Jennifer Urso is an incredible artist who sees creativity in all things she does. Jen is inspired by the impermanence of nature and experimenting with the creative process.
Read on for our full interview with her!
How did you get started creating your current body of work?
The cactus map originated when I realized how I knew certain regions of the city based on the interesting cactus I saw in those places.
The financial building on Central and Osborn has a great cactus garden and so does the Clarendon hotel but I also thought of those random, flourishing cactus along the side of the canal. Most of these I encountered while out running, walking or biking.
I had been already creating maps for different parts of central Phoenix but they usually centered around buildings, institutions, businesses or even artwork. I thought it would be interesting to create a map based on growing, living things which are just as impermanent as a business that might go under after a year or a building that might get torn down.
What’s the favorite part of this series?
Most of my other artwork is less literal than my cactus work but what I have enjoyed about creating these pieces is learning about the different plants that exist around me and being able to investigate them further to share with others.
It has helped others and myself have a greater appreciation for Arizona, the Sonoran Desert and how unique cactus and succulents are.
How do you express your creativity through your work?
At this point in my life, I think I’ve realized that everything I do is an extension of my creativity.
In the cactus drawings I created, I used a combination of blind gesture drawing and intentionally created them in ink, without any fixes or erasures. If the drawing didn’t seem right, I would just start over from scratch. This method was an extension of experiments I’d been doing with drawing that fought the urge for perfection and tried to capture the first, initial impression of what I was drawing.
What brings you joy?
That is a tough question since the past two years have been especially challenging.
My son, Ilia continually brings me joy in his optimism and creativity.
Planting and growing food, running long distances and seeing what my body can do, witnessing other people pursue their passions while being true to themselves.
What challenge(s) have you overcome?
I grew up in a very unsupportive environment and have been working since the age of 14, including working my way through college with no parental support.
I’ve had to be pretty crafty to figure out how to get things done—always figuring out some angle that I can take advantage of to move ahead, learn more, do more, give back more.
There have been plenty of times I’ve been exhausted and just wanted to give up.
In the past two years, my sister suffered numerous strokes and was diagnosed with clear cell ovarian cancer. She just died this December. We were incredibly close and each other’s biggest fans so that has been the most difficult thing I’ve ever experienced. I was traveling frequently to Seattle to be with her and care for her, even during the pandemic. I’m still grappling with the loss.
Anything in the works/coming up for you?
I actually have a huge project I’m working on regarding COVID, death and grief. My solo exhibit “Remarkable Presence” will open at the Walter Art Gallery in September. Essentially, this project is creating a paper suitcase for every life lost in Arizona due to COVID.
I’m working with the gallery and several other spaces around the valley to host collective grieving events where people can receive a paper suitcase to honor their loved ones. Another part of the exhibit will include pop-up book-like paper suitcases that include information on those who have died.
I will be launching a Kickstarter campaign in April to help fund the project.
See a sneak peak below!
What do you wish for the world?
I wish we could learn to treat each other with more respect, kindness and dignity.
Even those we disagree with are real people who have their own struggles. If having my sister die has taught me anything, it’s that we will all go through this kind of loss and it can really break us.
Literally everyone will experience this or has experienced this and is walking around every day, trying to do our best. If we stop treating each other as concepts and instead actually listen and pay attention, we can achieve a little more humanity.
Is there anything else you’d like to share/us to know?
Getting back to the Cactus Map and cards I created, these are really created with the intention that people would start to notice their OWN favorite cacti out there to define the landscape of their city from something other than just the built environment. Maybe we actually know a corner better because of a great tree we love, not because of the coffee shop below it.
See her collection of items at MADE here :)