Justin Korver wrapped up his lecture and – as he does every Friday — turned his classroom into an art studio.
Korver’s students began cutting out colored shapes from construction paper, learning hands-on about hue and color, and principles of design. Students roamed the room, talking and critiquing each others designs. Glue and scissors were everywhere. Korver has drawers that are full of all kinds of art materials in his room and on these days he opens them up to his students.
A recent graduate of the University of Texas at San Antonio’s art department, Korver was hired in 2016 as the first art lecturer at Texas A&M University-San Antonio. An accomplished artist in his own right, known for innovative use of everyday materials that spark the imagination and challenge understandings of gender, this young professor invites students to use art to better understand the world and find their place in it.
Professor Ken Little, a mentor and chair of Korver’s thesis committee credits Korver’s work as intellectually engaging while existing on an everyday plane, using “pop” materials like camouflage hats, and craft techniques like embroidery to suggest how humans connect and how we negotiate the planet.
“Justin is fearless in his exploration of materials and the ideas that they carry,” said Little. “He is not interested in making a long body of related works. He likes to reinvent the wheel with each work.”
Born and raised in rural Iowa, Korver spent years working in his father’s woodshop, learning to appreciate how carpentry, and other crafts like sewing and embroidery — each with their own gender associations — can be used to incorporate found materials into projects.
Korver attended Hope College, a small art school in Holland, Michigan from 2009 to 2013 where he received his Bachelor’s degree in studio art. He also spent two years as a teaching assistant for one of his professors Katherine Sullivan who he had for senior studio, painting and figure drawing. Sullivan, chair of the art department says that Korver was different because of the amount of work that he dedicated to his projects.
“Justin stood out because he had a voracious appetite for art history, and he read, watched and listened to everything he could get his hands on about contemporary artists,” said Sullivan.
Sullivan said one thing they try to teach students when they teach art is visual literacy. She shows students how to become more critical of what they see around them. Also, how to not passively accept but instead to analyze, dissect and deconstruct the images that they’re bombarded with every day.
Korver uses human connection and curiosity in his artistic style. He commonly uses woodworking and construction, and he combines accessible materials such as dirt and things you might see thrown on the side of the road. He also incorporates a lot of sewing in his art, and he often uses textiles to get his point across like explaining masculinity with the use of camouflage trucker hats.
He’s not so focused on making sculptures that tell you what your supposed to think, but instead he thinks of them as an area, or a space or zone that facilitates discussion. Korver’s complicated, sometimes contradictory sculptures are mirrored in the relationship he sees as intrinsic between lecturer and student, and students and the art they create.
“Learning to be uncomfortable can contribute and become part of your art creating process,” Korver said. “I hope that the art teaches us how to live with each other better, that we learn to accept people that are maybe weird or unusual,” said Korver. “Objects that are weird or unusual teach us to do that better.”
Korver has carved a quiet presence in his Blue Star Arts Complex studio south of downtown San Antonio where there are glimpses of past exhibitions strewn around the space. The shelves are organized and the bins are full of all kinds of different ingredients that he uses in his art.
This is the space where Korver hones in on his craft, he dedicates a lot of time to practicing and trying new things. This is what his past mentors and professors applauded as Korver’s best attributes as a critical and important artist. He’s not afraid to try new things. Some familiar and some unusual, the one constant is Korver’s drive to answer questions about what art does for life.
It’s an important message that is already finding its way beyond the classroom, to the art appreciation classes he teaches at the San Antonio Museum of Art and in Berlin and most recently abroad, as part of the Blue Star Contemporary Kunstlerhaus Bethanien residency
“Art and culture doesn’t just make life, but it makes a life that’s worth living,” said Korver. “It improves the quality of life. Art takes everything that we’re looking at and makes it more beautiful and makes it worth experiencing.”