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Interview with Kori Newkirk
by Catherine Wagley

ArtSlant's Catherine Wagley spoke with Kori Newkirk recently after the opening of Rank, Newkirk’s installation at LAXART in Los Angeles in July 2008.  Rank consisted of a flashy, monumental podium of mirrors. In scale, the fabricated sculpture was a far cry from the intimate work Newkirk has done in the past, yet it still engaged the same absorbing, open-ended conversation about how people fit into the world at large. In this interview, Newkirk talks about being a painter who doesn’t paint, the tension between beauty and braininess, and the involved conversations he engages in the studio.

Kori Newkirkpersonal photo; Courtesy of the artist and LAXART

Catherine Wagley: When I walked into your ten-year survey at the Pasadena Museum of California Art, I initially noticed the ideas involved in your work. I was thinking about issues of identity and ownership and about literature. Then, when I turned around and walked from the other end of the exhibition back to the beginning, I was struck by how visually seductive and formally concise your work is. How do you reconcile the seriousness of your subject matter with the prettiness of the objects you make?

Kori Newkirk
: Well first let me say that when I was in undergrad, the word “pretty” was flung in my direction like an epithet, and for something as simple as a found wood sculpture. Ever since then I have always actually tried to avoid what I might personally think of as pretty. I do however think I make things that may be viewed as beautiful - that I don’t have issue with in general, and yes there is a big difference. I make work that can be read on many different levels, and one of my major concerns is purely (the) visual. So I don’t know that I’ve ever set out to reconcile the tension between the gravity of the subject matter’s intention and the seductive invitation to jump in. I actually take pleasure in creating it, and when the balance of the tension is right, I’m happy.

CW: I don’t know if I’ve ever seen conceptualism that is as visually lush as yours. Do you think like a painter?

KN: That’s a nice compliment! One of my friends says that an interesting way to consider my work is that I’m a painter who never makes a painting. I was partially trained as a painter, mostly during my undergrad time, but there was something about the ‘romantic notion’ of what a painter is and who and how they interacted in the world that didn’t connect for me. Instead of fighting that I made a conscious decision to make paintings with no paint. I prefer to deal with the formal aspirations of painting rather than the material concerns. I think also that I’m always investigating materials and processes that achieve things I know I can’t make paintings do – the way beads capture light from multiple angles, the way neon burns up front and glows behind, etc.

CW: Even though you explore personal desires and conflicts, like the problem of wanting to find your place in the world, you almost always keep a critical distance from your work. Why?

KN: There are so many different ways to answer that question, and so I’m probably going to sound somewhat vague on the matter. I will offer that it has a lot to do with some ideas that surround minimalism and the place and role of the artist in conjunction with the realities of being me and producing art. Even though the work emanates from my experiences (as it does for all artists, I think ultimately), I want to leave open that space where a viewer can enter in, and have an affinity with my story, but not be defined by it.

Kori Newkirk, Rank (installation views at LAXART, Los Angeles), 2008, Mirrored acrylic, steel, stainless steel, microphones, chrome plated brass, vinyl, Dimensions variable; Courtesy of the artist and LAXART

CW: Some of your work—especially the hair and pony bead curtains—seems meticulously process oriented, and then some, like the work for your upcoming LAXART show, is the opposite. How do you interact with your work in the studio?

KN: The studio is a place of conversation. I talk, I listen, the work talks, I cajole, wrest, caress, sometimes force and always try and respect. It’s a toss up as to who is ultimately in control though.

CW: Is research part of your process?

KN: Sometimes yes, sometimes no, I would say that it depends on the work in question and the requirements that the work places on me and what the work tells me. I think a lot of it is based really more on the idea of trust in relationship with research. But I am my mother's child. I tend to accumulate stuff that ends up playing certain roles in the stages of production—that, and a lot of trial and error.

CW: I loved your video, Bixel. While watching it, I felt I could let go of my criticality. What prompted you to experiment with video?

KN: I had avoided the medium for some time, mostly in an attempt to be true to it. By that I mean that no reason or idea had made it necessary, you know, nothing had told me that it would best be expressed in video until that point. The ideas in Bixel were ones that could only be fully realized through video. It’s part of the conversations in the studio.

Kori Newkirk, Rank (installation views at LAXART, Los Angeles), 2008, Mirrored acrylic, steel, stainless steel, microphones, chrome plated brass, vinyl, Dimensions variable; Courtesy of the artist and LAXART

CW: Will your current installation, Rank, at LAXART take you in a new direction?

: I would hope so, I can’t really tell at the moment. I’m a little too close to that work right now, but it certainly feels different. Good and different. There are a lot of paths and places I want to explore.

CW: I just came across this Miles Davis quote: “You have to play a long time before you sound like yourself.” It reminds me of how you described your work as a never-ending game. Now that you’re a mid-career artist, what’s your game plan?

KN: Tuck and roll!

ArtSlant would like to thank Kori Newkirk for his assistance in making this interview possible.

--Catherine Wagley

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