Sunday, October 4, 2020

Interview with Kobe Jackson

Providence based artist Kobe Jackson uses coded visual language to challenge the viewer’s perception of traditional subject matter and provides a counter narrative to the notion of basic. With the ability to skirt gender and racial classification, Kobe has found a sense of belonging and freedom through painting. As a mode of resistance to growing dependency on technology, Jackson’s practice meditates on the simplicity of applying oils to canvas by brush. Re-appropriating discarded canvas, Kobe gives new life to that which was deemed worthless. With an energetic visual language, and transgressive air, Jackson’s work conducts psychic repair in a world which is defined by disassociation and disconnectedness.

Jackson has exhibited at venues including AS220 (Providence, RI), The Living Gallery (Brooklyn), Pershing Square (Los Angeles), The Barker Hanger (Los Angeles). Jackson was a recipient of the Los Angeles Plein Air Festival, Arts Alliance Award, and has been commissioned by the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs to paint utility boxes on street corners.



Through my practice, I’ve found that escape has been a common theme, the autonomic response to trauma, fight, flight or freeze. In escaping, I must go somewhere else, this other place is a refuge where adventuring and taking chances is safe. And healing is facilitated through exploring pleasure and mystery, two things that historically lead to pain. Through art, I have found a safe place to be adventurous.


As a gender, sexuality and racial other, my work has given me a way to transcend the limitations of my own body, escape from negative assumptions made about me based on my identity, and reinforce types of associations that I want to be made about myself. When I am painting, it feels like I’m doing something productive, when a lot of life is filled with uncertainty and meaninglessness, painting somehow feels significant. I’m a quiet person so my art allows me to express deep truths about the world openly


Escape is dynamic. It can mean dissociation, checking out to protect the overwhelmed mind. It is a hiding place in your reptilian mind that gives a response feeling of safety. Escape is jumping out of a mental level that you're stuck in. It is ascending mental planes.


Once immediate threat has been eliminated, one must escape from the primal survival state. A little dopamine is all you need to come back to your body. Some pieces are about escape. Going to a place where the unknown offers amazing possibilities. Where a spark could ignite a trauma healing process. Or a door to a part of your brain that was blocked off or forgotten becomes open again. This is one of my aims as I paint, to convey some of these feelings


On a concurrent narrative, some of the pieces explore reality and the voices around me. The landscape in which I exist.


Other pieces are just a conversation that is had between the viewer and the painting where I tell my story with no words.

Xander: So one of the things that I most appreciate about this window installation is that it’s not an exhibition that a viewer can glance at quickly and say to themselves “I know exactly what’s going on”. There are ceramics featuring poultry, there are extremely skillful traditional paintings of landscapes, there are milk crates, there are unicorns wrapped in tin foil, there are lovingly painted portraits of shoes, there are paintings of the Black Lives Matters protest movement, daffodils, waterlilies, piles of tools, actual socks. I could spend a day wondering about any of these offerings. I hesitate to ask for anything bordering on explanation, because I think that part of the power and magic of the installation is its mystery, but I’m curious to learn more about the decisions involved with bringing this particular assortment of items and works together.

Kobe: I really appreciate your description of my installation through listing off the pieces and calling them offerings. That made me smile. I also don't want to take away the mystery, and wonder, but I also am interested in attempting to answer your questions.

I thought for a while about trying to come up with a theme for this show but ended up just putting up as many pieces as I could comfortably fit in the window. Most of it being made within the last four months. There are a few different themes. The paintings of water were a series I painted over the summer as a plein aire study of something I wasn't accustomed to painting. Also, I was interested in attempting to convey emotion through rendering of water because I see water as an element that can represent emotion. Flowers are a classic painting subject, it's so simple of a concept so it's always a challenge to make a painting of flowers feel new or different.


