Studio visit with Brian Kokoska
NATALIE KATES: Brian, I became aware of you and your work because of an article in VMAN. How did you get on their radar?
BRIAN KOKOSKA: Everybody at V has been very supportive of me and my work. Especially Patrik Sandberg and Tom Van Dorpe. I love those guys. They first reached out to me after coming across my paintings online.
NK: Where were you born and raised?
BK: I'm originally from Vancouver, Canada. I was raised in the country and moved back to the city (to Chinatown) as a teen. I lived there until I decided to move to New York. America stole my heart.
NK: Are you a formally trained artist?
BK: Well, yeah, I studied at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. But I pretty much just did my own thing. School is a good way to learn discipline but I never really felt like I fit in there. The BFA is nice to have, though.
NK: In your studio you have both older and newer works on canvas. The older works are saturated in color while the new works are more muted. Can you explain this evolution in color?
BK: When I first started making paintings I was so fascinated by all the colors. Now I don't think that's what excites me most about the medium. I'm exploring darker, muddier colors, and also lots of grey tones. Colors that I avoided in the past.
NK: When painting, do you visualize the finished piece or is it an organic process?
BK: It's really all over the place right now. Some paintings I determine what I think I want the picture to look like. Others are completely loose and spontaneous. That's the fun part about it.
NK: Besides painting, do you work with any other medium?
BK: I love the limitations of painting. It's such a weird "traditional" mode of representation. I also work digitally: computer paintings, prints, and I made a book called Chiclet Teeth. I'm beginning to also incorporate installation, video and performance into my practice. The internet too.
NK: What are some of your influences in regards to your art?
BK: Lately I've been looking at lots of body ornamentation as inspiration. I really admire intricate hairstyles, makeup, and accessories. Flowers have also been appearing in my new paintings. "Feminine" things.
On a related note, masks are important in my work. Also braids, extensions, and nails. Bed-Stuy is a great place to have a studio because I'm so spoiled with beauty shops all around me. I'm voyeuristic in that sense; I like to check out how people decorate their bodies.
NK: Does your sexuality play a big role in your paintings?
BK: Well, I guess so, because this is my life. My sexuality definitely influences my thoughts. And sexual fantasy does too. Sometimes I like to think of the characters in my paintings as post-gender. Anything is possible. No limits, you know?
NK: Who are some of your favorite artists?
BK: Mike Kelley's recent death was a big downer for me. He was a really special artist. His exhibition Horizontal Tracking Shots at Gagosian in 2009 was so rejuvenating. It made me feel good about art in New York.
NK: Does fashion ever influence your work?
BK: It does, but not directly. I think fashion and art borrow from one another all the time. I really appreciate color, pattern, texture, material, layers, and so on. These qualities are so integral to both worlds. There's also a frivolousness about fashion that interests me. And since it's all about decorating the body, it sort of refers to my paintings.
NK: Who are some of your favorite fashion designers?
BK: I really don't care enough about fashion to chase it. But my ideal designer would be a freak hybrid of Jil Sander-meets-Telfar-meets-90s post-leisurewear. I like sporty, casual, but severe and industrial. A little bit futuristic. Some goth vibes. I would love to collaborate on a collection someday with a good designer. I have a fantasy about doing the textiles, stage, and audio.
NK: If you could trade one of your works with another living artist who would it be and why?
BK: Probably Albert Oehlen. I've always had a thing for his paintings. Maybe an Aubrey Beardsley drawing would be nice too. But he's dead, so that doesn't count.
NK: As an artist where do you see yourself in 10 years?
BK: It's hard to say. I don't even like to imagine myself in the future. I'm happy right now being young and busy. I hope to have many more exciting projects in the future, and a chance to travel to new places.
NK: What are some words that would describe your art?
BK: Happy. Sad. Love. Romance. Death. Numb. Beige. Sexy. Gentle. Hard. Cute. Everlasting. Exotic.
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