Janie Korn on her wax candles, introversion, and a devious can of beans
Erin Clifford2 years ago
Photo courtesy of Janie Korn

It had to be divine intervention when Janie Korn slit open her thumb with a can of beans. 

At least, that’s how I like to think of it. 

Janie Korn was meant to be an artist. 

And the can of beans had to unseal her thumb to seal her fate. 

Now, we know Janie Korn as the mastermind behind some of the most unique candles from personal pet portraits to a wax Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Combining her love for art that invites interaction with her own use of intention candles, Janie was naturally drawn back towards candle making after spending time with other art forms like sculpture and animation. While her hand-painted wax candles are beautifully intricate and could be saved as a sculpture in and of themselves, they are also inherently dynamic, ever changing each time they burn.

Can you tell me a little bit more about the can of beans that sliced your thumb? 

Janie: Oh my god. Where did I write that? 

You did it in an interview three years ago, and I'm so curious about this story. 

Janie: Oh my god. It's pretty gruesome. This was back in college, and let that please provide some sort of insight into my critical thinking skills at the time. One evening I arose at 3am to grab a snack from the kitchen. I glide down the three flights, grab a can of beans, likely a pinto, and return to bed to enjoy my snack in peace. When I realize I had been too hasty with the can opener I decide to simply use my finger to loosen the lid, rather than traverse the many flights of stairs yet again. A bad choice. I slice my finger. Blood everywhere! Beans everywhere! And worse, I have to eat these now soiled beans because I am at the point of passing out. I hope you don't regret asking that question because I regret answering it.

Photo Courtesy of Janie Korn

No, not at all. I'm asking it though because when I read that I felt like that was some type of divine intervention. Like, you are meant to be an artist. Before the can of beans slicing incident, you were about to join an embassy-run program in Spain! Without this intervention, if you will, your path could have been very different. How did you feel around that, when you had been through a vetting process to join this foreign service program?

Janie: Yeah, looking back, there were so many points where my path could have directed me into a career path very distant from art making. Ultimately at each of these junctions I faced rejection or failure. It at all makes sense in the long run and I’m grateful to have some perspective on this.

Two or three years ago, there was this fantastic company that I really wanted to work for. I had four rounds of interviews with them, all very intense. I loved the company ethos too and envisioned my life around being a part of their team. I was really lost and it made sense to me at the time.  After that fourth interview, they called me and were like, “You didn't get it.” And I was like, “Well, there's nothing left for me.” This was like the perfect job. And now I'm like, “Another moment of divine intervention.” It just wasn't for me. 

Yeah, so. I guess one woman’s sliding doors is another’s can of beans. 

Photo courtesy of Janie Korn

No, but I love that story. Well, I don't love that for you. I don't love the blood, but the story made me laugh out loud. I want to know what your advice would be for other artists looking to pursue art but might not be sure if it's definitely their right to commit to it. 

Janie: I think there are two major things that I would recommend to anyone looking to gain confidence in their practice and who want to grow their community.  One is to make an effort to collaborate in a really selfless way. When I first moved to New York, I had no connections in the arts, but there was a long list of people I admired and hoped to meet. I  started to curate shows at my studio space in Chinatown. It was basement level and extremely, scrappy space, but these shows gave me an excuse to talk to the artists, handle their art, and bring them into my network.  People will remember when you help them and you’re not looking to gain anything except for friendship. Everything I gave was  returned to me many folds over. 

My other pebble of advice is to take classes! I enrolled in a bunch of adult education classes at SVA. You learn to lose your ego because you go and you have classmates that are 60 years old who are learning an entirely new skill. You don't feel like, “Oh, I'm too late to do this thing” or, “I don't know where to start, so I can’t start.” It’s very encouraging to me.

Photo courtesy of Janie Korn

Yeah. I read another interview that you did where you talk about how art has always been this undercurrent in your life starting as a young girl listening to your mother’s stories. I'm interested to know a little bit more about your mother's influence in your art, and who else do you consider to be artistic influences?

Janie: Oh, that's nice. My mom’s going to like that. My mother is a brilliant artist. She paints these magnificent tiles that look like Modigliani. When I was a child she would invent fairy tales and then have me paint what I was imagining. It was a beautiful way to be raised.  

She’s also a really wonderful businesswoman and I think was super influential helping me form my career as a more commercial artist, rather than a fine artist. My work is accessible which is great, but requires a lot more frontward facing interaction with customers than someone who has intermediaries. 

