Janelle Victoria Cordero’s expressionist portraits are distinguished by dominating contour lines and sparse watercolor highlighting. Her subjects are often disjointed and unfinished, missing a neck or a limb or a torso, which emphasizes the disconnected nature of the human condition. Her work has been featured in galleries from Washington to West Virginia, as well as published in numerous journals and anthologies. Janelle’s artistic priority is to collaborate with other creatives to push for social and political change.
NOTE FROM THE EDITOR
In the first months of our magazine, art was a modest factor of our operations. We set out to discover and publish poets and writers, opting last minute to include paintings, photography, and other forms of visual art. We were at once delighted, and a little daunted, by the outpouring of brilliance in our submissions: delighted because the quality exceeded anything our imaginations could stir up, and daunted because we’d be liars to say that we, as a team, felt properly acquainted with the artistic community.
The one thing we’ve been sure of, however, is the purpose of our magazine. The Broke Bohemian will always foremost be about free expression, re-examining all you’ve been told, and remaining steadfast alongside your virtues. In our discussion with Janelle Victoria Cordero, Pacific Northwest artist and writer, we stumbled upon a similar kinship. We discuss her disconnected approach to art, the quest to communicate different social perspectives, and her heartfelt advice to anyone pursuing their passion.
Q: Having lived (or currently living) in the Pacific Northwest, how would you say your environment or setting has influenced your art, if at all?
I grew up in a town of 5,000 near the Canadian border in Eastern Washington, and I currently live in Spokane, Washington. Spokane is the kind of place where desolate poverty and extreme wealth are found in the same neighborhood. Close to 20 percent of the Spokane population lives below the poverty line. Property crimes, drug abuse, and homelessness are incredibly prevalent. In one of my poems, I describe Spokane in this way:
It’s a dirty and tired city,
like an old man
who just finished his shift at
the mill and comes home for
a warm meal and a cold beer,
all the while trailing dust
through the house. We decide
that we love this city for its stories,
for its people, for its willingness
to keep existing far beyond
the beauty it once was.
I love Spokane not for its flaws, but for its complexity. Although it’s the second largest city in Washington State, Spokane is surrounded by farmland to the South and mountainous forests to the North. Because of this unique merging of metropolitan and backwoods settings, my artistic style sways between portraying very urban portraits of lonely, disjointed characters to painting abstract rural landscapes and natural line drawings.
Q: Along with your piece “Segment 2,” you say that your subjects are “often disjointed and unfinished, missing a neck or a limb or a torso, which emphasizes the disconnected nature of the human condition.” Can you elaborate more on our disconnected nature, and how it became a primary component of your pieces?
In the city, we put such high expectations on ourselves and on our surroundings, especially when we’re young. We’re surrounded by the movement of other people, always, and we want to be part of the movement. We want to be in the heart of things. So we spend a lot of time downtown, and we put on our best clothes and we order cocktails and we talk of politics and the arts like we have enough experience to do so. But eventually we realize how fragile this lifestyle is, usually when we return to our studio apartments and take off our best clothes and feel sick from our fancy cocktails. There’s this balance between being in awe of the glitz and the color, and on the other hand feeling burnt out and betrayed by how little of this is real. And within that paradox is where I find the feeling of disconnectedness.
Q: You’ve said that it is your artistic priority to collaborate with other creatives to push for social and political change. Was there any particular event or inner change that occurred to inspire this priority?
I’m a self-taught artist when it comes to painting and drawing, so I was creating in a vacuum for a few years. But after a while, I realized that the act of creation becomes so much more meaningful when it’s used to better the world around us. Aristotle said, “Where the needs of the world and your talents cross – there lies your vocation.” If my creative talents can somehow make our world better for the most vulnerable and under-represented populations, then that’s my ultimate goal. So when an incredible writer and artist like Kristi DiLallo asks me to design the cover art for a chapbook of poetry written by female prisoners, I’m all for it. When the local YWCA asks for artwork donations to help raise funding for their domestic violence safe shelter, I say yes right away.
Q: What part do art and literature play in the battle to communicate each individual's perspectives, particularly when toxic, stubborn diatribes on either side of the aisle inhibit discussion?
Art and literature have the capacity to connect and promote empathy in a way that cold hard reasoning does not. The arts tap into something within us that reaches beyond the tangible world; our divinity is brought out through creating and consuming art. And when art is created by a diverse group of people, we are all able to gain a better understanding of those who are different from us. For example, I’m not a Republican, but I absolutely love George W. Bush’s recent paintings of military veterans. I see him in a completely different way now that I know he’s a creator; I can empathize with him. I can relate to him, even if we have opposing political views.
Q: What is one person who inspires you and/or is doing great work in the world today that deserves to be recognized?
My husband, Blaise “Danny” Cordero, is an incredibly talented music producer and composer. He’s both an instrumentalist and a vocalist, much like Prince or Thundercat or Johnny Cash (some of his favorite influences). His work pulls from a variety of genres, including folk, indie, blues, gospel, soul, and jazz. He’s crafted hundreds of songs over the past decade, and I get to witness their germination and progression from just an idea to a fully constructed composition.
I love being married to an artist, because Danny makes music every single day (even while going to school full-time and working as a Worship Director for a local church). His dedication to his craft pushes me to grow and learn and create as much as possible within my artistic fields. Here’s a poem that describes the dynamic of our home:
The Artist and the Musician
I held these scissors in my hand
for ten minutes. Not because
I wanted to, but because when you
started playing the piano I forgot
what I was doing with them.
You and that piano have some kind
of special language together.
Your fingers move up and down
those keys like water, and
the music flows out, music
like I’ve never heard before—
music that is soft and hard,
sad and joyful, full of
everything that life is.
But more. More than that.
These scissors, all they do
is cut things down, make
things smaller. But through
music you build the world,
song after song.
Q: What’s next for you?
I’m working with Black Sand Press to develop a chapbook, and I have upcoming publications in Sheila-Na- Gig and Capulet Mag. I also hope to continue my relationship with Rain Mountain Press as a cover artist for their many talented writers, such as Susan Tepper, Alexandra van de Kamp and Kelly Cherry.
Q: If you could pass along any advice to other writers, poets, and artists what would it be? And to a higher extent, advice for anyone pursuing their passions (creative or otherwise)?
My advice to anyone pursuing a passion is to remember that what you’re doing matters. Some days it won’t feel like it; some days you’ll look at everything you’ve created over your lifetime and you’ll hate it because it doesn’t represent you in that exact moment. But remember that your personhood is always evolving, and so your artwork will always be evolving. Keep creating. Keep observing the world around you and interpreting it through your work. Keep trying to get to the heart of things. As Joan Didion tells us, “Make your own work and take pride in it.”