You Should Know… Jessie King Regunberg

Jessie King Regunberg
Jessie King Regunberg (Photo by Erica Regunberg)

A is for Alcohol. R is for Recession. E is for Essential Workers. And each of the 23 other letters of the alphabet has its own corresponding word and image in the latest project of District artist Jessie King Regunberg.

Regunberg, 33, challenged herself to paint a pandemic-related image corresponding to each letter of the alphabet. Each painting for “Q is for Quarantine” was later compiled into a single image and turned into a 500-piece puzzle.

So what brought you to do this art challenge?

It really just came to me one night as I was falling asleep. I wanted to create a challenge for myself, like a daily painting challenge, so I wouldn’t lose sight of doing art and doing something creative, but also something that would connect me to a community of people and also create a way for us to see these historic trends that were going on.

What did you do for this challenge?

I would do a daily painting and post [it] on social media. Actually, I ended up getting a few people to do the challenge with me, which was fun. It got to the point where people were texting me, “What’s letter X going to be?” Like, “what’s tomorrow’s letter going to be?” And I think it was just kind of a fun way for my extended network to connect.

So what was letter X?

Letter X was Xanax. Most of them were humorous, which I think was nice because it’s so hard to find things to laugh about these days. The letter C, for example, was for Carole Baskin from Tiger King. She ended up seeing the portrait I painted of her and wrote me a personal thank you note. Yeah, so that’s my claim to fame.

That’s so cool! How did you turn this into a puzzle?

At that time, we were all in quarantine. People were trying to kill time with things like puzzles. So I thought, what a perfect sort of memento of this period and a way to kill time until we’re back to something more normal and able to interact with other humans. I worked with my cousin, who’s really good at graphic design and Photoshop, and she put it all together and we created this puzzle.

How do you relate to your Jewish identity and how do you express that?

My Jewish identity and my connection to history influence the work I do. My grandfather escaped from Nazi Germany in 1939, which was a lot later than most Jews were able to get out. And I definitely feel like a sense of both historical duty [and] also privileged to carry on the Jewish tradition and cultivate a Jewish family. And I think some of the more narrative slants of my art are drawn from my Jewish education and exposure to Torah teachings and the narrative way that the Torah teaches us right from wrong.

You decided to donate the proceeds of the puzzle to charity.

It was released right when the Black Lives Matter protests started and I really felt compelled to do something having to do with the pandemic and racial injustice. The ACLU has a national prison project and they’re advocating the rights of prisoners to have proper medical care and prioritizing the release of pregnant women and just trying to reduce jail populations in general. And so the proceeds of the puzzle are going to the National Prison Project. Also part of it is going to go to The ARK [an organization that provides services to Chicago Jews in need].

What kind of impact do you hope the puzzle has on people?

Visual art is such a powerful way to try to make sense of things that are going on in our crazy world. And some of the more serious pieces in the puzzle I would hope would raise some awareness. But also just the idea of raising money for these organizations is important to me.

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