The unicorn is through and through tinfoil, except for the wire-frame in the middle. Inspired by the Calder's Circus exhibit and also the sculpture on Brown's campus of the ring of people holding hands, and other sculptures casted out of metal, made to look like crumpled tin foil in upscale galleries, and also by some tinfoil life hack video I saw at some point. I had saved and washed all the tinfoil I used for about a year or two I think and finally decided to sculpt a unicorn with it to make a partner for the pink plastic horse that I had found on the curb of Benefit street.I used the pink one as the model to design my aluminum foil horse shape and was thinking that the pink one might also be a unicorn who's horn hadn't grown in yet.

I've experimented a little with furniture design because I like to make as many types of things as I can and I have this friend that uses cardboard as a medium for all these elaborate constructions, so his work inspired the design of the handle for the cardboard drawer situation in the milk crate, At my co-op, Farm Fresh would deliver cardboard boxes of like 150 eggs in the milk crates so they fit perfectly and I actually have ratchet strapped six of them together to make a dresser with these. That's how many eggs we went through.

X: The painting question. In many ways you are a “painters painter” - by this I mean you clearly know how to paint and can do it in a number of styles to achieve different ends. It also seems like you're interested in creative expression beyond painting. What was your path like to becoming extremely technically proficient with paint? What brought you on this path? Has your relationship to it twisted and turned over time? You also work in ceramics, right? How does your work in these two media inform each other?

K: Thank you for saying that I'm technically proficient with paint. I never formally studied painting. I had moved to LA for a few years and decided to give it 100% since I was finally in a location where I could directly interact with the art world. I cut and primed pieces of scrap wood and painted hundreds of mostly plein aire landscapes. This was how I progressed with painting, just a ton of experimenting and practice. There, I was also able to go and look at a lot of art in person made by hot-shot artists in fancy galleries. I learned a lot about technique that way. You can see the layers, thickness and application process which is almost impossible from photos. With the ceramics, I was working at a ceramic studio for a couple years and during that time, was able to explore that medium and what it has to offer. In the window are a few of my experiments. I loved using clay as a canvas for painting because the finished product is so useful. The glazes are so vibrant, it's always a surprise how the colors interact once fired.

X: In your bio you talk about painting on top of canvases that have already been painted on. Are there times when you leave glimpses into the old image? Times when you develop an emotional relationship to the previous image, where it informs the new image that you’re going to make? Do you spend time wondering about the person who painted the previous image and or develop relationships with them? Times when you dislike the old image so much that you’re like - let’s coat this with Gesso ASAP!?!

K: I usually know what I'm going to paint and choose the canvas based on that. I do like painting on new blank canvas for the bright colors, but since I don't do under-paintings, I also really enjoy using found canvas as an underpainting. There have been paintings I've made over old paintings where I left too much of the old piece visible because I wanted to interact with the images. Discarded paintings remind me of a message in a bottle or a time capsule. The piece in the window of Daffodils was painted over an image of a blond woman and that piece really captured a vibe that I enjoyed. It resonated with something like a dive bar in a small town somewhere. And comparing it to something as fresh and sweet as daffodils in the spring somehow elevates the aesthetic of both, but that's just how I personally see it. There is an aesthetic of roughness to it, of incorporating two separate things and parts of it being messy. I've also been told that it looks bad and I should cover it, but I guess it's just a personal preference. I do enjoy imagining who the people were that made the paintings that they threw out. It also makes me think of the paintings that I've thrown out or lost and wonder where they ended up. Maybe buried in a landfill somewhere, and I wonder how those paintings feel existing like that. As far as rushing to coat images I don't like, I always appreciate and admire the work before I paint over them and I usually want to paint on the ones I like first.

X: I love the way that you talk about escape in relationship to your practice. I could be off, but I think that escape, both as an abstract concept, and concrete fantasy, has been on a lot of people’s minds lately. You talk about it both as refuge, but also as a site of transformation to get out of reptilian/primal survival states. I’ve been channeling my escape fantasy into binge reading everything by/about Isabelle Eberhardt - its been interestingly resonant with thinking about your work. She writes, “Now more than ever do I realize that I will never be content with a sedentary life, that I will always be haunted by thoughts of a sun-drenched elsewhere.” You primarily talk about escape as happening on a psychological and creative plane, but has it operated in other ways on your path?

