands from the moment I started that business. I consciously enrolled in classes that would apply positively to building and impacting my business… I made my course load work for me.

Intentionally, I stayed true to my art. I came to Wake with my sights set on a business major but I failed. I had to retake a few classes but even then I still didn’t end up majoring in it. The intent there was to become amazing at running a non-profit. The only problem is, the Wake business major is intensive on corporate avenues and profit, and not necessarily non-profit success. But in the end I simply adjusted, shaped my brain to think about other ways to run a business.

I owe a lot to Polly Black’s tutelage in the ICE Department (Center for Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship). It allowed me to see business in an innovative and creative way… Professor Black was pivotal in bringing the educational and professional aspect to my Wake experience.

 

DL: Did Wake’s Art Department help prepare you for life as a full time artist?

B: I say this without any reserve: Wake’s Art Department DID in fact help me in my post graduate career. Shout out to Wake Forest Art Department- TEAM ART! Hallberg, Pickel, Joel, Finn, Faber… all of the professors were amazing.

We didn’t have access to a rich, popping arts culture like schools in New York does.. And you can’t blame that on the University because that’s just Winston-Salem, NC. But I say without any hesitation that Wake did expose me to different art, different practices, and to challenges which made me become my own, better type of artist without conforming to one certain medium. I felt free to explore. 


DL: Prior to what you’re doing now, what other sorts of jobs have you had? How did you find and apply to them?

B: I interned for the Shalom Project, the Diversity Immersion and Inclusion (in non-profit management), One Simple Wish in New Jersey, the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF Freedom School), and was an Americorps Fellow. Some of the opportunities were from personal and internal references, while others came about from me seeing an ad posted in the pit and applying from there.


DL: What’s the hardest part about breaking into your field?

B: Being taken for granted. It’s easy to get exploited because your artwork is either tangible and expensable, or replicable and can be done by any and everybody… people think you’re posting your materials for free.

So yeah, the hardest part is penetrating the professional art world without starving to death- you have to do a million and three things for $2 an hour. But you need to believe in yourself enough to know your artwork is meaningful beyond your fingertips. 

You’ve also got to overcome feeling bad about being judged and criticized as capitalistic when you switch your medium from a canvas to something portable like a CD or a song. I mean, I have a background in oil painting and all of that… I know how long it takes to construct and work at a painting, or write a proposal to get into a gallery space to display that painting. If you haven’t graduated from Yale, it’s hard. 


DL: You’re still based in New Jersey, but looking to move to the City permanently soon. Have you got any advice for students looking to move to NYC?

B: Don’t be a wimp. New York is like every other place, but they’re raised to be themselves. And if you are afraid and intimidated you will not exist there. I haven’t even penetrated the NYC scene like I’m planning to in the next year, but from the time I’ve spent there… you simply can’t be a baby.


DL: What has surprised you the most about the art scene in New York? 

B: Nothing. It’s everything you’d expect from a metropolitan art scene. 


DL: So we know about grad school, but what’s next for you, art-wise?

B: I’m beginning to focus more on my performance practice. It’s still video installation, still multilateral… but much more centered around the music and performance aspect now. It’ll manifest through the Become Club website, and the actual performance and music will be good enough to reach audiences who can really feel what I’m talking about. The content is based around you becoming the artist you want to be. Viewers can purchase the song for one dollar. Five bucks buys a print, and you can become a member of the club to have access to special projects and opportunities for selected prices from $100.

I’ve also got a show coming up at START gallery, with fellow alumna Emma Hunsinger. More information on that will be showing up on the gallery’s site.


DL: What's the best kernel of advice you can pass on, or currently go by?

B: Don’t forget where you came from… don’t be afraid of your past. You cannot forget that. 
 

Visit Bentrice's website here

Follow Bentrice on Instagram and Twitter @beni_jusu

Spotlight Interview: Kristi Chan

Kristi Chan: Artist

San Francisco

WFU Class of 2015

Major: Studio Art

Minor: Art History

Artist Kristi Chan is a vivacious soul, characterized by an even balance of optimism and tenacity. The recent graduate and travel pro explains how she ended up on the opposite side of the country from her North Carolina home, pursuing what she loves most: creating.

 

DeacLink: What are you up to right now?

Kristi Chan: Right now I teach elementary and middle school art at Presidio Hill School, three days a week. I was also recently working for photographer McNair Evans in the city, which was really great. In addition to these, I do commission works on a regular basis and write/shoot for an online magazine called The Bold Italic. I have always had side projects, or ‘hustles’ going on. 

