by Faith Bennett
“New York sucks; I love Jacksonville.” When fine art silkscreen print artist George Cornwell heard his wife, Noli Novak, say this, he couldn’t believe it. The pair moved from New York to Jacksonville years ago and, while Cornwell was more comfortable with the move, Novak, who is a staff illustrator for The Wall Street Journal, was hesitant. After trying to rent an art space downtown to no avail, Cornwell decided to begin renting at CoRK, which is a series of warehouses with high ceilings and rentable art studios. It was this very district that changed their New York state of mind.
In addition to providing a spacious and unique environment to create art, Cornwell says CoRK (named for its location at the corner of Rosselle and King) provides a space for artists to hang out and enjoy each other’s company. The district currently has around 26 artists renting spaces, which leads to many synergistic efforts among the artists. Fellow artist Donald Dusinberre also agrees that the space contributes to what he calls a “team effort.” Dusinberre himself experiments with “messy art” that he semi-jokingly refers to as “post-millennial abstract expressionism,” and though he also spends a great deal of time stretching canvasses and framing, both for himself and for other artists, Dusinberre emphasizes the beneficial nature of the mass of artists working by each other by saying, “Just the sharing of ideas and possibility of collaboration is really beneficial; you’re not going to get certain ideas by yourself.” Sculptor Dolf James also expresses his appreciation for the collaborative nature of the space by saying, “When you get this many creative people together, something good is going to come out.” He goes on to mention that if someone “brings a dealer by, perhaps, and the dealer sees other work that he could use.” James also brought up the convenience of the 24-hour availability of the space. “These are studios for serious artists making art.”
That said, while CoRK is available 24 hours a day to its artists, it is open to others by appointment only. The district does, however, have sporadic public events ranging from gallery showings by artists like Cornwell to performances from the 5 & Dime Theatre Company and, on occasion, even has events like an upcoming February showing featuring New Orleans artists. It is important to stress that CoRK is not just a gallery or a building, but a district. Currently comprised of four, going on five, buildings, CoRK is unlike anything Jacksonville currently has to offer the art world. It’s something James, Dusinberre and Cornwell agree is a very bright moment in recent art history in Jacksonville. As Cornwell puts it, “This is the most artistically exciting thing to happen to Jacksonville.”
Among the other artists enjoying the new district are such local art legends as Jim Draper (who is there most days), Shaun Thurston (who used the space to prepare for Miami’s Art Basel), Paul Ladnier, Crystal Floyd and Jamie Jordan. The district is home to everything from photographers, printers and screen printers to painters and sculptors, but also welcomes the occasional musician, theatre company or filmmaker. The owner of the spaces, Sarah Crooks-Flaire, is in the process of opening the fifth building. It features 15 new studios (most of which are already spoken for) and will no doubt carry on with the promise of the others. When asked what factors of the CoRK made it so coveted, James mentions the synergy, the space alone, and also the daylight. With massive windows accompanying the 22-foot ceilings of each building, the art in CoRK spaces doesn’t require artificial lighting at all times, which is aesthetically, economically and financially pleasing. Dusinberre and Cornwell agree that the natural light is a great aspect of the district.
Overall, Cornwell insists that CoRK just has “a bunch of great stuff.” “This is better than New York,” Dusinberre boldly states, and Cornwell adds, “I can’t screenprint in New York.” And while Cornwell and Dusinberre further discuss New York’s dwindling appeal, with both stating that they’re seeing their friends leave the city, they both seem hopeful that because of CoRK, Jacksonville is on its way to being a more nationally recognized city of cultural and artistic importance. Cornwell says, “The city should stay tuned,” which is absolutely good advice.
CoRK is available for viewing by appointment only but will be having an open studio weekend at a date TBA in January.