—story by Bianca Betancourt (@bybiancabee)
Like with its politics, its music and especially its artists, Chicago can tend to be a male dominated city.
When one’s cruising the city’s wide spread streets, locals recognize and admire the works of their city raised artists who paint Chicago’s surrounding walls—people like Brandon Breaux, JC Rivera, Hebru Brantley.
Breaking up the male monotony of the painting world however, is the young and visually vibrant Jas Petersen—a North Shore native whose female-centric work details the cultural and emotional diversity of women around the world.
Petersen, who comes from a family of doctors, architects and engineers, dabbled in sports at her college preparatory high school before she came to the realization that art was what she wanted to do.
“I knew that I wanted to go to an art school—[growing up] you had the kids who wanted to go the University of Michigan, you had the kids who wanted to go Cornell, the kids who want to do all that, and so my parents wanted me to do engineering or architecture but they also always pushed me to do art. So from when I was four years old to maybe 15 I was always enrolled in art classes.” said Petersen.
“I went from a school that had one art class that was finger painting, to another school where there was photography, ceramics, painting and had such a wide variety of art classes—and knowing that's what I have to do.”
Petersen, like many young artists early on in their careers, was set on leaving for either the East or West Coast—New York or California—after her high school graduation to further her career.
“I had my heart set out on Pratt in Brooklyn—there was something about Brooklyn that I was just feening for—I thought New York was so cool and so big and I was trying to get out of Chicago so badly...But I ended up staying in Chicago and going to SAIC [School of the Art Institute] because my mom obviously she didn't want her baby girl to leave just yet.” Petersen said. “She she told me if you stay in Chicago you can get an apartment with a friend freshman year and not live in the dorms. So I was like don't get me wrong the dorms were awesome, but I was like ‘Boom that's a deal, let's do it.’” Petersen laughed.
It was at SAIC however that Petersen was first introduced to the diverse curriculum an art education could supply.
“I had friends that did architecture and fashion and they actually 3D printed dresses. I had a friend that did metalsmithing and performance so she could create extensions of her body in metal and perform in them on stage. The school definitely gave the liberty to do what you wanted.”
Even though her college curriculum was excitingly unfamiliar, Petersen’s freshman year still came with the usual doubts and insecurities that pair with first entering college.
“My freshman year was the most difficult year of my life because I had so many friends and you look to your high school best friends as guides but everyone splits up and everyone leaves. My art teacher from Evanston who I love so much told my parents ‘Out of all my students Jas is going to be the one to leave. She's going to go across the world.” And I ended up being the one who stayed,” said Petersen. “I signed my security away when i decided to pursue art.”
That sense of insecurity is what ended up fueling Petersen’s namesake art; her final thesis project at SAIC was the beginning of her recurring theme of “the fast girl”—paintings and pieces that depicted how women are often subjected to just the worth of their body parts and overly sexualized beauty.
“[For the BFA show] I replicated a Danish hot dog stand—it was my first “Fast Girls” piece, and instead of the menu items being hot dogs or hamburgers, it was breast, thighs and legs and they were pin-up girls who were straddling a hot dog or a hamburger or over a salad and it was a commentary on not only how we overindulge on fast food but how overtly sexual we are as a culture,” Petersen reminisced. “There were people doing writeups, people interviewing me at my show...it was rated one of the top 5 pieces of the show and there were over 300 kids who participated. But I spent the entire [show] in the bathroom bawling my eyes out over my ex-boyfriend who had [earlier] made me cry.”
The tears ended up being worth it for Petersen though—her parents and friends encouraged her to go to a post-show after party where she met ended up meeting her future mentors—and being convinced to stay in Chicago just a little bit longer, once again.
Unlike many Chicago artists—who quickly grow accustomed to their designated artist residency and seldom experience otherwise—Jas has frolicked from neighborhood to neighborhood eager to meet the creative faces responsible for Chicago’s underrated art scene.
After the passing of one of her mentors and an unexpected move to Lacuna Art Lofts via help from her friend Hebru Brantley, Jasmine was introduced to another side of the scene that she quickly gravitated to.
“Lacuna lofts [was] out of a dream, I was super happy to be there, and [being there] brought me to another totally different side of the art scene, like Pilsen? I didn't know that Pilsen existed, that's how sheltered I was,” she said. “I never went to the South Side! I never went past Grant Park or Millennium Park. It was through Lacuna that I was introduced to the Bridgeport Art Center and Mana and the Zhoe B Art Center where it's all sculptures and painters...it was so underground and it was completely new territory for me.”
Petersen wasn’t immune to Chicago’s art community’s biggest flaw however—it’s segregation.
“I’m big on going to events in Chicago I love going to gallery shows and supporting my friends and seeing new installations and seeing what's up,” said Petersen. “I had made some friends that were in a different gallery building and then I would go to the Zhoe B Arts Center one day and so on—and just to my knowledge I didn't know Chicago was actually like this. Someone once found out I was an artist in residence at Lacuna and they literally stopped talking to me—like mid conversation. Once I realized how cliquey everything was I did everything in my power to try and make that stop.”
From that moment on, Petersen started inviting artists from all ends of the city to collaborate with her on projects, big and small, attending events together, and overall being vocal about diminishing the invisible lines previously separating artist from fellow artist.
“There are so many larger things that we need to be concerned about—London and Singapore not neighborhood versus neighborhood,” said Petersen. “If you want to stay on this small minded type of thinking be my guest—and I love you, you're my fellow Chicagoan—but I'm trying to get to Egypt to paint.”
Though Petersen travels often—just in the past few weeks alone, according to her Instagram she’s country-hopped through Mexico and Europe—Chicago still remains her home base.
“I feel that I could have gotten sick of Chicago so easily but I still haven't lived anywhere else. Now I'm sitting here at 25...I remember being 16 and being like I'm leaving, I’m over it!” she laughed. “But I’m so happy that there's a reason to stay. We've all found each other and we have places for people to come and hang out and interact as artists. I get so full of emotion when I think of all the times I could have gone to New York and I didn't. Those happened for a reason. Here, if you do something you can really feel the impact of what you do.”