Revisiting Kyle Kogut
Very happy to check in with Kyle Kogut, whose work I first shared on the blog over THREE YEARS AGO (time flies, it's so amazing). Some things have changed, and as his work has evolved, we chat about MFA programs and life after grad school, as well as the direction of his work. More at the links below!
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So, Kyle, I first wrote about your work way back when this sit was in its infancy! At the time you had just finished up your BFA and were about to embark on your MFA program at MICA. What's new!?
Hey Kate! It’s so good to catch up. Since we last talked I graduated from the interdisciplinary MFA program at MICA, Mount Royal School of Art. After graduating I moved back to Philadelphia and have been staying busy making work. Last year I was in a few group shows in Brooklyn, Baltimore, Phoenix and Washington DC. I also was in a two person show in Chicago and just wrapped up a solo exhibition in Philadelphia.
You've begun teaching as well; how is that experience now that you're on "the other side" in the university setting? Has it influenced your work at all?
I’m teaching Printmaking where I got my BFA, Tyler School of Art. Being on the other side has been an extremely rewarding (and challenging) experience. I TA’ed a lot in grad school and really enjoyed my experience, so I was really excited to get the opportunity to craft my own classes once I graduated. It’s a privilege to aid young artists during the beginning stages of their practice as they have a certain fearlessness and fervor that sometimes get lost when you settle into a way of working. Working in the institution of academia is an interesting space as there is no right answer to the thing we call art. I teach Lithography and Screen Printing and present them as another tool to be utilized in the student’s artist toolbelt, always encouraging them to figure out new ways to use traditional processes. This could mean using litho prints as props in a video or screen printing onto walls for a larger installation. I always research artists to give to my students and through that process I’ve discovered a number of references for myself. I’m always being influenced by my students and believe that both the student and teacher are learners. I don’t think art can really be taught, but more fostered and challenged.
When did you first become interested in making art?
Making art has always been part of my identity and a priority. It’s cliché but I can’t remember a time when I was not drawing. As a kid I was always drawing animals, monsters, my own comics and playing with clay. It naturally progressed, grew to be more personal and how I spent most of my time.
Your work has had an underlying theme revolving around the idea of the life cycle -- birth, life, and death. Is this still an influence? Or how has it changed?
The cyclical nature of life is certainly still present in my work. For a long time my work focused on death and revolved around a narrative of attending my own funeral, inspired by a genetic heart disease that affected many members of my family. While the theme of death was extremely personal to me, I didn’t want to restrict myself to what could be perceived as a banal or sensationalized topic.
My concepts then shifted to another aspect of my history. With such a past focus on reflecting on my own death I then decided to question the meaning of living. Referencing my father’s experience working as an auto mechanic and janitor, always working two if not three jobs, I began to contemplate the futility of life. After rediscovering Arthur Schopenhauer’s ‘Studies in Pessimism’ I started to embrace the nihilist tendencies that were emerging in my work and channel the struggle to make ends meet. Contemplating the sacrifices that my father has made for me to have the privilege of being an artist, I began to channel my working class upbringing.
I also began to more clearly reference my Roman Catholic upbringing, with a constant balance of good versus evil, imposed self-reflection, and being born of sin always looming over the doctrine. Functioning as a an antithesis to the Manifest Destiny and “In God We Trust” of a nationalist identity, I translate these themes through an occult guise of personal symbology occupied by a cast of imagined and real. The works present a psychodrama of toil, excess, and ritual while citing practices of traditional occultism and images of contemporary horror.
Utilizing the iconography of the American auto industry as an archetype for lost dreams and sinking realities, I juxtapose my father’s life experiences with that of my own as an artist. Connecting the all for naught of fleeting life and inevitable death, these themes are still present but continue to evolve.
Your practice combines elements of sculpture, painting, and drawing. What is your process like for beginning a new piece? Do you research at all, or prepare in any particular way?
When starting a new piece I reflect on the histories of my family in combination with researching and array of references. I have an undefined way of creating and am always working on multiple pieces at the same time, bouncing around the studio and letting the works converse and feed off each other.
