Artist as Curator: The Conversation

I'm happy to feature Michael David Kozlowski as my guest artist for the Gallery's Artist as Curator show, opening July 8.  Michael and I had a conversation about our work that I'm happy to share below:

Robert:

We met because we were placed in the same room at City Wide Open Studios.  I was drawn to your work because it was representational but with strong abstract components.  My work was primarily abstract, but I was (and still am) toying with hinting at representational aspects, at least in terms of suggesting three-dimensional geometries.  

Your works contain very concrete representational images, areas that suggest three-dimensional spaces, and other areas that seem alive with color and texture, but don’t seem to have representational elements.  Can you talk about your goals in combining elements from both the representational and abstract traditions?

 

Michael:

Yes. I really enjoyed that time at City Wide Open Studios. It was my first time participating and your first time showing your work publicly. I remember being very surprised by that because it was very developed–you had obviously been creating for quite some time.

 

When discussing my work I often refer to something that Francis Bacon said about contemporary painting. He likened it to painting a wall–which almost everyone has done at some point and probably had the experience of creating those first few marks with a brush or roller and enjoying how dynamic and energetic they are. However it always reaches a certain tipping point where enough of the wall is filled in that the energy gets lost. So I thought about that a lot for a time and it's probably internalized to some degree now. What I know also influenced and influences me a great deal is the work I grew up appreciating which was typically representational images and often realist or at least somewhat realistic painters that created works that left the meaning (at first glance at least) open to the viewer. These are the works that usually stayed with me long after actually seeing them. They enter through the eye but remain with you more as an idea, if that makes sense. So most of my early work was very realistic and detailed but at a certain point I found that there was a lot that I appreciated about abstract work when actually in the moment of experiencing the physical works themselves. So where the ideas and intellectual side were stimulated by one type of work maybe even more after the fact, the emotions are stoked by the other immediately. So in my work I'm looking, in varying degrees, to combine the two. I've said I'm interested in energy and dynamism in the moment but hopefully with a lasting psychological hangover.

 

Now in looking at your work I've noticed perhaps a greater openness developing over time. The earliest work I saw of yours was very detailed and I would say very tightly structured. There was interesting use negative space throughout but I think more now. Also in the years since you've introduced color into your work. Could you speak a little to that and how much of an impact adding that dimension has had and your feelings about the role of color in your work?

 

The piece your have in this show is quite different from what I first saw–still you but I'd say quite different. I'm interested to know if you are pushing your work in a particular direction? Do you feel it being pulled in a particular direction? And maybe talk a bit about how it has evolved especially in regard to what you mentioned about your interest in the line between abstract and representation.

 

Also I think I remember you discussing ideas about patterns and the breaking down and intersecting of patterns. Could you talk about the role this plays in your process? I'm particularly interested to know, given the role that intuition, patterns, and the breakdown of patterns plays in your work, and given the unforgiving nature of your preferred medium, your ideas about "mistakes?"

 

Robert:

 

Interestingly, the answer to many of your questions about my work relates strongly to what you said about the excitement of beginning to paint.  I am wondering how that plays out for you--how you maintain that sense of excitement after the midpoint of a piece.

 

For me, I still start my pieces with a relatively simple plan that involves lines.  But I began discovering that my work often looks most intriguing when I am in the middle of a pattern.  So over the last few years, I increasingly stop myself halfway through a pattern and then make myself change gears--start a new pattern.  And then when that one begins to take hold, I again stop and attempt to disrupt it.  That furthers my interest in the tension between order and chaos, and it also throws many implied patterns into the piece, either through negative space, or through the way the different patterns complement and complete each other.  And it means that I am constantly starting over again, with Beginner’s Mind.  

 

Your comments about the psychological hangover helps me think about your pieces--they do indeed often linger in my memory, as if I had dreamed them myself.  Can you talk about your process--both how you start, and how you maintain your creative energy as you continue to develop a piece?

 

Michael:

I appreciate that you said that–about feeling as though you had dreamed them yourself.

 

The process always varies from piece to piece, at least to some degree, and I like that so far it does but there are definitely things that are typical in my process. My work begins with ideas. I often group artists by whether their work begins with an idea (the internal or internalized) or through observational looking/drawing/painting (the external) with obviously varying degrees of overlap between categories. Some of these ideas I paint relatively quickly and others stay with me for months or years before it feels like it's the right time to begin them. I do a lot of little drawings and usually the refinements involve removing as much as possible and very rarely adding elements. Once the painting begins I work as loosely as possible but I do keep in mind the image I'm working toward. My process involves a lot of layering so once I graduate a piece from the acrylic and spray paint stage to oil then you really cannot easily go back. Therefore there is a lot of mental planning involved in imagining the piece three dimensionally–how each layer will work with those subsequent. I plan as much as I possibly can before I begin but often, perhaps always, once paint is brought into the equation things are bound to go in unexpected directions. That's one of the most beautiful things about painting for me. I like being in a place where I'm steering the medium toward a goal but allowing for detours along the way.

 

And I agree completely about work looking most interesting with elements some might call incomplete. I think the biggest mistake artists make today is over-finishing their work. Whenever I see work in progress there's always a point where I want to grab their hand and stop them. Edvard Munch understood this very well in his paintings. It sounds like in your work you're seeking balance and not "finish." I'd be curious to know what percentage of the works you begin do you end up keeping as completed pieces?

 

Robert:

 

Well, I never discard a piece.  Instead, I set it aside.  I have a growing collection of pieces that I don’t like, became bored with, or don’t know how to finish.  But I often go back, find one that has been fallow for a year or so, and add new ideas and patterns--many of my favorite pieces were created that way.  I’m amazed at how you envision your pieces when you begin, because my initial vision usually bears little relationship to the finished product!

 

It’s been fascinating talking with you--thank you!