Yung / King, November-December, 2010


1. History/influences

Can you talk about your background – education, those influential on your work (if any), artists whose work you’ve particularly admired?

JMK: I was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. I attended Wayne State University in Detroit where I received my BFA. After receiving my degree from Wayne State I moved to Arizona for a year and a half. I was chasing a woman and thought I would go to school at Arizona State in order to be close. The relationship continues to work but the stint at ASU was a disaster. Needless to say, the minimal work I was doing at the time wasn’t in tune with their program. I applied to Hunter College, CUNY, was accepted, and made the move to New York where I’ve been since. I received my MFA from Hunter.

As a developing artist you are often influenced by those closest to you which usually means those around you in school. I took a lot from three instructors at Wayne State. John Egner, Tom Parish and Bob Wilbert each helped form my initial art making attitude. Between them I learned about edginess, sharing, how to go your own way and to respect traditional techniques. At Hunter College, Ralph Humphrey, Ron Gorchov, and Doug Ohlson each helped me further those same aspects. They make you who you are as an artist. In a broader context, it’s hard to try to note the artists whose work I admire as there are many for many different reasons. I react to integrity, commitment and vision in an artist’s work. I apply this rather democratically so the look can vary widely as well as the timeframe. It can also cover more than visual art; I’ve gained a lot from dance and performance too. And my focus can shift some over time; it’s dynamic and affected by changes in my life and interests.


2. Work habits

Can you talk about your work routine: do you keep regular studio hours, or set goals for yourself? When you travel, do you take materials with you and set aside time to work on art?

JMK: The first part of the question comes at an interesting time. First though, I would say in general I prefer a sense of order to my routine. I like knowing my schedule, keeping to it and yet accept the fact that things happen to alter it. When I say the question comes at an interesting time it is because I have changed my studio after being in one live/work space for 30 years. My studio is now separate from my living space and I know this will result in changes to my habits to say the least. My hunch is I will still develop a regular routine albeit different from one where I can walk in the studio at any moment. I can say I immediately brought sketchbooks to the apartment so I would feel I could still do some work anytime I wanted.

I don’t set goals for myself in the studio. After all these years I think I know how I use the studio, why I’m there and what is going on. There are always a range of things that need to be done so, regardless of mood, I can get into something. The studio is also a place of contemplation. It is used to read and think so it is always a welcome place to be.

I travel a lot and always see it as an opportunity for my art making. It breaks the routine and gives me new experiences. I take sketchbook, drawing tools, occasionally watercolors and my camera. Even with the materials packed they don’t always come into use. I don’t see that as not working though. Part of the work is looking and processing what you see and that always takes place.


3. Technique

Your work is so technically rigorous and meticulous. How has this changed or developed since you began making art?

What draws you to encaustic? Graphite? Do you ever work in oils/acrylics?
What medium do you find most liberating?

JMK: I think I’ve always liked getting deeply involved with a piece and working it over a period of time. Maybe it’s a Midwestern, middle class, work ethic I grew up with where labor was an indicator of positive attributes. Certainly I’ve done pieces that happen very fast, and find rewards in it, but I’ve always gravitated to working on pieces for periods of time. That had to develop over time though. You have to learn how to spend time with a piece. An important aspect of my time spent working is that of contemplation; sorting things out as I work. The slower, rigorous pace is conducive to this mindset.

I’ve worked with encaustic since I was an undergraduate. My recipe is quite basic: beeswax, damar resin and powdered pigments. I often think the process sounds so complicated since you are doing all this mixing of pigments and need a heat source to melt the mixture. But, when I started using encaustic I felt it simplified and sped my painting process. When I worked with oils I had to set up each day. I had to spend time “closing out” by cleaning brushes and palette at the end of the day as well. With encaustic, when I stop, I stop; I just let the brushes harden with the wax on them knowing I’ll melt it down to use it the next day. To start, I could turn the heat on and do other things until it was ready. There was no longer any waiting time for paint to dry; I could work over a passage right away. And, I love the surface you get with encaustic. The ranges from satiny to shiny, opaque to translucent, smooth to highly textured are unbeatable for me. As you might expect, the overall pace in preparation and application suits the pace I like to work.

With all that said drawing is really at the core of my work and always has been. In the ‘80s charcoal and pastel were the mediums of choice but for the last twenty years it has been graphite. I find it so simple and direct yet able to offer such a wide range of affect. I use the different leads for color as well as their tonal affect. Drawing is certainly the most liberating for me and the activity I come back to the most. I can emphasize this point by noting the sole body of work I have been pursuing for the past two years has been a cohesive group of graphite on paper drawings.


