Chapter 43: ASSASSINATION: Kadar Brock, Artist
Portrait of Kadar Brock in his studio. Courtesy of Matt Jones.
Wow, Mr. Brock, who is one of the most innovative painters/sculptors working in the New York area, has both intellectual and street cred while he works on his ambitious works. As a close friend of Matt Jones (a Buia Gallery artist I interviewed earlier), both men who are also buddies with each other graduated from the arts program at Cooper Union and have manifested their potential in capturing the vibrancy of New York City, a hometown that steams of neon lights and brilliant colors.
Brock’s works combine strict patterns with a sense of the loose lines that are based on esoteric mysticism, architectural forms, city lights, hip-hop sensibilities, and a love of life that riffs concepts with a natural feel that can appeal to everybody while satisfying us spiritually and intellectually if we choose to stand and stare. Contemplation is recommended here for full enlightenment by Brock.
I had a wonderful phone call with him last week and it was like talking with a man whose insights into life challenged my perceptions of how I enjoyed the artwork I saw on his website. THE ART ASSASSIN was rather excited about the whole mysterious affair and decided that any person who shared a love of RZA and other cool rock music has got to be filled with a sense of adventure. And so I asked questions and he dropped some major science here.
So if you have any questions about Brock’s artwork, feel free to contact him at email@example.com or his currently unknown cellular phone number.
And now for our feature presentation by THE ART ASSASSIN: here are juicy details of the “assassination”:
qi peng: In an early artnet.com article, the critic Charlie Finch describes Matt Jones’ and your artwork as “worst painters of the new century, and they just laugh and laugh, because they know it.” Do you think that this assessment is accurate? Would you consider Finch’s comments as insulting? If Jones’ and your art is considered as a form of “deliberately bad painting,” would this be in the same vein of humor as a Manzoni or Julian Schnabel, the infamous guy whose work polarized critics during the early 1980’s with his plate paintings?
Kadar Brock: Charlie Finch, oh man. Ha. I love Charlie. I think this badboy moniker is definitely inaccurate, though I think Charlie’s usage is in fact a compliment. In essence he’s lining us up with a long lineage of scandalous transitions in painting history. That’s an exciting thing to be a part of. I don’t think my painting or Matt’s painting is deliberately bad. I don’t think that adjective is relative, though again it’s historical cache is appealing for people writing about the work. I do think we both have a certain sense of humor about what we make, and yes that’s relative to people like Schnabel, like Oehlen, like Kippenberger… I mean for myself, making paintings, I have to take into consideration a lot of people who have done this before; they are some of those people. Others, like say Kandinsky or Newman, aren’t “bad” painters or humorous painters, though they too offered a bit of scandal/rebellion, and a point of departure historically…
qi peng: Is there a “bad boy” rebellious attitude manifested in your artwork? In what way does twisted humor infuse your style and the playful use of “textile” and “architectural” patterns combined with figurative/abstract motifs? Do you see yourself as a serious critic of Philip Taaffe‘s work where he steals ornate patterns from art history and other cultures like a Richard Prince robber baron?
Kadar Brock: Following up from that first question, I’d say it’s more so an irreverence… or maybe better yet simultaneous reverence for multiple things with potentially contrasting meanings and aesthetics. In my paintings I really try to look at the intersection of a lot of points of interest, specifically in abstract painting history, and see how they relate to one another and relate me and my experience. That said, to do so I have to have a certain disregard for all of it, so as to not get bogged down in any one mind frame, approach, ideology, etc. This is both philosophical, and practical. That resulting freedom could definitely come across as “bad boy,” but I’m not interested in that label or posturing. I’m interested in how can I put forth, how can I talk about all this visual, philosophical, cultural, spiritual, etc. etc. simultaneous experience, and how I can make sense of it.
