Sunday, January 14, 2007

Art Space Talk: Vince Koloski

I recently interviewed artist Vince Koloski. Mr. Koloski is a light artist. He creates installation pieces that involve the use of neon-lights and other light sources. Vince studied with master artist Stephen Antonakos and has been on the forefront of the light art scene for over two decades. Mr. Koloski is best known for his Neon Crop Circles and Illuminated Books.
Mr. Koloski's work involves a combination of electricity and advance technology. However, they evoke a sense of primitivism in that they focus on light and darkness... two symbols that have long stirred the emotions of humankind.

Q. When did you first discover that art would be an important part of your adult life?

A. "When I was in my early twenties. I had been interested in photography as a teenager and spent a great deal of time with it, but by the time I found my way to college, I had drifted away from it. I was going to major in philosophy and psychology but then I took an intro sculpture class in my first quarter of school and it changed my life. I wanted to be involved in some form of creative arts from that point forward."

Q. How has society influenced your art? Are there any social implications in your art?

A. "That’s one of those questions that opens up the longer you consider it. Clearly any artist is a product of the society they exist in, so yes, it undoubtedly has. But at the same time, I don’t directly identify with any societal grouping. But I am secular humanist artist in that I see that what are considered hard and fast moral, social and political questions are mostly only hard and fast to people who see only their own position. I am aware that most of those questions and beliefs exist within a range of possible beliefs and positions and, to a certain extent I imagine this shows up in the work."

Q. On average, how long does it take you to create a piece?

A. "From several weeks to several years. The books in particular, seem to take forever. I have two or three pieces that are going to eventually be some sort of illuminated book that I have been working on for something like 5 years.

The coordination of the content of the book with the possible physical structures the book can take and then deciding the suitable material to construct it and the colors the light in the pages will be sometimes seems agonizing. Other times, it all comes together almost instantly, but regardless of the amount of time the design and conceptualizing take, the fabrication is always very time consuming. Generally 3 to 4 weeks.

The other stuff I’ve been doing, the neon crop circle installations, are generally conceived fairly quickly, but take several weeks to fabricate the neon and the electronics. Once the fabrication is finished, it takes about a day in put one of the installations in place and a few hours to take them down when their few days of illumination are over."

Q. Has your art ever been published?

A. "Only as the cover of an Art Calendar book about promoting your work. It seems appropriate that they chose a piece called "Authorities are Baffled"."

Q. Do you have any 'studio rituals'? As in, do you listen to certain types of music while working? What helps to get you in the mood for working?

A. "Not exactly…I’ve been a baseball fan from the earliest times I can remember and during the season I always have a game on the radio if one is being played. The sound of baseball on the radio ties the whole of my life together into one continuous experience, so I really love to listen to it. But late at night when you’re in the middle of one of those "romance of the artist" moments like sanding down a piece between coats of paint, or cutting and shaping endless pieces of plastic for a particular piece, nothing gets me energized more than slapping the "American Idiot" CD (or the Red Elvises, or Midnight Oil or some such) and turning it up loud. It’s like mainlining adrenaline."

Q. If you could pinpoint the characteristics of people who collect your art, what would they be?

A. "I wish I could, then I could narrow-cast to that social subgroup and have a lot more collectors. Seriously though, I think that to have an artwork that contains or is primarily composed of artificial light, takes an unusual sort of person. That collector is giving up a little more control of their space than someone who collects photography or drawing or even steel or bronze. The pieces have an active component in the projection of the light out into the environment that many other forms of art don’t have. To have that piece in your environment means you are choosing to read or eat or sleep in a room with my idea of light and color and not necessarily yours. They are also people who are not afraid of an electric artwork. It’s interesting that people will buy a lamp made in the occasionally dicey oversight environment of a third world country and put it in their home without a second thought and yet will be apprehensive of collecting electric art."

