AM: There’s a diametrical conversation going on in the room with the large canvas on one wall - glittering with vibrant colors and paint that’s still not quite dry - and across from that a compilation of mostly monochromatic works on paper hanging informally on cork boards. What inspired this approach to installation?
BC: My initial intent was to simply do a show of only drawings and create a personal retrospective of sorts, but I was also playing around with the idea of showing several recent paintings. It came down to utilizing the space by pairing a single larger work with the collection of drawings, the idea being that there is a dialog between the immediateness of the drawings and the worked layers of indecision in the large painting. They speak the same language and they are saying the same things; only their organization has changed and I really like that.
AM: The works on paper span a fairly extensive period of time, right? You mentioned some of the drawings date as far back as ten years.
BC: Yeah, it’s a collection of drawings that span ten years with the majority of the works being more recent (and most representative of my current affinities and intentions). Naturally, the further back I look into my catalog the less work there is to choose from that fits that current ideal.
AM: Did you feel a need to chronicle the development of an idea or the experimentation leading up to this large painting?
BC: I love that there is this lineage of visual references that almost diagrammatically show the evolution of my thought processes in the work. So much of what I create is driven by trusting intuitive impulses and allowing those ideas to simply manifest. It’s only in hindsight that I can identify the deviations that created those tangents. For me, the process of self editing while drawing or painting is a surefire way of stifling those creative deviations. And while I don’t expect every drawing I create to speak to me with the same magnitude, I do know when it works and when it doesn’t. Ultimately, the drawings exist as a way to inform me about what I’m thinking about. The large painting and any painting I work on for that matter, is approached using the same idea vectors. The only thing that has changed in my process is the range of mediums used and how those materials can convey different aesthetics.
AM: The colors in the painting seem like a departure from your usual palette, which tends toward the austere and neutral. Is this signaling a change in direction?
BC: When I first started painting, when I was 17, my palette was straight out the tube, loud and unmixed. There are only a handful of pieces that exist from those years simply because a lot of the work was just so loud and immature (as it should have been). I didn’t know how to use color in my work because I was much more intrigued by form, and at that time it became easy to work with a limited palette because I was making form-driven work I really liked. The reintroduction of color into my work has a lot to do with my recent experimentation using the iPhone and iPad: using touch screen painting applications has allowed me to make decisions I may not have otherwise made. The immediacy at which creative results can be achieved is remarkable and I found myself creating work with lots of color. The direction going forward is to embrace those color impulses and just trust my experimentations.
AM: So, on the flip side, where does your fascination with geometry and form originate? Many artists have increasingly turned to geometry recently, but it’s been the backbone of your practice from the start.
It’s the way I think. For me geometry is more than just an arrangement of shapes and forms, it’s a personal language, a way to express abstract thought and emotions. As a painter, I may limit myself to a surface plane and to the arrangement of shapes, but those forms can and do elicit an emotional response. I’m driven by primitive forms, by forms that are non-representational. I’ve managed to hold onto a large drawing I did in the 2nd grade and I’m still amazed by it every time I look at it. It’s a mosaic of squares and within the grid are mini drawings. It still makes sense; it still holds true. And that’s why I create what I do. I draw and paint geometry because there’s a primitive honesty in their existence. I’m not interested in being illusionistic. I don’t need a narrative. I just want to paint how I think.
It’s the way I think. For me geometry is more than just an arrangement of shapes and forms, it’s a personal language, a way to express abstract thought and emotions. As a painter, I may limit myself to a surface plane and to the arrangement of shapes, but those forms can and do elicit an emotional response. I’m driven by primitive forms, by forms that are non-representational.
I’ve managed to hold onto a large drawing I did in the 2nd grade and I’m still amazed by it every time I look at it. It’s a mosaic of squares and within the grid are mini drawings. It still makes sense; it still holds true. And that’s why I create what I do. I draw and paint geometry because there’s a primitive honesty in their existence. I’m not interested in being illusionistic. I don’t need a narrative. I just want to paint how I think.
Brian Cypher’s Personal Geometry opens tomorrow night at The Living Room.