This can be very humorous. Like Barnett Newman’s African mask mating with a Frank Stella painting while wearing Jams. That could be an apt off handed description of one of my new paintings. More so though humor is a precipice, another point of intersection, another result of intersection. Some things combined will seem funny, some more serious, and so on… Humor in my work is also a result of that irreverence or offhandedness that I mentioned earlier. This though is not flippant, and is again part of a challenging and intersecting. I wouldn’t necessarily call any of this playful, though it seems appropriate enough, especially considering that for Nietzsche‘s metamorphosis the child, and his play, was a final freedom.
I’ve honestly never given much thought to Philip Taaffe’s work. I’ve only given slightly more thought to Richard Prince’s. With your question as prompting, I found this from an interview with Taaffe in BOMB from 1991:
“One must always try to look for possibilities within an impossibly closed framework; there is already too much closure within our cultural situation. That sense of closure, of impossibility, needs to be constantly, vigilantly re-observed to understand how we can make progress in our own thinking towards other cultural realities, and how we can make connections with ways of looking at life distinct from our own. That’s part of the responsibility, from my point of view, of art; to see how these very specific and diverse cultural realities can be described or redefined, assimilated or reconciled, from our highly individualized way of thinking about artistic involvement.”
I think this quote belies a commonality and definitely relates to my thoughts about art making. I think a lot of artists, painters more specifically, are engaged in this reconciling and assimilating of various cultural moments within one’s individual experience. This is apt. I think, peremptorily, that Taffe and I share some cultural interests, but our timing and context are very different. Because of this, while I think ideologically we have some similar ideas, the way we go about painting them is dissimilar. He and I approach the physicality of painting in a very different manner.
qi peng: What do you think that critics will think about your paintings and sculptures within the overall context of canonical art history? Which art movements do you feel would be most akin to your work?
Kadar Brock: I just hope they’ll think about my work at all! Ha. It’s difficult to foresee how any of this will be talked about in 10, 20, 30, etc. years from now. I often wonder what will be the defining catch-all that’s used to encapsulate this moment in the grander story of art history.
Where do I fit in this story? I think I’m still figuring this out. Or better yet, I know but can’t quite define it. I’m interested in abstract painting, and it’s whole history, and it’s relationship to philosophical thought. I’m interested in reconciling its more metaphysical moments, with its more analytical moments, and with its more self-indulgent moments, and so on. I think they’re all simultaneous and part of the same. Ultimately, I guess, I’ve always hoped to re-imbue painting with a certain “otherness,” even while maintaining its physicality and including things that would contradict this “other”… I don’t want to use words like spiritual, transcendent, or sublime because they’re too loaded, even though they may skirt closely to what I mean. I think culture at large places so many claims on a persons inner life, on how they relate to their own feelings, thoughts, and experiences. I want to reclaim some of that interiority, and open it back up; to re-appropriate some of the things that have laid claims and open them back up. Deleuze and Guitarri talk about deterritorialization and reterritorialization, i think this taken literally is a relevant description of what I’m after.
Getting back at a canonical stance, this attitude I have is inline with heroicism, sentimentality, and the metaphysical, while still considering post-modern and contemporary approaches. I’m not sure where that leaves me, other than here, making these paintings.
qi peng: What type of music, movies, and other cultural artifacts do you enjoy and recommend to your fans? Any opinions on video games and the Internet and its impact on everyday lives and the general public’s perception of art?
Kadar Brock: I’m hugely addicted to Naruto: Shippuden. It’s this Japanese anime series that I watch online. It initially started as Naruto, then later added the Shippuden. I’ve watched all episodes of both, and now have to wait until Thursday of each week when the newest subtitled episode is posted after it’s release in Tokyo. I just watched it today. It’s a great continuing story about these young ninjas. There’s a lot about significant relationships with friends, and so forth that drives the plot, which is really a lovely thing and can be very moving. Also there’s a lot about “chakra,” ie one’s spiritual energy and how it’s used to master techniques and so forth. This is also very appealing to me…
I was also hugely addicted to Twin Peaks. I like continuing stories, as David Lynch calls them. I like being around these characters, and going on adventures with them. I like when those adventures have this semi-metaphysical aspect to them, this almost larger than one’s self or one’s desires type goal. I empathize with that, and see it as relative to my art making path; it’s what Joseph Campbell talks about… heroes.