Q. Discuss one of your pieces. What were you thinking when you created it?

A. "(Four Poets, Four Poems) (image above) I was taking an extension class some years ago about the history and future of books and printing and we had to do a project for the class. At the time, I was experimenting with edge lit Plexiglas. I was carving and sandblasting abstract forms into sheets of plex and then edgelighting them with neon. The light travels through plastic and the areas you have carved light up. It hit me that I could sandblast text into the Plexiglas. This way I could create a book that had "pages" of clear plex with the text glowing on them. The text would appear to be floating in space between the covers of the book. What would that look like? Would it intensify the experience of the book? Subvert it? How would the fact that you could see through the pages to the text on the next page work? The reflections? What do you do with the covers? What would be the best text to work with? I went to several friends of mine who were poets, they each gave me a poem and the book resulted. Viewer’s reactions were, for the most part, intense and fascinated."

Q. Do you have a degree or do you plan to attend school for art? If so, how did it help you as an artist? What can you tell us about the art department that you attended?

A. "I have a BA in Sculpture and Poetry. The school I attended was very small and the art department consisted of a 2D person, a 3D person and an art historian.

The 3D person was a wonderful teacher named Jack Cartlidge. He did a lot of work with ferro-cement and developed a number of very innovative techniques in stained glass in the 60’s.

He was a great one for developing ways of doing the art you wanted to do without much money. For instance he didn’t have the money to cast large scale bronzes, so he used a copper repouse technique to create large hollow sculptures and then filled them with cement to give them weight and durability.

He was wonderfully generous with all his techniques and materials. He was also intensely engaged in the social and political struggles of the 60’s and passed his sense of justice and commitment to social improvement to all his students."

Q. Why did you choose the medium(s) that you use?

A. "I had run out of money at college and was home in Minneapolis working to save money to return. I wanted to take an extension class at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design to learn to use all the large shop tools we didn’t have. The class was cancelled, I took a neon class instead and I fell in love with the fact that I could make light and color in a linear form in space. That was the beginning. This beautiful line of colored light in space."

Q.Where can we see more of your art?

A. " There is also a piece in the Mission Bay Branch of the San Francisco Public Library. It is visible 24 hours a day."

Q. Are you represented by a gallery? Do you have any upcoming exhibits?
A. "Not formally. I have a few pieces at the Donna Seager gallery in San Rafael, CA. I will be in her Artist Book show this February."

Q. What trends do you see in the 'art world'?

A. "The one trend that I have seen has actually been playing itself out over the past 20 years or so and is exemplified by a comment that curator Rene Pritikin made when he was curator of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. He said " I see myself and my staff as artists, we choose and arrange the work into the artwork that is the exhibition." The curators see themselves as the meta-artist, if you will, and the artists whose works are in the exhibition are, in a sense, just the content providers for the curators.

This is the latest point along the philosophic arc that began with Marcel Duchamp and his "designation" of art through his readymades. The statement that "it is art because I as artist say it’s art" brings along the corollary of "I’m an artist because I say I’m an artist" and curators are the latest passengers on that bandwagon. Artists brought it on themselves by buying in to the Duchampian ethos, but it doesn’t make it any less disturbing. Artists now make material that the museum (and to a certain extent gallery) makes into the real art of the exhibition.

Another trend, and this one is in the public art arena, was articulated by Ellsworth Kelly when the talked about how architects, landscape architects and designers are taking over the field of public art. His contention was that they have the studios and staff to produce very slick presentations of concept that the individual artist has a hard time matching. The artist may have a better idea, but the design professionals are better salesman and are getting more and more of these commissions.

There is also the trend toward self-organization and empowerment among artists. Artists have banded together in collectives and cooperatives that allow them to produce and exhibit outside the institutional venues. This is something that each generation of young artists seems to do, but the artists who are doing it now are doing it with as much or more commitment than any group in recent history."

Q. Any tips for emerging artists?

A. "Keep working. Don’t talk yourself out of your studio time. At the same time, do not neglect creating an audience for your work. 90% of the folks I know who have dropped out of producing art have done so because they did not have an audience.

Since art is communication, you have to have the psychological makeup of the outsider artist to create in a vacuum and if you’ve read about or met outsider artists, you may not want to go down that road.

Get your work online. Build a website. Failing that get you work onto a listing service (WESTAF, an association like the Sculpture Center, whatever). Have a place you can send people to see images even if you are not exhibiting at that time.

Get excellent images of your work. Send out those images to curators and gallerists. Enter competitions. Stay in touch with your fellow artists to both build community and share support and to keep aware of opportunities to get the work out of you studio.