What is a piece of advice that your mother has given you that always sticks with you?

Janie: She's really into making customers happy and relationship building. I think that’s probably a good thing to know how to do, regardless of the industry. 

If someone wanted a custom Janie Korn, how would they go about doing that?

Janie: It’s very streamlined on my website. If you want a custom human head or custom animal head, it's a set price. And then I have other standard styles. For more ornate pieces, I’ll have people email me, and then I just sort of price it by intricacy and size.

Photo courtesy of Janie Korn

Is there a recent commission piece that you love?

Janie: I really like to do my own creative pieces that I try to slip in there in between commissions. I'm going to have a show at Fort Makers gallery in the Lower East Side. They're doing a Goodnight Moon show, and I'm doing a bunch of candles. So that’s really fun.

You've sifted through a lot of different mediums. How did you land on the one that you're currently working with?

Janie: I've been really interested in different ways to play with interaction. That's been sort of the theme throughout. I was making sculptures, and it's a hard sell.

In general, a sculpture [takes] up space, you don't play with it. It's there. There's not a lot of space in homes to dedicate to something that's stagnant, especially in quarantine where your home suddenly has to transform into several different environments you can no longer access outside. I wanted to just increase the way that somebody could play with [the piece] and consume it. I built armatures that went into [the sculptures] so that they could move and be more playful.

I also started working on a really time intensive animation project with a couple of friends. It just went on and on, and I fell out of love with it.  I need instant gratification.

So yeah, I was still sort of stuck on sculpture that you can play with, that has movement to it. 

I also buy these magic candles online that have little intentions and come with prayers, so [candles] are something that I always had and always interacted with. I think it just came back to me somehow.

Photo courtesy of Janie Korn

I think that it's cool that your work can continuously be an act of performance. It can stop burning, and you can come back to it. You can create this ongoing relationship with a piece of work, which I think is really special.

Janie: Oh yeah, I never really thought about them burning as anything except a continuous thing. But that is a really compelling idea. By burning the candle to a selected point and then blowing it out, you have now contributed to the design. I like that. It becomes more of a group project that way.

Is there any art in your home that you've added over quarantine that makes it feel like more special to you?

Janie: Yes. So not to blow up my spot, but I go to the Chelsea Flea almost every weekend. It's like going to a little museum where you can play with things. It's safe and outside and just the most fun. Have you been?

Nope, but I guess I'm going tomorrow.

Janie: Yeah, so it's Saturday and Sunday. Honestly, I go there and don't even buy stuff most of the time, but I bought a painting that I put in my studio that was like $5. I like it. But it's more that that's my favorite thing to do, so I like [the painting] more.

I'm interested to know how you would describe yourself.

Janie: I think I'm really curious and I like to study people. I'm interested in things that are not so smooth and perfect, that have a lot of humanity, and aren't too digital. I’m an appreciator.

Photo courtesy of Janie Korn

I read in an interview that you said that you're introverted. I think that that is such a special thing to be as an artist because I think there's this act of curiosity that comes with that. Do you think that is something that you agree with, the idea of introversion and curiosity being mixed with how you view the world and how you create?

Janie: Yeah, I think so. Because you can observe from a safe distance. I don't know if it's like the best way to be a human, but you can make things so much more personal. So if you're watching what people are doing and not doing it also, you can re-contextualize that and put it in your terms.

Photo courtesy of Janie Korn

So I'm also interested in knowing how you continue to build your community around you, especially now. When you first moved here, you started curating these shows, but now you're more known in the community. How do you continue to build it, or are you looking to continue to?

Janie: I'm looking to continue to build it. I have not done it enough. Lately, I feel like I've been a little too mentally isolated to know how to bridge that gap. I like to trade with people. I dropped off a trade this morning with a good friend of mine who's an artist. We were talking about another collaboration that we're going to do together.

You can do collaborations from a distance, and you can send your work to people. It's not as intimate anymore. You can't do that, but I'm trying to do some fun collaborations. This friend of mine does these beautiful porcelain mugs and lamps and stuff. She's going to do these really English countryside inspired candlestick holders, and I'm making these new candlesticks that are really drippy and Gothic and different techniques that I've never used before. I think that'll be cool.

It seems beautiful.

You can see more of Janie's work on Instagram @janiekorn or at www.janiekorn.com.

by Erin Clifford
Erin is a writer and photographer at inbtwn.

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