Monday, April 30, 2012

Studio Visit & Interview: David Koch

I had the pleasure of becoming reacquainted with Albuquerque based artist David Koch's work through New Mexico Showcase and was able to stop by his studio in the north valley recently to see the direction his recent offerings have taken. 

Where are you originally from? 
Bossier City, Louisiana 

How did you end up in New Mexico? 
I caught the first ride out of town. After graduating with a BFA from Louisiana Tech, I came out here with 2 friends to basically hang out for the Summer. That was in 1983 and I've been here ever since.

Can you explain a bit about your approach/process?
Sure. Because I have a day job, when I get home to my studio I need to break the process down into what ever I can get done that evening. 

I begin with an idea ...usually something I've seen or felt during the day. I open Photoshop and make a square and bisect it down the middle creating two planes. I then insert a third plane in the center in the form of a geometric shape, then justify all this with a non-linear narrative that follows it's own internal logic. Lately this has taken the form of a set or sets of hands attempting to repair, fix, fit, assemble, or otherwise alter the situation.

A couple of David's custom stretchers in progress
Since you're using Photoshop for your preliminary conceptual and design processes, you're essentially faced with unlimited possibilities, Is that a hard thing to come to terms with?
I don't think so really. I like to create a set of parameters based on either scale, proportions, subject matter, or all three. Within these limits I allow myself to try anything. What is wonderful about sketching with a digital medium is, so what if I fail. I can try again and probably learn something at the same time. I have Photoshop files made up of 20 or more layers, but the final result is maybe 4 or 5 that you actually see.

The backside, pretty cool looking in itself!
Do you have to resist the urge to manipulate too much? 
If by manipulate you are referring to the incredible potential of the software,  Photoshop has more tools and filters than I would ever want to learn. I always keep in mind that I'm making collages that I'm using as a study for a painting. I have to push paint around a piece of primed woven fabric to get this thing to work, so I am well aware of the need to keep it simple.  

But if by manipulate you are referring to the seemingly endless possibilities of creating 5 to 25 megabyte PSD files, then yes, it is a little challenging because it so enjoyable. I literally have thousands of files on a number of hard drives. 

The process. David starts designing in Photoshop then paints the real thing.
How do you arrive at something that you ultimately want to paint? 
Good question. I think a lot of my work builds on previous work, especially the current body of work. In fact, that is my intended purpose. There is an old maxim in painting about "knowing when to stop." I try to apply it to what I do on my computer. Besides, as much as I enjoy making things digitally, I really love painting. Painting to me is the ultimate experience. The mind telling the body to do what the spirit desires. I really dig it. So there is a sense of urgency to get at it. To answer your question though, I will look over a selection of about 3 to 5 versions of an idea and invariably one will stand out. And I'll print a hard copy in grayscale to the exact size to trace on the canvas, then one in color to paint from.

Do your perceptions of a piece in the design phase change once you see the real thing, or are you generally satisfied with the outcome?Another good question. There is something about "copying" my own "work" that I find appealing both technically and emotionally. When subject matter is selected, scaled and positioned before I pick up a paint brush, I find it strangely liberating to just paint. Of course once I begin, I may make a number of changes because all drawing and painting is an interpretive process of editing and all mark making is directly linked to a certain skill level. But I'm pretty good at getting exactly what I want.

Tongue Twisted Soul #30
Tongue Twisted Soul #31. 
A lot of your most recent work deals with shape and color relationships, both of which seem pretty specific and important. How do you decide on what shades of colors/geometric shapes to use?
I always start with the most elemental forms both in color and shape. I learned from Donald Judd the idea that color is a kind of subject matter. I will use the intensity or value of a specific color to balance or contrast mark making.

The colors and shapes I use are often drawn from the observed world. It could be something I see driving up Montgomery Blvd. on the way to the dentist or something I see in a magazine in his waiting room. I am very much attuned to graphic design. To me, the visual world is made up of shape and color relationships.

Once I start a piece in Photoshop, I will usually work with complementary colors then distort them so that the relationship has either a tension or a pleasing affect. Usually both within the same piece. If something is too nice, I'll try to disrupt it and if something is too chaotic I tend to want to apply some order to it, this applies to both color and shapes. My energy is usually moving in one direction or the other.

A couple of older pieces from David's Self Portrait series (Good left, Warm right)
Looking at some of your older work, you've seemingly shifted away from realism for a more paired down abstraction/minimalism. What direction do see your work headed?
I definitely feel a pull towards more abstract forms today than I have in the past. I guess the desire to be more open-ended and less dependent on specific subject matter would explain that pull. I think my work has always had a reductive quality about it. I used to joke that more than 3 elements on the canvas and I get confused, but I think the less elements you have the more weight each has and the more pressure there is to get each one right.

Tongue Twisted Soul #11.  In case you're keeping track, the series will eventually contain 100 paintings
How do the geometric pieces fit into the overall theme of your work? 
The geometric shapes reflect my interest in how things are put together. And there are certain shapes I think have a more contemporary quality about them. For instance if I create a rectangle and round one or more of the corners, it can become something that references both industrial design or graphic design.

Plus the idea of a container has a very strong pull for me. The idea that a box can contain a pair of shoes or enough electronic components to be a computer is pretty compelling. 

Nice grass! 
What about the diagrams? I think they are really interesting and totally contradictory with respect to how we typically think of diagramming for didactic purposes, is that the intention?
Sure. I mean I like the contradictions of it and it allows me more freedom to explore rhythm and patterns. I was drawn to that didactic function and the even handed graphic quality. The line is usually not too modulated and I find it important to retain it's original appearance so that it becomes something taken from the real world. But changing context allows for the viewer to interpret the painting how they see fit. I very much like that.

Who are some of your influences?

I think Ed Ruscha and Ellsworth Kelly are two very important artists for me. I've already mentioned Donald Judd. A very important influence early on is Richard Diebenkorn. I saw a large survey of his Ocean Park paintings in Ft. Worth over Christmas. What an incredible painter. My favorite art teacher in collage, Ed Pinkston, exposed me to Diebenkorn. And from Diebenkorn I looked at Wayne Thiebaud. I think studying the work of these two pure painters early on opened up some possibilities for me.
And when I was in my mid twenties I worked at Lise Hoshour's Gallery on Second Street in Albuquerque when she had a wonderful exhibition of Fred Hammersly's paintings. Meeting him and talking about art with him was a great experience.

With Ruscha I love his early work . He was using large color fields with strange image juxtapositions. I think about the very early work of James Rosenquist too. Some are almost crude in comparison to those huge slick billboard pieces.

So these are all male artists from art history, but today I think big influences would come from women artists like Amy Silman and Ruth Root. I saw some Amy Silman's paintings at the Scottsdale Contemporary in 2010. She is a great painter.

Some old acrylic transfers

Has living in New Mexico influenced your work? 
Definitely. My girlfriend and I were in Los Angeles a few years ago and I observed how the art I saw at many of the galleries in Santa Monica was busy and layered like the city itself. Once back in the incredible open spaces of New Mexico it became apparent to me how much the landscape here has influenced my work. The open forms and expansive color fields of my paintings are very much about the natural world.

And I think of Albuquerque as a kind of work in progress and an incomplete city. I think my recent paintings have that kind of tension to them.

Crashed car sculpture/painting/toy
Any exhibitions or projects coming up?
Nothing penciled in at the moment, I'm just working as much as I can.

David's piece from New Mexico Showcase, Tongue Twisted Soul #29.

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