A few of my favorite movies… The Seventh Seal, Chloe in the Afternoon, Ghost Dog, Zoolander, Mean Girls, any David Lynch, The LOTR trilogy, the Star Wars trilogy… I recently saw Milk and thought that was fantastic and really moving and inspiring. I love anything by Miyazaki as well (more anime).
I listen to lots of music. Lately I’ve been listening to RZA, The Sword, and Brian Eno. I love Eno, and have pulled a few titles from his songs. I like to have music going pretty loud when I paint. I’m open to listening anything, and will try new things that my friends are excited about. I pretty much rely on friends to clue me into new sounds. This is simply because I don’t have internet or a radio, other than this little AM one that I listen to basketball games on, in my studio. Just a stereo and my iPod or Blackberry.
I also like to read a lot. I just started reading Jung‘s Psychology and Alchemy. Before that I’d read Invisible Dragon by Dave Hickey, he’s great (but better in interviews and lectures than in his essays which can be a little dense). And before that Jack Goldstein and the CalArts Mafia, which has to be the best book I’ve read in some time. It was really inspiring, and is written in a way that I’d want to have all my art history given to me…
I also love video games. I prefer action RPG types. My recent favorites are the new Legend of Zelda releases, Twilight Princess for Wii and Phantom Hourglass for Nintendo DS. Again these are continuing story types, with individual heroes with larger than life quests. They both include a lot of puzzle solving, some action, and require investment in the story and characters. I’ve loved Link since the original Legend of Zelda for Nintendo Entertainment System. I’m also a big fan of Final Fantasy Role Playing Games for all Nintendo systems. Again heroes’ quests. Matt and I also play a lot of Rock Band II. I do this because I like to sing.
How video games and the internet then relate to art perception relates to my response to the previous question. A lot of our inner lives have been claimed by these increasingly vivid and stimulating things. I recently visited the Pipilotti Rist show at MoMA and thought about how her approach to that piece. For those who didn’t see it, it’s this HUGE, like full walls of the main atrium at MoMA, intensely colored video installation with a lot of ambient sound, and a carpet and donut-shaped pillow/couch in the middle. Basically you go there, relax, and well, relax, with the nice sounds and pretty colors. It’s very accessible, stimulating, and so forth. It can compete with video games, with the internet, etc. and it WANTS to compete. And in THAT arena, it probably wins.
I don’t want to compete with that stuff. I want to relate to it, sure, and reference it, of course… but I think we’ll see, and/or already have seen, that some artists will approach it as a medium, and as something, some kind of stimulus that has to be reckoned with. And it does have to be reckoned. I prefer this other, differently stimulating thing of looking at a painting. Of having less distraction if you will.
This ties into an ongoing discussion I’ve had with Matt about video games, and about how much more engaging, in a sense, the older style games are because the graphics were so basic. The characters were icons, symbols, and translations, much moreso than now when they are convincing representations. The space, psychologically, between the icon on the screen and whatever action was happening in the players mind was richer and more exciting, and gave more room for creativity. In current video games the representations give so much information there’s not that wiggle room for individuality per say. I think this can be analogous to a painting versus a stimulus rich video installation.
qi peng: Which art magazines, blogs, or newspapers do you enjoy regularly, or not? Do you think that critics are influential in recommending solid young artists who “deserve” to have big-name gallery representation?
Kadar Brock: I read artnet, artforum.com, and the nytimes.com regularly. I like reading Jerry Saltz, Roberta Smith, and Peter Schjeldahl. I think Charlie Finch is occasionally amazing. I look at art magazines when they’re around, and have lately been enjoying Art Review.
