This is the first installment of a new series I’m starting, called From One: Artist Profiles of people doing counter-cultural work, using their creative gifts–whether that be photography, drawing, painting, writing, tattooing, et. al.–to raise awareness of important social justice issues, especially ecology and the unsustainability of the dominant culture.
I first became aware of Lisa Korpos’s work at the house of my good friends Luke and Terra, whom I met in New Orleans doing post-Katrina relief work; strangely, Luke was the first person I talked to when I arrived in December of 2005 in New Orleans, and it turned out he also came from Orange County in southern California! Not only that, we both returned independently at the same time in March of 2006! Since then we’ve developed a profound friendship. Anyway, there was this amazing piece of artwork hanging on their wall about deforestation called Memories of an Old Oak Tree:
This was one of the most profound pieces of art I’d ever seen; deforestation is the environmental issue that hits me hardest, as I connect with forests probably more than any other ecosystem (read Derrick Jensen and George Draffan’s seminal Strangely Like War: The Global Assault on Forests). I asked Terra about it, and she told me how it was created from all recycled/reclaimed materials by her friend Lisa Korpos. About this piece, Lisa says:
It’s meant to really put a humanizing touch on the whole problem of deforestation. I think that oftentimes, people write off environmental problems as something sort of distant–they feel detached from them. So I wanted to get everyone really, personally engaged by allowing them to see from the perspective of a tree, as if it were a cognizant, sentient being. The illustrated panels are each supposed to be a foggy memory of this old oak: From the misty landscape of the tree’s home, to the scene of the cruel logger lunging at it with a chainsaw, to the scene of the paper mill, and so forth–it all tells the tree’s story. Even the base of the artwork itself gradually shifts from branches & leaves to processed wood planks, symbolizing the tree’s transformation. At the very bottom of the piece, on a piece of plywood, it says, poignantly, “I miss being a tree.” It’s a final reminder to drive home the point that this was once a living organism; that we shouldn’t be so quick to forget the origins of so many things we use.
Then Terra (who has a wonderful blog, Preserving Terra, about canning and preserving fruits and vegetables–a skill whose value, especially with the impending ecological collapse, cannot possibly be over-estimated) informed me that Lisa is also a tattoo artist. Then Terra showed me some of Lisa’s tattoo work–on her back!
Note: This tattoo is *NOT* finished–all the flowers will be colored in when it’s done, but this gives you an idea of the incredible tats Lisa produces!
Luke and Terra knew that I’ve long wanted a tattoo(s), but that I’d just been released from prison, so had no money. They contacted Lisa and funded my getting one as a sort of Get-Out-of-Prison-Free present, and three days later, the day before I left for home in northern California, it was done! You can see pictures of my Pink Floyd “Shine On, You Crazy Diamond” tattoo, and its profound meaning to me, partly in connection to my brother David (who killed himself at my age, 27), on my post, “Tattoos and Suicide.” One of the great things about Lisa is that she doesn’t just talk the talk (or….paint the paint? Heh.) She is vegan, and uses vegan tattoo ink–those are just two of the things she does to promote a better world, in addition to using her art to inspire and awaken =)
This next piece is called “PROGRESS?” It was done on a reclaimed brown paper bag, as part of her Brown Paper Bag HeART prismacolor series:
“This one,” Lisa writes, “is about how wildlife is forced to adapt to destruction of [their] habitat and the introduction of human contaminants into environments that were once pristine. It’s all symbolized by the hermit crab abandoning [his or her] shell to live in a rusty can of [his or her] own, long-dead shrimp brethren.”
Beautiful, touching, and heartbreaking, all at once.
Canary’s Out of the Coal Mine, pastels on recycled cardboard.
“The meaning in this one is pretty self-evident. Kind of a play on the old canary-in-the-coal-mine adage.” This one is my favorite of her ecological-themed artwork, aside from the tree sculpture.
I also wanted to hear Lisa’s take on a couple important questions; part of an artist’s job amidst this culture of occupation and death is to use it to further social justice issues.
JAN: Was there a defining moment for you where you thought, “This culture is FUCKED. I have to do something with my artwork to challenge the dominant culture’s myths.” Was there a watershed moment that made you decide to do what you do?
LISA: I don’t think there was any definitive, watershed moment, no. My sensitization to our civilization’s problems was a gradual process. What concerns me in this world is all the hurt, injustice and oppression happening, and my art is just a natural extension of that concern. I have many, many moments when I think, “this culture is FUCKED,” but it’s a repetitive cycle of anger, and that cynicism doesn’t lead to creativity. It’s on the upswing, when I’m feeling optimistic, that I can channel all that internalized outrage into something constructive instead.
JAN: Some people would say art–any kind of art, including writing–is a passive act of resistance to the murder of billions of animals and destruction of the biosphere. Symbolic resistance. A passive act. What would you say to that?
LISA: All forms of activism are all equally vital, passive or not. We need to adopt an open-minded, multifaceted approach when it comes to confronting our planet’s ecological & socio-economic problems! Perhaps painting a picture or writing a book isn’t as bad-ass as throwing molotov cocktails at some corporate building. So be it. Creative endeavors (particularly ones interwoven with social commentary) should not be underestimated in their power to change minds. Isn’t this what we need, at the end of the day? For more people to be more conscious and caring? I don’t think the fear-mongers and war hawks at Fox News are going to encourage anybody to be more compassionate. I don’t think the slew of KFC advertisements on TV are going to convince anybody to contemplate the suffering of chickens in factory farms. With a massive, corporate-owned media that’s already zombified so many people, the responsibility lies on our shoulders, alone, to bring back a little sense and rationality to the conversation. It’s a heavy burden, but it’s ours. So, sure, maybe artmaking is a passive form of activism. But it can change minds, and that’s always, always the first step. [emphasis added]
Incredibly, Lisa has also used her own body as a canvas for her work! Apparently it’s a tradition among tattoo artists that the first tattoo they get is self-done. When she was 17, Lisa tattooed her animal friend Echo on her calf:
Lisa rescued Echo while she was traveling, and they became constant companions:
She was the most incredible little friend & traveling companion a girl could ever hope for…we traveled together, from Portland all the way to the East coast, and then back home to Orange County. I managed to sneak her through Greyhound and countless subway security checks just to get her back home with me.
Outside of those few incidents when I had to hide her in my bra, I never even bothered trying to keep her confined. She never really left my side, even though I was sleeping in parks and on rooftops, and she had every opportunity to. She always understood that being close to me meant safety and warmth, so she stuck close and gave lots of kisses.
That little rat saw more of the country than a lot of humans have, and I was always so grateful for her company.
If you know me you know I’ve had rescued ratties continuously (except during prison, of course) for the last 6 years, so I can totally dig and attest to what Lisa’s saying.
Serrendipitously, Lisa and I grew up literally within half a mile–at most–from each other!! I plan to get more tattoos from her in the future (if I’m ever not flat-broke!); she gives incredibly fair rates and, as you can see, does a wonderful job. If you’re interested in getting some body-art done by her, she’s currently in the process of opening up a shop in Costa Mesa and if you would like to schedule a tattoo consultation or appointment for the future, you can contact her through her facebook or e-mail, which is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you, Lisa–for my tattoo, for using your talents to raise awareness about ecological issues and raise people’s consciousnesses (and consciences) in general–which is all desperately needed–and for your patience and help in developing this profile.
If you’re going to get a tattoo, get it from Lisa!–not only will you be supporting a counter-cultural vegan who’s in the process of building her career, you will get vegan ink, and YOU WILL GET AN INCREDIBLE TATTOO!! And please let her know if you do that Jan sent you =)