Studio visit with Kari Cholnoky
Brooklyn, New York
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in CT. I was born in Stamford, and then I went to college in NH and got a Liberal Arts degree where I only took two Art History courses, and then I entered the world sort of as an outsider— I had no real understanding of what was happening. I got a really good education, but I didn’t have anyone in my life involved in art. My art education was in the woods of NH, and so coming to New York and going to galleries and things like that–the first time I ever did that was after I graduated college. I went to Cranbrook a couple years after I graduated college, and visiting New York with my Cranbrook class was the first time I was ever in a real artist’s studio in my life. So when I got to grad school, I felt like I was playing catch-up. I definitely had the educational basis for feeling like I could relate, compete, or understand, but people were actually talking in a language I wasn’t fluent in. I had a great mentor in grad school named Beverly Fishman, who runs the painting dept., and she basically told me to go to the library and read Art History between 1500 and now, and then come back and we’d do this conversation over again. I sort of knew that was headed my way; catching up. So then I graduated in 2014.
What lead you to New York, and how long have you been in your current studio?
I was here before grad school, then moved back in 2014. I’ve been in this studio since November 1st. Hopefully I’ll be here for a while. My apartment lease is up this Spring, so there’s a chance I could be anywhere.
What is the driving force behind your work?
I feel like the driving force behind all our work is that we are either fortunately or unfortunately addicted to making the work. We can’t not make it, or else we would have better healthcare and more stable jobs. Most people wouldn’t choose to be in this situation, so the driving force is having this out of control addiction to making something you think you can make. I think we’re all addicted to the idea of that feeling in the studio when you get something unexpectedly or you surprise yourself–you think if you make another thing you’ll figure something out or make something better. For me, that’s the real driving force–whether I’m fully in control of making or thinking (that is more elusive to me), but I’ve never had trouble with making because of this driving force.
[The issue of space] was the impasse that, after working in my apartment for four years, I knew that six months later I would have to make a solo show. I had just made a sculpture and a few big paintings for this show with Regina Rex, and after I made that there wasn’t enough space in my studio in my apartment to move around–it was just a fire trap joke. I had some money in savings, and I knew I would have some money coming in the Spring from a teaching job, so I had the opportunity to have a significant amount of space and to really flex and show people what you can do if you can give yourself some space. So I decided I needed to rent a studio for a few months. I’d always prided myself on being someone who could make work no matter what, but no matter what situation you’re in in New York, you feel the constraints of the walls around you–literally and physically limiting [what you are capable of]. There are all these others things that limit what is possible where you live, your technical ability, your finances for buying materials that you always dreamed about having. If you could ever in your life give yourself a bit of an edge or a release, I always feel like that’s when people’s work just explodes, and so I thought if I bring all my stuff into a bigger room-what would happen? It also showed me my work was getting tighter and tighter, more compact and dense in my studio in my house. It really showed me that the natural, feel-good point for my work is body scale. It’s not these little, tiny practical paintings. And that’s my burden because nobody wants to buy obnoxious looking things that are this big. They’re a pain to move around and store, but it’s what I need to make, so I just put one foot in front of the other. Looking back on the last things I was making in my apartment, it was just suffocated–[the work] suffocated itself.
Your use of materials is really interesting. Can you talk a little bit about your current process and how you source and experiment with new materials? Do you create the imagery that is on the fabric and then have it printed?
Yes, some of it is. This lady [on the fabric]–this is Harmony, the RealDoll. This is from a BBC article–so some of it is straight, unaltered pulled from an image collection I have. And then the blankets are digital collages I make, and they are an amalgamation of images from Amazon, news articles, and images of control panels and modular synths. I make the digital collages in Photoshop, and then get them printed on Walmart blankets.
This whole thing started a couple years ago when I sold a painting, and I wanted to spend the income on printing some high quality, archival images. I had been printing my own collages in grad school without those kinds of facilities, and in New York I hadn’t really been using collage at all. I missed the directness of using an image, so I was thinking of going to go to Duggal to nicely print images, and then I realized I would blow my entire cut of the painting on one blanket this size. So, I just reverted to the deepest, darkest alternate end of the spectrum and wondered how cheap and shitty could I get this printed. You can spend a ton of money and do something that the art world tells you is really important, or you can give yourself a fucking inch and get as much of it printed as you can for cheap, and give yourself the flexibility of messing up a few times.
The other thing that was so surprising to me was that the color quality of the Walmart prints was unbelievable–incredible. The color as translated from the digital material, but also sometimes there were weird accidents with their color that were even better than I could have hoped for. It’s almost like found color, because there’s a certain amount of translation that happens between the digital images I see on my laptop, and what ends up being printed–so that stuff is just like Christmas. Unwrapping those is a gift, so those blankets have been really fun. I’m still working out what it means to be using an image, but for me, most of the reason why I use it is because it allows me to work as fast as I want to work. It allows me to repeat a found image that is interesting or compelling to me. It allows me to obtain an aspect of explicitness just because of resolution or clarity, and then I don’t have to render.