I’m not totally sure on what the role of critics are now a days. I’ve read that they’re less and less influential, and that they don’t make artists like they used to (a la Clem Greenberg). Personally, the more I think about it, the more diluted it all seems, as so much art writing doesn’t really have much of an agenda. I guess that’s why I like the people I mentioned, they have a stance, and are petitioning for something. Schjeldahl’s book Let’s See is an epiphany. I think Jerry’s attitude is great. Ditto Charlie. And Roberta is just sharp as a tack.
More so, I think, is who is going to start writing about newer concerns, and maybe a new agenda. I had a chance to talk to Jerry a few weeks ago, and he basically was conceding that this “next thing,” he’ll have missed it. There’s going to be someone new. This is exciting. I just hope he likes me! ha!
I think these current big name critics, more so than recommending artists to bigger galleries, have been influential in validating smaller and newer galleries during this last boom of the art market. Do larger galleries then poach from those smaller galleries? Sure, I guess that’s just the name of the game, right?
qi peng: For aspiring artists who are recent graduates, do you have any advice for them once they get their diplomas? What are the potential pitfalls of their hunting for gallery representation or other opportunities?
Kadar Brock: Just make your work, and keep making it. If you have to work part time, or full time, paint in the mornings, or at night, or whenever works best for you, but make it routine and essential to your daily functioning… I mean, if you’re pursuing art as a life-path (note it’s not a “career”), it’s likely already essential to your functioning. If it’s not, maybe reevaluate. I worked full time for basically the last two years, and painted for two hours a day in the mornings before work, and on weekends. Now I’m working a little less and painting a lot more…
Regards opportunities… more and more I’m realizing the art world is like any other business… it’s about meeting people and knowing people. So, go to things. See art. Talk to people about it. Read about it. Keep a community with your friends and peers. This last one is probably the most important, because, well, artists, we’re here to shape culture, and that’s a shared experience. Having that with friends and people close to you is incredibly meaningful. My friend John Newsom, who’s a great painter, send me this documentary called The Cool School, it’s about the Ferus Gallery scene in Los Angeles, back when. It really exemplifies this community aspect.
qi peng: Are there any artists you wish to name check that are ignored by the art world or are the next best thing not seen yet? Would you say that the lack of recognition is due to bad luck for these artists?
Kadar Brock: i don’t feel like i’m in a position to be anointing anyone by any means… I’m still working on more recognition for me and my friends. Some friends’ work that I like off the top of my head – Devon Costello, Brian Dulaney, Mark Gibson, Matt Jones, Mary Mattingly, Mike Quinn… This is an incomplete list. Also, there’s a lot of people I like that I think have gotten recognition, though it’s to varying degrees, so I’m not sure what else to say…
Is it bad luck? I have no idea, honestly, I don’t think there’s any one way to go about it… Maybe? There’s so many factors that go into these types of things… some of it’s luck, some of it’s who your family knows, where you went to school, who you’re friends with, who you slept with, etc. etc. Again, in that aspect it’s like any other business, it’s about people.
qi peng: What is the underlying philosophy of your painterly or sculptural style? What would you consider to be your studio practice and methodology?
Kadar Brock: An underlying philosophy… to distill it: I want to reconcile abstract painting history towards the possibility of spiritual meaning in contemporary art through the intersection and interstices of various painting ideologies and personal/cultural content.
Some tenets that relate to this: I take for granted that my hand and my paint handling is inherently self-expressive, like one’s handwriting. I think there is the possibility of the experience of an “other” when looking at art work, and that this takes place via thought and the creation of metaphor; i.e. relating what one sees to other things within one’s self. This is also constantly undone by painting’s sheer physicality. I think continually challenging one’s self, and what one makes, is essential to making good art. Painting history is comprised of number of things that challenge one another.
