Arts and Entertainment

Jackson Warin-Joo: Art as a Sanctuary

A profile of senior Jackson Warin-Joo and the ways in which he uses art to respond to his personal experiences.

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For senior Jackson Warin-Joo, creating art is a therapeutic means of responding to difficulties in his life.

Growing up, he was surrounded by art from practically the day he was born. His father, an accomplished sculptor, exposed him to art galleries and exhibitions when he was a young boy. Warin-Joo frequented his father’s studio, where his father inspired him to create his own art. He recalls that the two of them making, rather than purchasing, his childhood toys. Upon his arrival at M.S. 51, a middle school where each student specializes into a certain talent-centric department, he enthusiastically entered the fine arts track, as he had never taken formal art classes before. Around that time, he also began to attend classes at the Art Students League of New York and the New York Academy of Art outside of school.

Upon his arrival at Stuyvesant, Warin-Joo found himself overwhelmed by a brutally unforgiving transition. The dramatic shift from his life in middle school forced him away from working on art for some time. Additionally, Warin-Joo began to experience diabetic burnout during his freshman year. As a Type 1 diabetic, Warin-Joo needs to constantly monitor his blood sugar and administer himself insulin injections. Because of his rough transition, he began to neglect his condition, and his health deteriorated. At the climax of a very dark and turbulent period in his life, he “came back to art instinctively.” Since then, “it’s kind of become more of a therapeutic thing for me, as opposed to just doing it for fun and doing it to show people,” Warin-Joo said. Many of the pieces he has made in high school examine this difficult time, his struggle with identity, and the way in which his experiences eventually brought him back to art.

Warin-Joo works in a multitude of mediums. He received formal instruction in oil painting and graphite pencil drawing but uses a variety of other techniques and styles to create his work. For a long time, Warin-Joo’s art was primarily based on traditional methods of drawing, painting, collage, and sculpture. He admits with an air of self-awareness and humor that he tried to reject his traditional instruction when he returned to art in high school. “I stayed far away from shading things in right and getting proportions right,” he said. “All I wanted to do was try out different materials.”

Most recently, his desire to explore different materials landed him two internships, both during the summer before his senior year. One internship was led by a master screen printer, the other by a pair of blacksmiths. The iron-pouring that Warin-Joo did with the blacksmiths was a particularly memorable experience. Warin-Joo chose to cast a glucagon kit (the kind that he uses to monitor/stabilize his blood sugar levels), as well as a dog toy. He and his co-interns worked to collect scrap iron, form their own molds, and even construct a foundry. “It was kind of an important project for me,” he said. “It had to do a lot with my frustration at not being able to control my diabetes or my life as well as I had when I was in middle school.”

Most of his work is conducted in his father’s studio, which he is allowed to use for himself for as many hours as he spends assisting his father doing manual labor or other related tasks. If he isn’t working in the studio, he can usually be found in his room. When asked to describe his creative process, Jackson explained that he is never at a loss for ideas and that he always has two or three projects going on simultaneously: “It’s usually when I’m working on something already that I’ll have an idea for the next project.” His mind is more receptive to new ideas while he’s already actively creating, and when inspiration strikes, the vision of the new idea leaks into what he’s already working on. All of his projects influence and work off of each other.

As an artist, Warin-Joo’s main objective is to use his negative experiences as a source of inspiration to create work that is highly personal to him: “When I was going through that really tough time, being able to break everything down that I was going through into a picture or a sculpture was how I would make it through.” He also hopes that other people will connect with his art, saying, “A part of me, when I’m creating, definitely wants people who have gone through similar things to be able to relate to the issues that I’m trying to explore.”

Moving forward, Warin-Joo would like to hold his own art show so that he can display his work beyond posting online or showing his friends. Though he values being able to jump between different media, he wants to hone in on a technique that he can really focus on and master. This process will involve a lot of experimentation, such as his work with screen printing and iron casting. More recently, when he wasn’t working on his college portfolio, Warin-Joo was creating his own clothing. He describes it as a 50/50 split between work for his portfolio and exploration of fashion. Though he’s always had a strong passion for fashion, he has only recently tried to pursue it. Making his own clothes is an “extension of trying new things and trying to explore as many mediums as possible,” he said. “Being able to learn an entirely new way to express yourself is kind of an incredible experience.”

Jackson’s artwork can be found on Instagram at @wearingjoos.