Sunday, May 25, 2008

Art Space Talk: Jeff Koegel

Jeff Koegel's paintings appear to mesh aspects of contemporary western architecture with the Japanese wabi-sabi aesthetic of impermanence and imperfection-- infused with a counter-culture edge. His landscapes have no boundaries in that they are mapped out by his own imagination. These worlds, a reflection of our own, are open to interpretation. Jeff has exhibited in the United States and Europe. His work has been displayed at Scope London and Scope LA.

Penthouse, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 72 in., 2007

Brian Sherwin: Jeff, can you recall your years as a student? I understand that you graduated from Cal State Fullerton's School of Visual Arts in 1985. What was the program like at that time? Did you have any influential instructors? What is your opinion about the academic study of art?

Jeff Koegel: I started as an architecture major at Cal Poly Pomona. I realized that I was most interested in two-dimensional work - drawing, symbols, information design - and I was lured by work being done in Europe by designers like Neville Brody and Peter Saville, so I moved into graphic design. My studies were an important part of growing up for me.
The work was more idea and message oriented than skills oriented, even though I did a great deal of drawing (there were no computers used in design at the time). Something of significance that I came away with was an awareness of how imagery has worked through history and continues, increasingly, to effect the way we interpret ourselves and the world.
Truce, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 70 in., 2006

BS: What about other influences? Are you influenced by any specific artists or art movements? Are you influenced by music? Tell us about your influences and why they have made an impact of your art...

JK: I've always responded strongly to music. As a teenager in the late seventies I felt alienated by the music that permeated everything - corporate rock and disco, both of which seemed to be products created for middle-aged people by middle-aged record and entertainment executives. When I discovered underground music (Clash, Pistols, Velvet Underground, Iggy) that a few college radio stations were playing, it was a powerful message to me - that there are people who use their imagination and refuse to be limited by convention, and they have something to say that is actually relevant to me.
Nobody that I knew was listening to this music, in fact it was scorned by almost everyone. Then came a wave of powerfully original bands playing in LA - Black Flag, Minutemen, Germs - and in my neighborhood a good scene cropped up with bands like Adolescents, Social Distortion, Agent Orange, to name a few - creating an island of like-minded kids which became my circle of friends. The music had nothing to do with the mainstream, except to question it, and It didn't exist for a market. It existed for the creators and their friends.
Some of the best visual art to come out the scene was done by Gee Vaucher, who created a whole visual identity around an anarchist band from England called Crass, but my favorite work came from LA's Raymond Pettibon, who created all the art for his brother's band, Black Flag, and continues today producing work appreciated on a world-class level, still clearly retaining a connection to his early roots.

While I'm inspired by music, and while music can also be very visual, I don't think it really influences the appearance of my work. The music that inspires me, be it punk, jazz, reggae, etc. is almost universally iconoclastic, and what I take from it is the importance of staying true to what is authentic in me, rather than conforming, as artists can feel pressured to do, to follow an expected path in their development, or to make work based on what they think the market wants.

It might seem like a contradiction, compared to the raw aesthetic in music that I described, that some of my favorite visual art is the highly controlled and calibrated work of Ellsworth Kelly, Kenneth Noland, and the early work of Frank Stella. But I see a connection, as what hits me about this work is its intensity and sensuality, and way it broke away from the status quo.
While my work isn't non-objective, the language of this work is embedded in the architecture of my images. The light and space installations of James Turrell interest me in many of the same ways, but with the added dimension of how he draws attention to the thing that you are perceiving is being assembled inside your head.
As a model for ongoing innovation and originality, Ed Ruscha has made a big impression on me. His presentation of the American landscape and it's intersection with language, along with experimentation with materials (gun powder, pepto-bismol, etc.) defies categorization and sets him apart.
Deadbeat Mandala, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 72 in., 2007

BS: Jeff, would you mind telling us about your art in general? For example, what are the social implications of your art? Is there a message that you strive to convey to the viewer? I've read that some viewers discover an environmental message within the context of your work... is that your intent? What are your intentions?

