Rachel Kohn

Q & A with Rachel Kohn and Gallery Director Laura Moriarty

LM: What stands out most when I look at your work is the interesting textures you create. Has this evolved out of a more traditional approach to landscape painting?

RK: I am more influenced by non-traditional landscapes, spaces that resemble landscapes but they make me think about the meaning of space, depth of space, the relationship of horizons and our relationship to the earth.  I am interested in the conceptual, expressive notion of space.The textures in my paintings stem from a series of sculptures I made.  

I started using some of the same mediums I used in my sculptures like foam, plaster, plastic, and latex, and condensing them in the two-dimensional plane of my paintings.  Adding encaustic to my work opened up so many more options to create even more depth in my work.

LM: I love the relationship between the various mediums you work in, sculpture, drawing and painting, as well as how they each relate to notions of growth and decay. Can you tell us a little bit about what motivates you to work one way or another?

RK: My background is in painting, but I have always had the tendency to dig and sculpt into my surface, so when I started making sculptures it just seemed natural to me.  However my sculptures were still very much related to the wall, opening up a space for the viewer to see into a landscape inside the wall, some would spill into corners or beams, and others grow out of or into the wall.  I teeter back and forth between painting, sculpture, and drawing as I see fit and sometimes work on several mediums simultaneously.  Sometimes I think I have ADD, but I think the works compliment each other and grow from each other.  They have the same relationships between body, form, line, and depth of space, and the same language of growth and decay, which yes, has been a constant theme in my work.  I am interested in natural and unnatural series of birth and death and these ongoing turbulent cycles.

LM: Can you talk about your choice of materials and what drew you to them?

RK: I love the tactile nature of plaster, it allows me to paint and sculpt simultaneously.  I started using aquaresin because it is stronger than plaster, but has a similar effect.  I build up my surfaces with multiple layers, starting with a translucent under painting of watercolor and graphite.  Layering is an integral part of my process, as it reveals and conceals what lies beneath.  I do a combination of drawing, painting, and sculpting using various carving tools onto my surface.  The final layer is encaustic wax, which encapsulates the layers beneath.  I paint the wax onto the surface, and in some areas rub it off, similar to printmaking leaving an impression in the texture of the surface.

LM: What about current influences? Who/what do you look at, read or listen to?

RK:  Artists who I love are Eva Hesse, Joan Snyder, Cy Twombly, and Turner.  I look everywhere for ideas, for a while I was making paintings based on weeds growing out of sidewalk cracks that I would see when walking to my studio in Long Island City.  I know it when I see it.  Sometimes if I don’t have my camera on me, I will write down where I saw something and come back the next day to photograph it.  One time I was going for a run on the westside highway path, and I saw these weeds that I just had to paint.  I came back the next day and they were chopping them down.

I listen to everything from rap to classical music in my studio, for me it is about whatever gets me in the zone to make the best work.  Music is about telling a story, which is the same thing as making art for me.  I always listen to CD’s from start to finish.

LM: Can you describe what are you are working on now? What’s next as for as projects and/or exhibitions?

RK:  Right now I have an exhibition up at Crossing Art Gallery in Flushing, NY.  The show has 45 paintings, so my studio is empty!  Recently I started working on a series of drawings with graphite and gold leaf. They were influenced by my wedding invitations that I drew by hand with graphite and eraser and did hand gold-leafing on each invitation.  I started experimenting with a similar process in my drawings as abstract landscapes and they are turning into a new awesome body of work.

Artist Statement

I create meditative landscapes that offer a space for the viewer to explore the perpetual cycles of the earth.  The world is constantly growing, decaying and shifting.  It is all a natural process, and in my work I attempt to create harmony in these cycles.  My paintings investigate the dualities that exist within this shifting of energy finding light from darkness, control from chaos, and balance from the unbalanced.  These cavernous landscapes explore patterns within the natural world and are influenced by human fragility, degeneration, devastation, and renewal.

My paintings are very physical, and my process involves carving, caressing, painting, and melting multiple layers of watercolor, aquaresin, foam and wax.  The layered history is integral to each piece.  The final layer is encapsulated by wax, both revealing and concealing what lies beneath.

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