4. Content

How do you usually find inspiration? If you are blocked, how do you find it?

Many of the “objects” in your work are somewhat familiar, yet eerily alien. How do you find that source of these images that are completely of the imagination, and yet could exist? And do you ever give these objects lives or functions beyond the image frame?

There's such a high degree of realism in your work, yet thinking more about it, these realistic "scapes" for the most part lack real context, such as landscapes or human/biological subjects. Can you talk about this?

JMK: I think inspiration comes through doing the work. The idea of being hit by inspiration and having that as the catalyst for work is, I would say, a nice fantasy. Or, it describes situations where work isn’t done very frequently. Awareness while performing your basic tasks, always having your eyes open so to speak, is what is important. Inspiration is really the courage and confidence to run with anything you encounter in the work. With that openness almost anything, whether it’s the oddness of a form or the intensity of making a certain mark, becomes fair game and can be pursued. I believe you have to allow yourself to ask “what if” and then try it. Sometimes those “what ifs” sit for a long time as side notes, other times you need to act immediately. What I’m saying is I don’t look to create a masterpiece when I go in the studio; I look to go through a process, learn and grow from it while finding something new with each piece. When that happens, it’s all good. When it ends up being a masterpiece, all the better (yes, kidding).

So, when you keep your eyes open and store those alternatives or next steps, the idea of being “blocked” becomes foreign. I may not be in the mood to work but it isn’t a matter of not being able to work. In those restless moments you either walk away or it becomes a matter of going back through notes and sketches, thinking about them, adding a mark or two and then…… well, you’re working.

When it comes to the images in my work the first comment I would make is I think I’m a very good observer. That may seem like I didn’t hear the question but its important background for the way I process. I take in the things around me - in detail - all the time. For example, I may like the way the light plays across a surface or an object. I will find myself thinking of that and wanting to understand why it is so intriguing. To help me understand I use that image I saw or the experience as a means to start making a piece. Memory tends to lack clarity and consist of incidence. As this gets into the decision making it may make the work change a bit or the idea of allowing me to question may change it. When these things happen images result that feel familiar but aren’t quite. In general, I’m intrigued by the strange quality in the commonplace. I’m interested in what you think you know as much as what you know. These interests end up getting in the work. Of course, there are times the strangeness that intrigues is already there in what I see. In those instances I try to be more faithful to what is observed when it is used in a piece.


5. Collaboration

You’ve had an ongoing working relationship with the poet William Corbett. What are the advantages and rewards of your collaboration?

JMK: I met Bill almost eight years ago through the referral of a collector friend. His knowledge of the art world, interaction with it and his various projects are amazing and it’s been a privilege to work with him. Bill has supplied corresponding poems for a book of drawings I self-published, has written an essay about my work for an exhibition brochure and I have supplied drawings for a book of his poems. I find him and his work inspiring and his poetry has a way of responding to experience that feels close to my interests in painting and drawing. I find opportunities such as those I’ve had with Bill or, for that matter, printmaking projects to be very useful. The different mediums and processes help me see my work differently and can force me to articulate about the work in ways I may not when alone in the studio. It opens my eyes to what others are seeing and I value that. While much of what I’ve said can lead one to believe I make art for myself, I am also interested in sharing what I do. Collaborations are good ways to share and gain an understanding of the perception of the work from people of like interest.


6. Hotel stationery drawings

Does your location conjure inspiration for each drawing? Do you try to relate subject matter to locale?

JMK: I started doing drawings on the hotel stationery from my travels in 1995 and have continued since. I’ve traveled quite a bit over the last fifteen years and have now done more than 100 stationery drawings. The first ones were not done with the intention of creating a series. Over a few years I randomly did some drawings when traveling and realized there was something interesting happening. At that point I began to do them more consistently even though I don’t feel I have to do a drawing every time I travel.

I find the associations with travel to be very rich. The heightened awareness that comes with being in a different place is a good state to be in to approach a new drawing. Often the image’s impetus is in something I see that has the potential to be a strong image. I often make thumbnail sketches as a reminder if there is not time to work a piece to the point of satisfaction while on the trip. A more complete work can be developed on my return or the thumbnail sketch may be refined. They are my attempt to capture my response to an aspect of the trip and the near hallucinatory feelings embedded in the act of travel with its attendant feelings of isolation, strangeness in the ordinary, and the need to understand and share in the experience. They may respond to something seen on the trip, whether in nature or the hotel room, or to the way I felt at some moment. Always there is some reaction to the piece of paper itself. I think of these drawings as finished pieces, not preliminary sketches.