AM: You seem to not be overly tied to a style or medium; rather your concept informs the choice of medium - whether works on paper, sculpture, photography, installation. Can you talk about how you approach the process of material and how you reach decisions about realizing ideas through objects?
RK: In my creative process, I go back and forth between concept, intuition, and visual/formal aesthetic. What comes first is always different. Sometimes I have a clear idea of what my concept will be for a piece. In this case I choose material that best suits that specific concept. This is probably part of why I have never been a material-specific maker. Some other times the material or objects “find” me. When they do, I start making work based on my intuition and what looks/feels right to me. Even when I work this way, though, the finished work eventually tells me something about myself and/or my surroundings. I believe that whatever an artist makes, regardless of their level of knowledge about their work, always reflects the maker. In my case, when I start without any set of ideas, I learn a lot more. It gives me curiosity and openness in the making process. Other times, the choice of material is a subconscious response or reaction to the previous work. When I work on a heavy, solid sculpture with sharp edges for a while, for example, my next work will more likely be soft, light and curvy. I have to switch things around to keep myself interested in what I make. Lastly, I simply enjoy visual aesthetics in my everyday life. I like the abstraction in colors, shapes, and textures. So that naturally informs my decisions too.
AM: If you walk around and study the images present in then, you begin to see the recurring images, the echoing of pictures within pictures. After a while if feels as though the specific reality of the places being photographed becomes confused through deliberate displacement. It seems that you want to catalog memory and space yet distance yourself from them at the same time?
RK: I titled this show then because to me the word “then” is neither specific to past or future. Depending on how one uses it, it can mean past (“back then”) or leading to the future (“..then,…”), but never the present. The show is like that. I used images of apartments from my recent past. By encasing the photographs in frames, I attempted to make them something of memory that has long past, which has yet to come and will happen in the future. In the last two years, my life has been filled with rapid transitions both in terms of physical locations and life situations. This show is about internal discrepancy between past, present and future. My hope is that the audience will look around The Living Room enough to find the repetition and find themselves feel somewhat dislocated.
AM: You found most of the frames for these photographs in thrift stores, right? Can you talk about the significance of them?
RK: I found putting my own photograph in a used frame - with its previous photograph unknown - similar to putting myself in a rented apartment with an unknown history. In most frames I kept whatever came with the frames intact, behind my photographs. Also, I specifically selected cheap and old frames to create the sense of photographs belonging to a distant past.
AM: You have a lot of friends and family in Japan…I hope they’re all right? Has the massive scale of loss over there had an effect on your relation to the images and the aspect of forced memory in then?
RK: Ironically, the earthquake hit Japan on the night of my opening for this show. It was strange how I got to see all of my Japanese friends (which are few) that night. I have many friends and relatives in Tokyo, but the damage from the earthquake there wasn’t severe, so they were OK. My parents live in Kyoto, which is in the west, so they weren’t affected at all. However, all Japanese - regardless of where we live - are affected by this disaster as many others are around the world. It’s difficult for many of us to have so little we can do to help. As for the relation to the works in then, I haven’t had time to reflect on it. But I think about the many who lost their houses in the tsunami along with their belongings and photographs, the physical memories, I think about the identity we attach to our living spaces and locations….thank you for asking.
(Rumi Koshino's work is now hanging at The Living Room, through April 9th. Due to a nasty bout of the flu, I was unable to conduct the interview before the opening. Thank you, Rumi, for your patience!)
AM: Why popsicles?
KG: The popsicles came to me in a dream. I dreamt about having a show: it was in a clay room, and as people started coming in I pulled out a clay cooler from the basement. I dropped a chocolate cake into it - it was called “lick me.” That’s the verbal account of my dream as recorded in my sketchbook. Interestingly, when I made a drawing based on this dream it was a popsicle and the words on a wooden stick said ”lick me.” The drawing had a strange, attractive (maybe even sexual) charge to it. I wanted to see what would happen if I made it “real,” three-dimensional. In the end I made many, many popsicles. The shape became very satisfying to work with.
