The Simpsons, Clippy (the paperclip icon of Microsoft Word fame) and Japanese brand Kewpie mayonnaise aren’t usually associated with the tastefully serene world of scented candles. The outlandish wax creations of New York-based artist Janie Korn don’t just break the mould, they melt it entirely away. Her choice of subjects, ranging from TV cartoons, celebrity culture and her own wild imagination, reinterpret the candle not as a polite decorative item but as a sculptural object ripe with potential.
Long interested in more ephemeral art-making possibilities, Korn first considered sculpting with food as her base material, but quickly realised that she tended to consume her ingredients before even getting started on the work at hand. She turned her attention instead to candles, using the softness of the wax to her advantage as she built pieces that embraced the imperfections of their medium.
Korn’s process is one of addition and subtraction, of building up and carving away, conducted under a constant heat in order to fuse the wax and pigment together. Figures and forms emerge as textured, knobbly shapes that are as endearing as they are arresting. Korn allows her intuition and pop cultural diet to guide her, and toadstool mushrooms, pink poodles and a friendly cow all make an appearance in her latest works.
“Figures and forms emerge as textured, knobbly shapes that are as endearing as they are arresting”
Korn is also sensitive to the historical significance of her medium. Candles hold spiritual weight, from the lighting of a flame to mark the passing of a loved one to the ceremonial candles lit in religious processions and events. There is something powerfully evocative about the flicker of a candle’s flame, connecting in their soft glow to the centuries of life before the advent of artificial, electric light.
While each of Korn’s candle works can be lit, the careful craftsmanship behind these sculptural pieces is evident, hinting that you would do better to preserve them in their finished state than to watch them descend into a sticky puddle. They could just as easily be gone in a few minutes as remain perfectly frozen in their waxen form, and it is this vulnerability that lends them a charged, transitory quality. Playful and irreverent, these are candles that light the way without ever burning down.
Louise Benson is Elephant’s deputy editor