JK: A message may come through to the viewer, but I try to keep an open end to my images so that I'm not dictating what to see or think. We all project our own meaning into pictures, so I think it's important that I keep something about the image incomplete or contradictory for the viewer to act upon. It's this interaction between the viewer and unknown factor in the image that gives the work life and potential to change over time.

The imagery in my work centers around our relationship with the landscape. It's about us and our source. As art's oldest subject, this relationship continues to evolve, and is especially significant in this time of great change. So even though it is not my intent to make paintings expounding an ecological message, it naturally comes out. After all, I am exploring ideas about people, our curiosity, our shaping of nature, our being shaped by nature and the transformations that occur because of it all.
It's important to remember that an image of environmental decay is a metaphor for other things. As I began working with this subject in 2003, and with all the work up to this day, my motivation is always fueled by a sense of wonder, never by dread.
The Mouth of Heaven, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 36 in., 2007

BS: Jeff, tell us about your process. How do these paintings come into being? Is your work intuitive or is there structure to your practice-- preliminary drawings for example?

JK: I do a lot of drawing, from my imagination and from reference. I catalog my drawings as raw material along with digital files from my camera and my collection of images from the newspaper and the internet. I also keep a notebook of things that I overhear or mishear in public or on the radio. From this collection, I study relationships between images. The groupings I make form the structure for the beginnings of paintings. Making a painting is a process of building, layer over layer, adding imagery, making connections, etc. I think this is why my images are always architectural, regardless of what's being depicted.
As far as the sequencing of work, I used to work on one painting at a time, with a drawing or two continually in process, so that a linear evolution can be visible. In the body of work I'm currently making, I've been working in groups of 4 or 6, with the idea that as the paintings proceed, a conversation forms between them, and so they influence each other. The idea being that the paintings relate to each other like a family does, as opposed to a more separated, generational relationship.

BS: Tyler Stallings said the following about your work, "Koegel is interested in how the landscape changes, but he does not suggest a cycle of death and rebirth, but rather one of constant change, never able to return to a prior state. Nature’s rules in Koegel’s work are ones of adaptation, metamorphosis, and recombination. Koegel’s imagery suggests that if any story is being told it is that the landscape is part of an organism in a state of entropy." would you like to add to that statement?

JK: The idea that the universe is a singular organism, the body of God if you will, is one that I imagine has probably been contemplated since the beginning of human times. Contained in this idea is the premise that everything and everyone are related and interconnected, an infinite colony. I like this scenario for it's suggestion that the landscape extends into space indefinitely, and then reminds us how small we are in the totality of it all. And yet, because of our development in satellites, GPS, transportation systems and media technologies, we can have a strangely intimate relationship with our planet.
I imagine that it was about the same time that humans started to achieve a little control over their environment (by creating a shelter, damming a river...) that they also created the myth that we were separate from nature. From my perspective, these actions and ideas are merely measures to adapt to an entropic landscape, and are in themselves, nature.
The Shaman's Trash Heap, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 36 in., 2007

BS: Jeff, out of the images I have viewed I must say that I enjoyed 'The Shaman's Trash Heap' the most. Would you mind discussing this piece? Tell us about your thoughts behind it.

JK: A shaman is an intermediary between the natural and spiritual world. I think of this particular shaman as one with the power to alter and transform. I want to suggest that the discards from the shaman's labors - an amalgam of flora and fauna, body parts, internal organs, pattern and abstraction - have assembled themselves into a hybrid architectural organism. On one level, the organism may represent a seachange in the human condition on the horizon, or simply a chunk of neglected ecosystem downstream from the genetics lab. At this point, however, it's unclear if the result is friendly.

BS: What are your plans for 2008? Are you working on anything at this time? Will you be involved with any upcoming exhibits?

JK: I've been working on a new body of work since last November. This group of paintings, which will number about 20, will make their debut in the form of a book, which I expect to release this fall.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art?

JK: Watch for the new work.

You can learn more about Jeff Koegel by visiting his website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

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