With past and present residencies with RedLine and Riverwest Artists Association, John Kowalczyk is a very busy working artist. His fabric scraps and thrift store treasures collide to form bright visions. With his “more is more” aesthetic and penchant for abstract but important social messages, John’s work is never boring. This talented artist took time to answer some questions about his life, work, and how magical the Treasure Troll really can be.
MM: Could you briefly describe your work?
JK: I consider myself a painter but I work in sculpture, installation, printmaking, and collage. All these elements make up my painting process. More is more in my work, patterns and colors collide in layered kaleidoscope like images. My abstract paintings and sculptures are inspired by my relationship to the narratives that shape the way we think about the universe and the meanings of life. I take anecdotes from here, quotes from there, and characters from everywhere to write my own stories to better understand the purpose of life. The college of physical materials complements the college conceptual of references. Nothing and everything is sacred at once, fabric scraps bound for the trash become immortalized icons.
MM: When did you first realize that art was going to be a huge part of your life?
JK: When I was in kindergarten we had troll day where everyone was going to bring a troll to school with them, the trolls with the neon hair and rhinestone belly buttons. Well I forgot mine, it was a huge bummer. My five year old world was over if I couldn’t participate in troll day, but then I saw light at the end of my trolless tunnel. I quickly grabbed some paper and colored pencils and drew the best troll I had ever seen. Then I cut it out! I had made my own troll and my world was not over. That night, my teacher called my mom and told her that I was a talented artist and that I should pursue it. So I guess that is when I decided I was an artist and art was my life.
MM: Did you come from a creative family?
JK: My great grandmother was a seamstress and also dyed her hair unnaturally bright red which made me kind of scared of her as a child. Everyone in my family attributes my creativity to her. My dad can draw pretty good, I remember always being impressed with this one drawing he did of a lion when I was a kid. Most importantly though, I came from a supportive family. My mom always signed me up for art classes and camps and encouraged me to create.
MM: Could you describe your process?
JK: My process is very material based. I often start by gathering the fabrics, ribbons, prints, or objects I am going to be incorporating and collaging with. I love thrifting and garbage picking, these are like little adventures for me. I am constantly asking myself, can I make something with that? Then I get to the studio lay everything all over the floor and stare at it for a while, I do a lot of staring but that is when I am strategizing and planning the physical piece. After that I begin cutting, glueing, and painting adding layer by layer.
MM: Color seems to be large part of your work. Would you describe yourself as a colorful person? How does color factor into your life?
JK: Color comes very naturally to me. I use it very subconsciously and let it do its thing. More is more-- I have never met a color I didn’t like.
MM: How has your aesthetic changed over time? Where are you headed?
JK: My aesthetic has always included pattern, color, and layered surfaces. Over time I think I am using pattern and color more deliberately and meaningfully. My work is heading towards some social justice themes especially relating to gun violence currently. Using my aesthetic to convey something I feel is important is where I always want to be headed.
MM: What are you currently working on?
JK: Currently I am working on a group of screenprints and paintings using shooting targets as a main source of collage material along with fabric and other material. I am shocked at the gun violence in our city and it needs to be addressed. Also I am currently the artist in residence for the Riverwest Artists Association. My studio is located in the Jazz Gallery on Center St. in Riverwest.
MM: You work with RedLine. Could you describe what RedLine is all about and your role there?
JK: I was an artist in residence at RedLine for three years. They are an urban incubator for artists. With a gallery, printshop, studio spaces and other resources, they pair mentor and mentee artists together in their building and let them blossom into exceptional artists. The print shop is open to the community and where I do all of my screen printing. They also offer tons of classes and workshops for artists at any level and have great gallery shows free and open to the public. You can also donate money to them because they are awesome! Check out their website here http://www.redlineartmke.org/
MM: What can shoppers expect to see from your booth at the upcoming Maker Market?
JK: I will have small framed collage paintings in my abstract geometric style along with hand painted screen prints on wood panels, and hand painted animal and dinosaur sculptures.
MM: What is currently inspiring you? Artists? Music? IG accounts? Blogs?
JK: One of my favorite art blogs is the Jealous Curator you can follow it on facebook and IG. Fellow maker Janelle Gramling’s IG account is always killn it. Music wise, I have been listening to Murder by Death’s new album Big Dark Love in the studio a lot lately. The weather has been a lot more motivating here as well!
See more of John Kowalczk’s work at http://johnkowalczyk.tumblr.com/ and to purchase some of his work see him at the upcoming Maker Market!