It is relentless work, but believe me, the successful artists all do it. They may have minions to do it for them, but they all do it."

Q. Has your work ever been censored? If so, how did you deal with it?

A. "Not directly. I have had several works elicit letters and protests but I have not had anything removed from exhibit. I dealt with the letters of protest by writing back. In most cases it didn’t convince anyone, but people were universally surprised that the artist who made the offensive (to them) work actually took the time to take their point of view seriously."

Q. What was the toughest point in your career as an artist? Have you ever hit rock-bottom?

A. "A well-established artist served as the catalyst to put together an organization/gallery that was purported to be a group effort to provide exhibition space for the group and increase the exposure of all the members of the group. The individual in question served as the main consultant for an article in a regional publication about the medium that he and most of the group members worked in. The artist took the opportunity to ignore several people instrumental to the group and promoted some of his students and others artists completely outside it. It was a bitter moment."

Q. In one sentence... why do you create art?

A. "Because I have never found anything else that is as satisfying."

Q. What can you tell our readers about the art scene in your area?

A. "I live in San Francisco. I would say the Bay Area has a vibrant scene. There is a small layer of established commercial galleries and the attendant museum scene which is the usual curator/gallerist/collector/reviewer incestuous tangle, but there is also a well-established alternative scene with many cooperative and collective spaces and groups.

We also have the unique counterbalance of the Burning Man organization which has increasingly become a funder of unusual and outside-the-mainstream projects which are not just produced at the annual festival. The organization also has made inroads into the mainstream upper level scene in ways that continue to evolve.

There is also a great deal of opportunity for artists to gain access to unusual technologies for creating both virtual and realized artwork. I am not sure how this plays out in other areas of the country, but in the Bay Area there are also a growing number of spaces and organizations which provide access to tools.

Places like Public Glass, BAGI, The Crucible, Tech Shop, Cellspace and others provide opportunities for artists to learn to use equipment, to learn techniques and to have access to specialized equipment to produce the work they want to do."

Q. Has politics ever entered your art?

A. "Two pieces in particular, both books. One entitled "Imprisoned Words" contains quotations written by famous (and infamous) people while they were imprisoned. The book has jail bars for covers. The quotes are from Steve Biko, Boris Pasternak, Adolph Hitler, Deitrich Bonhoefer, Vanzetti, etc. The point is that even though their admirers put special value on their texts because they either wrote them from prison or were imprisoned for them, it doesn’t mean the writings are in any way morally right.

The other was entitled "I’m Okay, Your NRA." It was a book with drawings of firearms surround by text about weapons "If you outlaw guns, on outlaws will have guns," "you can pry my gun from my cold dead fingers" and the like as well as the second amendment to the constitution. The pages were lexan which I shot full of holes. Then I mounted my ACLU and NRA cards on the piece. Needless to say, it always provokes a passionate response."

Q. Does religion, faith, or the lack thereof play a part in your art?

A. "Only in the sense that I believe that all religions are trying for the same thing. I have a piece with the creation myths of 15 different peoples in it and the mythological character of all creation stories comes through pretty clearly."

Q. Is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the 'art world'?

A. "Only that creating art is a tough enough thing to do in a society fixated on wealth and celebrity without making it harder on yourself. Don’t fill yourself up with the myth of the artist and the crap art schools and fellow artists will say about "selling out." Do what you feel comfortable with in your art, it’s okay.

Remember that down through history, in every society artists have always been at the mercy of people with money and power.
Remember that damn near every artist who ever lived prior to the 19th century and the advent of the bourgeoisie artist had to do whatever they could to pay the bills, they didn’t have the luxury of creating "art for art’s sake."

Remember that most of the greatest art in the history of humanity was created as a commission piece.

Remember that our ability to even talk about the kind of artistic freedom we aspire to was won by centuries of artists who had to please the King, Queen or Shogun; the Priest, Brahmin or Abbot; or the merchant by putting his wife into the altar screen as the model for Mary. So hey, lighten up and enjoy what you do, it sure beats cleaning toilets for a living."

I hope that you have enjoyed my interview with Vince Koloski. Feel free to critique or discuss his work.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very impressive work , and quite unique .