Candy Jernigan’s (1952-1991) world extended way beyond the streets of New York City, yet she lived in New York during much of her too-short life, and it was the streets of her adopted hometown that were often her muse and canvas.
Jernigan was born in a decidedly unglamorous part of Miami, attended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, moved to Provincetown, MA and then back to New York again in 1980 when she began collecting her “evidence,” which Jernigan described as “any and all physical proof” that she had been somewhere. In his introduction to the monograph Evidence: The Art of Candy Jernigan, Stokes Howell explains:
In collecting and creating her art, Candy operated like a forensic pathologist. Traveling down the street with her, you quickly got into her habit of examining the ground in front of you to see what treasures might have been tossed away on the sidewalk or into the gutter. If she was on the lookout for pop tops from soft drink cans, you found yourself walking with your head down scanning from side to side looking for pop tops, too, even though you had no reason to, because Candy only used objects she herself collected and documented. But you did it anyway, because you had begun to look at the world through her eyes.
Howell also quotes Ken Tisa, Jernigan’s friend and fellow artist, who says:
She made me rethink things I would ordinarily dismiss or run from. She was one artist who pointed us in the direction of beauty within the scum of the city. Everyone who wants to see art in New York looks up. Candy looked down. She was interested in what was most banal, what people didn’t want. She wanted to make us desire the undesirable and she succeeded.
Jernigan framed a crushed pot she found on the street and titled the work, “Pot Crushed on Houston.” She found a dead rat, had it stuffed, and titled it “New York City Rat.” Her work “Found Dope II” consists of crack vials and caps she found in her neighborhood and an accompanying map indicating the place and time at which each item was found. She also drew sketches of food and landscapes that she sometimes embellished with labels, photos, or found text and collected objects and ephemera during her travels abroad that she compiled into elaborate travel journals that included dust from the Sistine Chapel, anise seeds from India, and a coffee stain from Gambia.
To look at Jernigan’s work, documentation of the ordinary that was specific to her own life, is quite moving, even in reproduction. She gives us glimpses of her New York life, her New York story, and it makes us realize that hers is just one of millions of interconnected yet unique stories, each as significant and meaningful as the next and reminds us that our own stories rely on those of others to be told.
Jernigan, Candy, Laurie Dolphin, and John B. Taylor. Evidence: The Art of Candy Jernigan. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1999.