The drawing/painting comes very naturally and I’m always sketching/planning for future images. Many of my 2d works are heavily influenced by art historical masters and I often directly quote figures and scenarios from their works. Art history buffs like myself will find direct references to William Blake, Albrecht Dürer, Goya, and Pieter Bruegel the Elder with other motifs inspired by Guston, Bosch, and others exploring narrative and the human condition. I’m also heavily influenced by writers and philosophers such as Schopenhauer, Anton LeVay, Nietzsche, Phil Hine and Kafka among others. I also watch a lot of film and draw inspiration from Argento, Lynch, Jodorowsky, and Kubrick.
My sculptural works seem to be more of an assortment of things I collect and alter. I tend to raise utilitarian objects to pseudo-religious relics to be worshiped or used in ritual. I find these abject things in my dad’s basement, thrift stores and junk yards and bring them back to my studio to play around with. The sculptures are more direct actions in contrast to my drawings which are very detailed and laborious, but I approach them with the same intention.
What is your studio like?
My studio is in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia in a converted factory. I have a really great space on the corner of the fourth floor so I have a lot of amazing light throughout the day. It’s usually a mess but I seem to work best when things are all over the place. I head to studio after I get out of class and on weekends. I didn’t have a studio for a few months as I transitioned back to Philadelphia so I was really excited when I got the space.
Do you have a favorite object or tool in the studio that you can't live without?
I couldn’t live without pencils, .005 micron pens, and podcasts or music in the studio.
What do you do when you find yourself in a creative rut?
When I’m in a rut I try to power through it. I jump to another thing I’m messing around with or start something new. The past year I’ve been working on a series of 11” x 15” drawings in ink and graphite that I work on in between larger projects. It’s a good structure to work within and it takes a lot of the what-ifs out of the scenario. These smaller works often become larger drawings or other ideas. I also look through books or do research online. When all else fails I’ll watch a movie that’s been recommended to me or get outside.
What do you consider "success" to mean as an artist?
That is a really good question and everyone has a different definition of what success means. To me success is to have the ability to keep making work. To be open to experimentation and to excited by my own work. To have my work present a different way of thinking and to tap into some sort of universality. But I think an artist's definition of success has to adapt and change as life does.
What is the most challenging or daunting aspect of pursuing art seriously? How have you handled that?
You’re asking the real questions this time around, Kate. I think the most daunting thing is time. You have to really want to do it. Sometimes you have a great studio day and you love it. Other times it’s a real struggle to make it to studio after working all day. An artist’s practice is an ambiguous pursuit somewhere between a job that you have to clock in to and fumbling around in the dark. Being an artist can be scary and you need to sacrifice a preconceived/societal “normalcy” both financially and emotionally. But I think we all keep doing it because we’ve given in to some eternal that can’t be explained or rationalized. Being an artist is a gift and curse, and for me it’s something that I can’t not do. I handle it by working hard, going after as many opportunities as I can and relying on the community of other artists who understand this weird life that the universe has bestowed upon us. There’s no one right path so you have to be flexible and enjoy the small successes.
What are you working on right now?
I just wrapped up a solo show entitled How Many Demons Can Dance On the Head of a Pin? at Kitchen Table Gallery in Philly and was really excited with how it turned out. I explored some new approaches to curation and it was really great to show what I’ve been working on for the past 6 months. For the rest of summer I’m traveling a bit and working on smaller stuff. I just started a new publication project that is inspired by the Book of Hours, the medieval illuminated manuscripts used for personal devotion. My work is becoming more performative and I recently did a ritualistic performance in which I played the Devil's Tritone for 66 minutes ans 6 seconds.
I’m also so honored that you included my work in Together With, which just wrapped up showing at The Bubbler in Madison, WI and is traveling to the Philip J. Steele Gallery at RMCAD in Denver, CO. in September. I’m always applying to stuff and making new work so keep an eye out.
Anything else you'd like to add?
I really appreciate your dedication to showing new work from artists and it’s so great to be back on Young Space!
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