Getting Good at Being Not Okay
Korman, a UC Santa Cruz student, and his label, “Not Okay,” are channeling the DIY punk vibe of Southern California.
By Yoni Yardeni, Pierce College
Charlie Korman, a student at UC Santa Cruz, is one of the more distinctive people you may ever talk to.
For as long as anyone can remember, the artist and photographer has been making art, through a variety of different mediums and for a variety of different reasons. His main project, “Not Okay,” is a large, all-encompassing effort, a challenge that requires harnessing the disparate passions that motivate him into one direction.
Still, Korman finds himself unruffled by pressure or expectation, and has confidence in his work. He spoke with me over the phone to talk about his background, mindset and upcoming projects.
Yoni Yardeni: What do you do?
Charlie Korman: I make stuff. The question is kind of vague, but I guess in the simplest terms you could say what I do is make stuff. I make art, clothes, sculptures, rings, zines—you name it. I like to take the negative stuff in my head and my life and use it as motivation to make things. Other than art-related stuff, I also study art at UC Santa Cruz, and I like to spend my free-time skateboarding and putting up street art shit.
YY: When did you start doing it?
CK: I’ve been drawing my whole life; I’ve always been around art, but I never liked drawing. My dad is an artist, Ira Korman, a fuckin legend with a stick of charcoal, but that was never my style. My mom, Abbie, collects art and loves art, so I’ve really been around it all my life. I started painting in 10th grade, that’s also when I started “Not Okay.”
YY: What inspires you to keep doing it?
CK: I don’t really know. It feels good to make something even if you don’t like the final product. I don’t really care what other people think about my work, because I use art as a means of self-expression and as a way to get out my negative shit, so I’m not always concerned about the look of the final result. I guess I want to make a statement or something, or make the rich art snobs realize that Damien Hirst isn’t as great as they think he is.
I want to shine more light on the shit that teenagers go through, and the ways that some of them cope with that shit. A lot of kids make art and make clothes, but no one is getting the representation that they want, because the media is focused on people with hella followers and rappers wearing their clothes. I guess a sort of inspiration that I have to keep going is that I know I’m never going to sell out, because I really don’t care about money. I just want to be happy, and creating stuff makes me happy; I’m striving to make other people happy or more aware with my work.
YY: What is a day in your shoes like?
CK: I don’t really know. I do normal stuff that normal people do, like eat, poop and do shit. I also do art, skate and take pictures of stuff.
YY: What artist do you feel that you can relate to the most?
CK: Jean-Michel Basquiat is definitely my favorite painter, but I don’t think I can relate to him on a personal level more than I can with Daniel Johnston. Daniel Johnston got me through some seriously dark times, and has been the original and longest professional influence in my art career, other than Basquiat and Cy Twombly.
YY: You’re restricted to putting only one artist’s work up in your house; is that artist you?
CK: Definitely not me. I’d have to say Cy Twombly, just because the pieces are huge and fucking sick and expressive. Also, I feel like having a few fucking massive canvases, as opposed to like 300 small pieces by another artist, would make it easier for me to deal with the burden of putting one artist’s work up in my house.
YY: How long have you been into photography?
CK: I don’t know. I was into it in middle school, but not as into it as I was in high school. I got really into it toward the end of high school, but I’ve always liked taking photos of weird shit.
YY: What’s your first and last memorable purchase?
CK: My first memorable purchase was probably a pack of Yu-Gi-Oh cards from Toy Mandala, a toy store I used to go to with my dad and my brother every weekend when I was little. My most recent memorable purchase was the “Freewheelin Bob Dylan” tape from Streetlight Records.
YY: What is “Not Okay”?
CK: “Not Okay” is a brand/installation that I’ve been working on for a few years. It consists of a whole bunch of shit, and I kind of group all of it together into a thing called “Not Okay” or “notokay2k.” I make handmade, iron-on shirts, hand drawn bleach t-shirts with 1/1 designs on every one, hoodies with hand embroidered patches, zines, shoes, stickers, flyers, street art, etc. I don’t really know honestly, I guess everything I create is related to it in some way.
YY: What do you plan on accomplishing with it?
CK: I don’t really want to accomplish that much, other than having a pop-up shop at some point where I sell a bunch of shirts and art with my friends and get high as shit and drink champagne and have a great time. I want to make an impression on the fashion world, while remaining pretty low-key. I’m trying to get Freddie Dredd in a “Not Okay” shirt, but I don’t know how soon that’s going to happen. It’s kind of up in the air, but it’s going to come together and it’s going to take its toll.
YY: For whatever reason, you are on a desert island. What are the three things you’re taking with you?
CK: My bong (I’m assuming smoking supplies are included), painting shit and a grill.
YY: What’s your message to artists who feel lost at times, or even yourself when you are uninspired?
CK: I mean it’s totally fine to have an artist’s block or feel uninspired, but I guess you got to just keep trying. If you’re lacking inspiration, go to a museum or look up “The Radiant Child.”
YY: That being said, what does inspire you?
CK: I don’t really know. I feel really disconnected from the world, and I guess I make art to try to draw a connection between my fucked-up brain and reality. I got a lot of bad shit in my head and a lot of problems with depression, so I try to use that stuff to push myself forward instead of backward. It definitely gets hard at times, but eventually the only thing that really makes me feel better is beating the shit out of a canvas with hella different types of art shit.
YY: Where do you see yourself at the end of the decade?
CK: Hopefully, Europe with a nice girl in a shitty studio with a nice view. Other than that, I don’t really know.