AM: And then there are the sweaters. You learned knitting specifically for this project, right? I don’t think of your work as being emphatically rooted in craft (as opposed to many NW artists who have backgrounds in glass, ceramics, textiles), so I’m curious about what inspired it.
KG: I was playing with the idea of keeping warm something that is meant to be kept cold. I began to see popsicles as characters and started projecting human characteristics on them. I thought, how do we humans keep warm? We wear sweaters. Plus there is something weird about an edible object that is fuzzy - it’s a contradiction. Those two qualities - just like warm frozen foods - don’t seem to belong together. I was attracted to the idea of two opposites - two contradictory principles - existing together and making a whole. So you’re right: my knitting didn’t come from my proclivity for craft, it originated in an idea and I learned to knit out of necessity. That said, I was always attracted to wool as a raw material and have used it in my work before, but I avoided knitting. I think the reason was that my grandma, who is 93 years old, used to be a great knitter. She would knit while watching TV - it didn’t seem like she was paying too much attention to what she was doing, but she would end up with these colorful sweaters, finger mitts and hats full of patterns, deer and birds and other animals. I guess I felt I could never measure up. Now I’m happy to have learned it, even though the only thing I know how to knit so far is a popsicle sweater!
AM: Can you talk a little about the bitter-sweet cited in the show’s title? Is this an allusion to the challenges of being a mother and a serious artist at the same time, or is it more general than that?
KG: It works on both levels. This work definitely feels like an expression of my feminine side and directly reflects my domestic environment (I mean that not only as a conceptual idea, but also as a fact that I made these objects on my kitchen counter, among the daily fray of running a household, cooking, and taking care of kids). As I see it, popsicles can be read as symbols of domesticity - connected with sweetness of our childhood, but they can also be read as a sexual symbol. Their phallic shape is inherently masculine. To me it symbolizes not the feminine itself, but the nature of feminine desire. This desire - taken in a broader sense - is connected to self-fulfillment. Motherhood on the other hand is rooted in the nourishment of others and self-sacrifice. When one aspect or the other takes over - that’s where the bitterness emerges. The trick is, as always, the balance between seeming opposites.
AM: Which relates to your incorporation of the I Ching and alchemical symbolism into some of the work…
KG: This ties directly to the active part of maintaining balance. It’s not just about recognizing the opposites; it is also about taking a creative, transformative action based on the knowledge of the whole. I think this is what alchemy is about: the transformation of opposite - or seemingly unrelated - principles into something new, unique and all-encompassing. The I Ching I really don’t know much about. I came across the bar symbols by chance and I really liked them - and, they were easy to knit (three full lines, three broken lines). The symbolism of “Force/ Field” seemed particularly fitting: creative force/receptive field, heaven/earth, northwest/southwest, father/mother, head/belly, strong/devoted, dragon/cow.
I don’t want to sound too serious though. My attempts at the transformation of hotness into coolness and bitterness into sweetness are fueled as much by humor (cracking myself up) as by any serious thought and deductive reasoning (that, by the way, usually comes later in the game, as part of reflection). In the end, when all is said and done, I just made a bunch of popsicles, some are sweet and all are refreshingly small!
Summer is ready (video, installation view)
AM: The obvious question is: why are you drawn to backyards at the moment? There’s an element of voyeurism in the process of photographing these spaces. They’re literally an intersection of private and public spaces…what do you find most interesting as you walk around collecting these images? (And have you had any odd experiences?)
JA: I am drawn to backyards because they are the part of people’s homes that are usually unseen, save for close friends and relatives. The front facade of a home is the part that is made presentable to the general public, or at least the part that is more visible to strangers. The way in which it is presented - groomed or ungroomed, landscaped or not, painted or chipping - is generally a representation of the people who live inside. At least that’s my fantasy! I’ve walked down many alleys and in some cases the backyard is just as tidy as the front, though usually it is a place to stack, pile, store, and discard everything from broken down cars to plastic shopping bags full of debris. I am more attracted to the backyards that contain strange and unusual piles of detritis than to the tidy yards, yet I’m just as fascinated with the contrast of the two types. I wonder if the neighbors are friendly with one another or if they harbor disdain and disapproval about how each other choses to live. The only odd experience I’ve had was trying to snap a photo of someone’s yard while they were looking out the window at me. I didn’t take the photo. It felt too invasive.
