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Studio Visit Tue Jan 29 2013
Last fall I visited SAIC's graduate painting studios on the 16th floor of 111 S Michigan Ave. to get a better look at Emre Kocagil's paintings. His juicy, energetic abstract oil paintings in Miami Vice colors, accompanying sculptural arrangements and unwieldy sketches fill out his studio nicely. They bring a lightness and an air of joviality to the small studio space, sitting at the end of a long hallway full of canvas-covered doorways, emitting the thick smell of oil paint. Inside, Kocagil excitedly pulled new work out of nooks and crannies, giggling to himself as he explained his trains of thought, spouting out ideas about color choices, painting traditions, modes of painting practice, simplicity and complexity, being a hermit, listening to music, talking to people and not talking to people, and mostly how crazy he feels after sitting alone in the studio for days.
When Kocagil completes his MFA this spring, he will be a two-time graduate from SAIC -- he received a BFA from there in 2009 with an emphasis on sound first, then painting and art history. A self-described "painter-dreamer-leisure fanatic", Kocagil quickly rubs off as a slaphappy romantic with a penchant for pleasure. His work, examined through a well-trained lens, doesn't exactly feel easy, but it feels smooth like butter. Although I'm not sure he would appreciate it being described this way, it seems to fit neatly into the trajectory of contemporary "painter's painting", particularly "Provisional Painting", which rejects traditional ideas of craft, symbolism, expression, composition, as well as pretty much all other traditional ideas in favor of humble beauty and pure painting -- almost like minimalism, but with an entirely different type of finesse. In a way, it comes off as a way of honoring the paint and the canvas itself, as if manipulating them and working them to suit a specific agenda is some sort of blasphemy. These artists -- provisional painters -- are not heroes. The heros died with modernism. They are witnesses.
Kocagil has been putting himself out there, with a solo show at Hungryman Gallery in 2011, work in a group show currently up at SAIC's Leroy Neiman Center gallery and a solo show at Peanut Gallery, opening Sunday, February 17.
Interested in learning more about his process, I emailed Kocagil with the questions I've been asking other local artists as part of my ongoing "Studio Visit" series for Gapers Block:
Tell me about your background -- how & when you became interested in making art and what brought you to Chicago.
I was born in Istanbul, Turkey to doctor parents -- luckily for me because looking back the pressure-free secular upbringing and middle class work ethic I have been exposed to has been central to my thinking and experiences ever since. Early in my teens I picked up a few musical instruments and I made it more fun and challenging by joining or starting bands, running practice spaces, trying hard to get venues to play live shows, etc.. so the culture of "studio" and its products were familiar to me, although I had no experience in producing any type of visual art before migrating to Chicago in 2005. I have always had a passion for learning things by myself, so as soon as I came to SAIC to study sound, I dropped interest in the way they were teaching that and started painting, having been impressed with the vitality and sensuality of the medium. I had some roommates who were passionate people genuinely struggling with and for painting, so their influence was key too.
What issues (formal/social/personal/etc) do you try to address with your work?
At this stage I give myself the conceptual license to have many subjects and sensibilities share centerstage. Issues of recognizable style, gimmicks in process, the cult of the painter as a dysfunctional loner indulging in his madness shape my temporary mannerisms. At large, the struggle to make meaningful work vs. self-serving objects with no responsibility is also a driving force in the studio. I am interested in the semantics in paintings, economy of meaning and a dialogue between cultural and individual.
What are your medium(s) of choice?
I remain fairly loyal to traditional painting materials and like to keep it simple. When collaging or using layering as a deliberate structure I use transformed states of of paper and fabrics, as in older drawings, paint rags, fabrics... I don't like painting on paper very much -- it feels too weak and storage is a pain. Lately I have been ulitizing store bought stretcher bars to build contraptions as a gesture toward the endless potentiality of painting. Having said all that, circumstances will often dictate the making, so I can use rocks, found furniture, leaves, etc. if need be.
At the end of the day I know I don't need material excess and things sticking out of the surface to make an interesting painting.
How do you spend your time in the studio?
I have a complicated time deciding what the best way is. Rarely a piece calls for that determined, holding-my-brush-up-for-10-hours type of painting session, so I deal with intuition vs. intentionality and discipline vs. indulgence in the studio. Usually I enter the studio very eager to get something done and look around with no patience to clarify my target. Economical realities are somewhat of a factor as well -- since I can't have 10 newly prepared canvases to go through every time, decisions need to be made wiser and calmer as years go by.
I like to have a lot of recent work hanging up, as I often edit and reuse these surfaces to further push the work or generate new ideas. If a very specific idea for a painting is in my mind, say "rich people crying" or "dream sweatshirt", and a way of executing that idea is envisioned, I try hard to drop all distractions and make it happen. How multiple paintings operate has been of utmost interest to me in the past year, so my studio setup does the job of guiding me toward my needs.
What are your influences? What are you reading/watching?
I am influenced by lots of terrible things in a positive way. It gives me something to react against -- mass production, sleazy celebrity culture, idealism in human integrity, organized religion, educational institutions, fake politicians... I watch lots of science documentaries only to forget about all the glorious information later on, but that keeps one hungry.
Recently I have been watching recordings of news broadcasts from when something terrible has happened (9/11 live coverage is always intense) along with conspiracy videos. Once I see a few episodes of a seemingly good TV show, I end up abusing it and watch all episodes in a very short span of time. "Twin Peaks", "Freaks and Geeks" and recently "Louie" have all been mindblowing/heartwarming in their unique ways.
I like to read Frank O'hara poems, Salinger short stories (on repeat) and Vonnegut novels. Otherwise fiction in print rarely interests me. World news, political analysis and a little art criticism does the job.
How has your work evolved over the past few years?
From two beaked birds to naive-looking-abstract landscapes to modernist soul searching to semi-abstract fun-loving mess to a more skeptical yet cohesive and realized project.
Honestly, from an outsider to an outsider within the system is how I see it.
How would you like to see your work evolve over the next year?
At a healthy pace and with no outside pressure. Actually I might want some pressure from somebody who cares.
In the interest of full disclosure, Peanut Gallery is run by me and a small group of comrades. Because I tend to conduct studio visits with artists whose work I am personally interested in, many (but not all) of the artists featured in the studio visit series here on Gapers Block have had or will have exhibitions at Peanut Gallery.