In my spare time, which I feel there’s never enough of, I’m working on personal painting and photography projects. I’ve just been accepted as a studio resident at ArtSpan, a local arts organization in the city which provides studios for applicants who have never had a space to work in before, or have been displaced from their studio. I move in the next couple weeks, and can’t wait to get started there. Prior to this, I’ve been carving out two areas in my apartment to create work- one in my room and a corner of the shared living room. Most studios I had looked at were more expensive than my apartment, so I had to make it work! 


DL: Take us through your journey since graduating from Wake.

KC: I graduated in 2015 with a teaching job lined up in Argentina for that summer teaching a high school study abroad course on photojournalism and social change. Afterward I came back to the States, but didn’t go home to Charlotte. I had applied for journalism jobs up in DC and New York, so spent time interviewing there to understand the environment and how life would be if I were to go that route. I realized I wasn’t ready for an office job, and neither city was really for me. I participated in a photography workshop in Provincetown, Cape Cod where a few friends of mine were already. Once the workshop concluded, I was beyond inspired to continue my work, but had to face the facts- I had no money, no ticket home, and no car. I caught a ride out West to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I was working on hot air balloon rigs for two months to have an income, until the opportunity to catch another ride arose. My friend picked me up on his way to see family in Montana. From there I hopped to Seattle, and trickled down the coast via train until I landed in San Francisco. I’ve been here for a year since.


DL: Did you consider a graduate degree after Wake? 

KC: Yes, and I’m still considering it. I don’t think I’m ready just yet, but with more time I’ll have a better grasp of how things work in the crazy art world, and then return to school. I want to have a few more shows and publications under my belt before applying to programs, and a more complete portfolio in general.


DL: Did your studies or Wake in general inform or drive your career path?

KC: Yes, very much so. I was encouraged by my professors to pick art as a major while at Wake, though most people were worried about a potential future in the arts, and advised against it. Despite the voices in my ear saying, ‘You won’t be able to do anything with art,’ I chose what I loved and felt all the more motivated to prove that opinion wrong. Wake’s prevalence of Business and Science, and more directly career-oriented majors can create the pressure to be boxed in, but the professors in the Art Department were so supportive that I chose something I knew I would love doing even if the path was really undetermined.

The best skill I acquired while in undergrad was the process by which I learned to make artistic decisions. Having to make and defend the reasoning of my decisions with each image and painting I produced helped create a process that taught me to consider the intention and impact of each of those decisions, a process that carried over into my life. It's also probably a big reason behind why I like to travel, and have worked for opportunities that allow me to do so. I learned to be comfortable with the constant ambiguity in an art career or while traveling, which I've learned is a pretty valuable transferable skill! I apply the same process I use when painting to navigate the extreme uncertainty of life as an artist now. There is no one to tell you how to make decisions in painting, and life is the same- both are very open and up to the individual. I feel extremely free and capable to take the steps I need to, and time my decisions with confidence.


DL: Do you think Wake’s art program prepared you for life as an artist in the real world?

KC: While there are many wonderful things about our art program, I don't think it's really designed to train career artists. It’s pretty uncommon for Studio majors to graduate on to careers as artists. I loved my classes, and while I acquired a great amount of studio skills, I didn’t learn enough business skills to know what it would take to be, say, a small business owner or sole proprietor. As an artist you have to be your own business, which of course requires business skills- something I felt that I was lacking in. I had a little knowledge of budgeting and business basics, because I took entrepreneurship classes, but if you look at how Business majors are prepared across their time with resume reviews, internships, mock interviews, etc... you'll realize where there are some potential gaps in our program. The closest simulation to networking I had was gallery openings where the artist would visit, and you try to get a moment with them. 


DL: What’s the hardest part about breaking into your field?

KC: I think it’s really easy to see how big the art world is. It’s hard to avoid comparing yourself to other artists, and equally difficult to devote the required time, money and space to create work you believe in.

It can be discouraging when you’re producing work that no one is seeing or buying. But you have to wholeheartedly believe that what you’re doing is worthwhile, and pick yourself up by the bootstraps. It’s already been a year in this city, and I understand that I have a far way to go. But I know this is what I should be doing, and that keeps me going.


DL: How do you like living and working in San Francisco? Do you have any advice for students wanting to move there?

KC: I love living in San Francisco. The Bay Area is really vibrant culturally, and there’s a rich history in the arts here. While a lot has changed with the growth of the tech industry and many artists have been pushed out of the city, there remains a creative, can-do spirit that I draw a lot of motivation from. I meet artists, makers, and creators everywhere I go, and the arts are something that people really value here.  The outdoors are also a big part of my life, and so being able to climb, surf, and backpack on any given weekend is a huge plus. SF has surprisingly good surf, and I can be on a trail outside the city within a 30 min drive.