AM: Returning to the idea of motivation: after having completed the assignment you set for yourself, what do you feel it revealed most about your studio practice, the intersection of making art, working, and daily routines?
JA: It brought up a lot of questions about quality vs quantity and about vanity. There are a few paintings I selected not to include in the exhibit because I didn’t feel proud of them. The color was bad, the composition was sloppy and uninteresting. My decision not to include them makes me question my overall intent for the project. A friend was talking about a challenge where he was going to make 14 songs in 28 days. His goal was not to make a song every two days, but to develop all the different parts to the arrangements in the first couple weeks and then put them together in the end to form 14 distinct songs. This differs from my intent which was to see if I could complete 1 painting every day. I figured if they were small enough and I limited my subject matter and palette I could easily do it. Not so. As I suspected, I am much better at making fully realized and developed paintings on Saturday or Sunday mornings; I am rested and haven’t come from sitting at a desk for 9 hours. With this project I found that making a painting a day from the same subject matter can be pretty monotonous for me. When I reserve weekends for working I leave 5 days to reflect on and distance myself from the previous weekend’s work. Also, weekend studio time feels like a gift as opposed to a burden as it sometimes did during this project.
AM: I know your field in grad school was (technically) painting, but you’ve been making installations for a long time and most people would recognize your installation work immediately. Lately you’ve been turning to painting more often. What motivated this shift and do you have further plans for developing this kind of work?
JA: While I was in grad school intellectually I wanted very badly to make paintings, but my body didn’t want to do that. I made some attempts at oil paintings, but I didn’t really have a subject that I cared about and my color palette wasn’t refined. I was always more interested in collage and mixed media and making physical changes to the spaces I worked within. The big installations I made in school were very important for developing my subject matter, materials, and palette. It became evident that I liked found objects and industrial building materials. I would photograph my installations and make small sketches and paintings and collages from them. I was painting imaginary worlds I’d created. Now instead of creating the worlds, I am going out into my environment and painting from that. The current paintings focus on building materials as flat geometric planes, so there is a direct link between the installations and the current body of work. I am also being inventive with color and scale in these paintings in much the same way I was with the installations. I do plan to continue making installations. Making the small paintings has taught me a lot about color and shape and given me some perspective on my larger work. It’s helped me whittle down my ideas so I’m excited to see what kind of installation I will make next. (About 50% of my installations are improvised on site.)
AM: (As touched on before) one of your recurring trademarks over the years has been a vibrant but restrained and consistent color palette and the transformation of space into texturally complex, flattened forms - these trademarks do clearly tie your paintings to your installations. Do you feel you relate to space in a particular way that informs your compositions, the layering and collapsing of images, the condensing of color and form?
JA: I do feel that I relate to space in a particular way that informs my compositions, color and form. I can’t look at any space or structure without breaking it down into geometric forms. I am constantly analyzing how a door meets a doorframe, where it sits in the middle of the wall, how the handle relates to the door, how the shadows are cast. I never take my surroundings for granted. When it comes to responding to spaces and structures with paint or installation materials I always aim to exaggerate a space’s most and least prominent features. I want to draw attention to very small things like electrical outlets and to very large things like extremely long walls, large windows, tall ceilings, or other quirks unique to the space. The work is never about just the space or just the materials I use. It is always about the intersection of the two. It is self-conscious but also confident. In terms of color I isolate very vibrant unnatural colors from more neutral ones in an effort to create visual balance and as a way of replicating the daily sensation we experience when we focus in on one object or person and everything around it falls away. The focal point is louder than the environment in which it sits, yet the environment is necessary for the focal point to exist within. The fact that I play with illusion and altered reality comes from watching hours and hours of films and acting in high school musicals.
(A peek into Julie’s studio; photos by Damon Mori)
Troy Gua photographed by Shaun Kardinal