My practice is to just make work and keep making it, and challenge it, and make more. Whether it’s painting, drawing, writing, reading, seeing shows, I try to do something towards the art every day. Lately I’ve been accepting more and more freedom in my practice, in what I’m allowing myself to make, and in what I’m allowing myself to leave and call finished. I’ve also been drawing a lot more lately to work out ideas or motifs before making the paintings. I’ve been working with these geometric patterns as a basis and that’s freed me up to focus more on how I paint, since what I’ll be painting is already handled.
qi peng: What are your hobbies? How do you enjoy passing the time when you aren’t in the studio or in the galleries visiting?
Kadar Brock: I watch anime. I play basketball, and run, and ride my bike… I think exercising and staying healthy is really important, as it helps me have a sharper mind. I’m an avid Knicks fan, and spend time watching them and reading about them, and anything else basketball related. I like spending time with my girlfriend Dana and her dog Gus. I like my dog Frank, he’s awesome.
I really like playing Magic the Gathering with Matt, Mark, Brian, and Billy Maker. We all went to Cooper together (except for Billy, he joined us later in life), and during our last year found this common interest… if you don’t know it go to http://www.magicthegathering.com. Anyways, we still all play once a month. It’s good times. Also love playing video games with aforementioned friends.
qi peng: Do you have any cool galleries that you would love to recommend for the readers here? Any thoughts on how the recession will impact the New York art world? Do you think that the bad economy will influence what painters will paint, etc.?
Kadar Brock: There’s so many galleries in New York it’s mind numbing, and so many places have both good shows and bad ones. It really depends. I’m such a pain in the ass I never really like a gallery’s whole program…
The recession… I just read this Basquiat bio. It was really interesting for a number of reasons… but it also touched on the 80s art market dive; how things had been over saturated, how there was all this money, etc. etc. and it sounded kind of familiar. I was talking to a friend of mine who was big in the 80s and is still a very established artist who was in on that scene, and he said, “well at least all the people who started making art to make money will leave.” I didn’t realize some folks did it that way, but I guess so…
Anyways, I think the recession will be good for both artists and for the galleries that survive. Some, maybe a lot, of galleries will close. They’ll have more quality artists, and likewise those scheisters my friend was talking about, as well as a bunch of less dedicated artists, will give it up. Furthermore a number of overrated artists will be brought down to earth. Dave Hickey gave this lecture at Frieze in 2007 (by the way, go listen to this now, it’s really incredible http://www.friezefoundation.org/talks/detail/custodians_of_culture_dave_hickey/) where he talks about a big flood leveling everything, and all these Icaruses falling from the sun into said flood… It’s prescient, inspiring, hilarious, and incredibly apt.
Will it influence what people paint or make? I’m not sure. I do think it will initiate a shift in taste though. This is even a moral thing, and has already begun to happen culturally in more than just the arts.
qi peng: Any opinions on Jean Arnold‘s work (http://www.jeanarnold.com/index.html)? Are there any similarities in themes or methodology? Any differences? How do you incorporate the urban environment and/or street art into the medium? Does the vibrant city influence your choice of colors and paint and how?
Kadar Brock: It looks like his figurative impulse is more in a lineage with people like Benjamin Butler, Peter Doig, and maybe Benjamin Edwards. Based on his statement I see a mutual interest the idea of a compression of time, though I think we’re talking about a different bracketing of time, and a different focus of what’s happening in that time bracket.
I do look at my surroundings a lot. I look at marks a lot. Construction markings, their coloring and also immediacy and efficiency… Likewise I’ll look at graffiti on the street or subway… I mean it’s all part of my world, my visual information, it’s what I walk through daily.
qi peng: What are your future plans for your artworks? Any upcoming exhibitions that we can be sure to pop by? Which directions do you wish to explore soon?
Kadar Brock: I’m just going to keep on painting. Currently, I’m just focusing on this new body of work. I’ll be sure to let you know when it’s ready and made its way into the public.