As far as advice for students wanting to move here--it is a really challenging city to live in. They say it takes about a year to feel like you live here. This isn’t news to anyone, but it is extremely expensive. I feel like I won the lottery with my housing situation, but for the most part average rent for a room in an apartment with roommates is about 1200-1600. A lot of artists have moved to Oakland across the bay, but even that area has gotten really expensive. Some days I think to myself half-jokingly that I probably picked the worst city to decide to be a “starving artist” in, but most of the time I couldn’t be happier to be where I am now.


DL: What piece of advice do you currently go by, that you can leave with us?

KC: Say yes to every opportunity until you can’t… if you aren’t challenging yourself then you’re just making excuses. No one’s gonna do it for you.
 

Visit Kristi's website here

Follow her on Instagram @kristi_chan

Spotlight Interview: Kovi Konowiecki

Kovi Konowiecki: Photographer

Los Angeles / London

WFU Class of 2014

Major: Communications, Media Concentration

Minor: English

 


 

After graduation, Kovi moved to Israel to play with a professional soccer club called Hapoel Kfar Saba F.C. After some time, he realized that photography was what he really wanted to be doing with his life. We spoke with Kovi to learn how this revelation has impacted his journey since.

 

DeacLink: Tell us what you’re up to right now.

Kovi: I just finished my MA in Photography  from University of the Arts London and have two if my images being displayed at the National Portrait Gallery as part of the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize.

I am currently polishing up a series called 'Delivering Flowers to Grandpa Jack', which I began creating to capture the uniqueness of Long Beach, California—the people and places that I thought made it different from everywhere else. But as I spent more time documenting my hometown, I realized that its uniqueness does not stem from the people who live there or the streets that comprise it. Rather, it is the things that don’t stand out that make Long Beach like nowhere else for me. The series pays tribute to the elements of Long Beach that many would find commonplace and un-extraordinary, highlighting the beauty of familiarity that can transform the mundane of one’s hometown into something very personal. The photographs’ devotion to the elements of the everyday signifies how the special feeling one associates with their hometown does not come from the place itself—it comes from being from the place. Undefined by a specific era, the people depicted in the series exist in a setting created by my perception of home—a place that remains intimate and ageless—an embodiment of the feeling that no matter how many years pass, and no matter how many things change, there are certain things that never change.


 

DL: How did you end up in a Masters program? What were your biggest incentives for enrolling?

K: Going back to school was really appealing for me at the time-- the process of collaborating and being in a creative environment was really exciting to me. Because I played soccer at Wake, I never really had that experience in college-- to be completely immersed and driven by photography.


 

DL: How much did your studies or Wake in general inform or drive your career path?

K: Wake allowed me to really figure out who I was, both an as individual and as an artist. I was rather different in a predominantly homogenous community, which perpetuated many of my artistic endeavors. I wanted to create platforms for social change.

I was also fortunate enough to have some really engaging professors that allowed me to form some of the ideas that are the basis for much of my work today.


 

DL:  What do you think Wake arts could have done to have better prepared students for life after graduation?

K: I think college is all about finding out who you are. For some it takes longer than others. For others it never really happens. I think Wake could do a better job of giving students more opportunities to explore creative outlets. It is very easy to get sucked into the code of getting good grades.

 

DL:  What’s the hardest part about breaking into your field?

K: It is highly competitive! Everyone's a photographer these days. It takes a lot of trust in yourself and your sense of authorship. It also takes a lot of patience, as it can take years to establish who you are as an artist.

 

DL: How did you like living and producing work in London, versus back home in LA? Is there a significant difference in the quality of your work, the ease of producing, and the reception of your work, between the two places?

K: I like the negotiation  between LA and London. I sort of get the best of both worlds. London is like an incubator for me, I get tons of inspiration from all of the creative outlets. LA is a more of a place for production and reflection for me. Everything runs at a slower pace in LA, which can be great at times.
 

 

DL: What has surprised you the most about the art scene in London? Do you have any advice for students wanting to move to move there?

K: If you put in the effort to make connections and see what is out there, London can really be a fantastic place to grow. My biggest advice would be to take initiative-- there is too much going on to sit back.

 

DL: How about in LA?

K: With regards to LA, the art scene is growing a lot. There seems to be a movement of people coming from NY (I think people are starting to get a bit tired of the cold). But like London, there are tons of collaborations and opportunities waiting to happen.
 

 

DL: What and where is next for you?

K: I wish I knew...I am using this time to reflect and figure out where I want to be... and where will be best for my career.
 

 

DL: What's the best kernel of advice you can think to pass on, or currently go by?

K: Be patient and let things happen naturally. And the work is always more important than self promotion or getting your name out there-- the work has to always be at the forefront.

 

Visit Kovi's website and follow him on Instagram