How do you know when/if your approaches or your processes or the things you’re doing are becoming too systematic, or too formulaic?
I feel like I’m so conscious of my work becoming gimmicky that I’m almost overly-cynical of my own process. I’ll make a painting with a certain kind of thing in that painting, and if I show it in a group show in some obscure artist space once, I feel like I have to move on. Everybody knows that I’ve done this and I can’t do it again. My partner and friends will remind me that, especially for this show, that it is my first solo show in Brooklyn. In a group context, it’s really hard sensing development of an artist if you’re only seeing a painting one at a time every nine months or something. A solo show is a real opportunity to say, here’s a really deep sense of what I’ve been dealing with and grappling with. For me, it was a tough situation of showing people a really confident, thorough investigation into something–or feeling like I’d already shown my work in the past that people had really internalized, and pushing it. For me, it was something I really grappled with–making work that wasn’t so far past the last time I’d shown that they’d think, how did we get here? I say to friends that I feel like I’m reinventing the wheel every single time I make a painting. I should be doing things like keeping color studies, especially with the material I use, knowing exactly how to measure it and get the certain kind of effects–I don’t do any of that. I honestly think part of it is because I work for a living, and I don’t have the time to spend four days in the studio doing color studies.
I don’t know that I don’t want to [do it] because I’ve never had the opportunity to do it. I would imagine part of me would find it helpful, especially because some of the material is expensive and it’s just a big waste of money. Some people know exactly how two colors [are going to work together,] and here I am buying a jar of paint, paint an entire painting one color and I’ll look at it and think that wasn’t what I thought it was going to look like. It’s a balance–I think a lot of the invention in my studio is dependent upon accidents, but I also don’t have time for that, so it’s frustrating because development only takes that much longer because you’re constantly beating your head against a wall for unnecessary purposes.
What’s your biggest struggle in your studio practice and in your work, and how do you overcome it?
My biggest struggle is not quite restraint, but more like keeping myself from touching the paintings to death. My happy place is working on the paintings, and sometimes I can work on a painting whether I know exactly where I’m going or not just because it feels good. There are times when I photograph a painting every day that I work on it, and I’ll go forty photos back and think, that was the money. And that’s sort of the gift and the curse of an iphone–is really being aware of where you came from if you are following your own progress.
Part of that conceptually I really love–do you force yourself to deal with your own problems? And because I don’t work reductively at all; adding more and more on top of the thing, to me gives the thing more of an aura or energy. That’s how I rationalize it, at least. But sure, there are plenty of times where I just smother the thing and suffocate it. And sometimes I can pull it out of itself and bring it home, but one painting, for instance, has been done four times since 2013. Today it’s done, but part of my own worst enemy thing is that if stuff is around long enough it will be cannibalized, so I don’t have much work at all that’s old which is kind of disappointing for me. Coming from Chris’s (Martin) studio where he’s constantly surrounded by work from the past 35 years-but because I’ve become so used to being irreverent about my own stuff I destroy it too fast. I think artists could really benefit from revisiting old stuff and looking at it, and not killing it. So that’s something I wish I did more.
Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of your art practice that helps keep you sane?
My family lives in Montana now, and I’ve always been an outdoorsy person. I grew up in a family that was into hunting, fishing, skiing, shooting like a bunch of wild people, so I love being outside in environments that make you think they could kill you. I love catching fish and skiing too fast, and that kind of stuff is definitely hitting the reset button on my brain. I’m sure that like anyone who lives in a city knows, you can become too cerebral. So checking back in with my body in a way that doesn’t just involve being catcalled at 10AM when you’re on your way to work…just feeling my body in a different way from that is important to me. But in terms of NYC hobbies, I don’t really have any besides work and this. This is a blast–having a studio like this. I have two fantastic bosses who let me buzz off when I need to, and if I get a residency I say, see you in a month and they say, have a great time. That’s really rare, so I’m lucky to have their support. I’m broke, but I have a really good thing going on and I actually feel really lucky.
Do you have an projects or exhibitions you’d like to promote?
I’d like to promote my show at the Safe Gallery. It opens Feb 16th, and I’ll also have work with them at NADA. My friend, Emily Davidson, is curating a booth for Spring Break with another friend of mine from LA, Cassie McQuater, she’s debuting a video game she’s been working really hard on the past couple of years, and I’m going to be showing paintings in that booth all in homage to Cassie’s brilliantness.