K: That quote does resonate- it sounds like she had her own relationship with escapism. Reading about people like Isabelle Eberhardt is one way of taking an interlude from the things going on in day to day life and it also helps to imagine the type of world that you want to live in. My escape pastimes have been varied, communing with nature, reading, meditating, traveling. There can also be destructive ways such as addiction, social media for example. Painting has been the safest and most fruitful way that I’ve found to do this.

X: The four pieces that depict the Black Live Matters protests: There is something both so general and specific is these pieces. Simultaneously quietly reflexive and pulsing with aliveness. The light, strange and gorgeous. They foreground for me the importance of there being both movement graphics, but also creative representations of movements by people involved with them. Can you talk a bit about your intentions and thinking with these pieces?


K: Thank you for the kind words! I attended the protests and made these paintings while I was surrounded by people. These paintings were made between May 30-June 24 after being isolated in quarantine for over two months. Just before the protests began, I had gotten into doing these zoom life drawing sessions which start with ten one-minute poses and move on to a few two, three and five minute poses and then end with the 15. So I was already in gear to quickly paint figures at the protests. My intention was to capture the energy of the moment, document history, and contribute in my own way. Incorporating text into my paintings has been a challenge for me so it was a surprise to find this new way of doing it.

X: I know maybe that I’m not supposed to have favorites...but I probably should admit that I’m a little bit obsessed with the tool painting. There is something terrifyingly perfect about it...the slight smudge of the blue that draws a diagonal behind the objects is slightly evocative of a chalk line used in carpentry, the pink reflected from somewhere outside of the objects. I think of the Lee Lozano tool series and all of the questions it starts to ask in the 60’s about who uses tools, who should paint tools, who should hold tools, who gets to have relationships to these objects that become extensions of the users very hands. So I guess the questions that I have are - are those your tools? If so, what do you use them for? Are they special? How do you feel about how they feel in your hands?

K: I like that you are drawn to this painting. It was the one that took the longest, painted over a couple months with many layers. They are indeed my tools, tools are comforting to me, using them is a beautiful feeling, I love their weight and their history. My hands feel different when I hold them. They have been used to build, fix and take apart many things. I love working with metal. One of the most satisfying feelings to me is to use tools. Using tools allows me to express a type of style, that kind of articulates a buddhist mentality of being strong and quiet, mindful and determined, stuff like that. And I thought adding these colors associated with femininity, pink and purple would not only highlight the beauty of these objects' shapes, but also somehow play with concepts of gender.

X: You write: As a gender, sexuality and racial other, my work has given me a way to transcend the limitations of my own body, escape from negative assumptions made about me based on my identity, and reinforce types of associations that I want to be made about myself. The capability of art to function this way in your life is obviously incredibly powerful. Was there a moment when you first realized that art held the possibility of allowing you to assert an expression of yourself that could drown out the negative assumptions of others? Is there one component of your art-making that does this more than others? Is there any specific advice that you’d give to others interested in using art as a mode to transcend limitations of body and societal assumptions?

K: There wasn’t a specific moment, it was always the reactions people had to my drawings when I was younger that were the most positive reactions I had experienced to something that I had done. Part of it is wanting to paint the same subjects as the straight white male painters with the surface tension and impassioned brush strokes of making a painting in one sitting, that are used to express types of masculinity. Wanting to compete with them. I guess it could be seen as immature, or unevolved, I don't know. It could also be seen as internalized transphobia, homophobia and racism. Somehow I want to be able to show that my heart is just as pure as theirs. I guess it's an easy trap to fall into, so I've also been transitioning from that simplistic concept, trying some new things, which you can see a little bit of where things are venturing a bit into abstract. Advice on how to use art to transcend assumptions by others is to try to tune out the noise of the world and listen to your heart. Beyond the point of fighting, where you can just be yourself, and then figure out how to translate that feeling into your art.

No comments:

Post a Comment