This past week, I had the pleasure of speaking with artist Andrew Kuo, whose work was featured as part of the Absolut Art and The New York Times co-curated art collection for the inaugural TimesTalks Festival. The two works featured in the Absolut + TimesTalks collection are O and Portrait (Nose). For our interview, Kuo discussed his work with TimesTalks, how color and data operate in his paintings, and his experience growing up in New York and around art.
AMMO: What’s Your AMMO?
Andrew Kuo: Musically I’m really in love with Vince Staples right now and this singer/songwriter from LA named Phoebe Bridgers; they’re two amazing musicians. I’m excited about all of these young SoundCloud rappers getting big that are doing DIY rap finally becoming stars. It’s really exciting and it feels like a nice movement in that world.
A: How did you become involved with Absolut Art and TimesTalks?
AK: A friend asked me if I wanted to be a part of this and I have been a contributor to The New York Times for many years either with arts and leisure, the “music section, or currently T Magazine. He asked if I’d be involved in this project and of course my answer was yes. Absolut has a long history of being a champion of the arts especially in the 80s. I remember paying attention to the projects they would do with artists and their signature advertisements.
A: What aspects of the event were you involved with? What was your approach to presenting your art for TimesTalks?
AK: I was involved in presenting images for an addition series that Absolut ran parallel to the talks.
A: Can you share with us an explanation of how you created these two pieces and what meaning they hold for you?
AK: They are what they look like. They are abstractions I make. Usually, in my studio to practice, I make chart based graphic geometric paintings where I’ll have a key on the bottom and I’ll render some sort of information graphic on top to represent what is on the bottom. I started making these on the side at the same time either to clear my head, for a place to work out color relationships, or just to put leftover paint. Through a few years of doing this, these side paintings got bigger and bigger and became their own paintings. It’s so funny that it’s just an abstract painting when you see it, but it took me a long time to get to this point from making geometric structured figurative paintings.
A: When did you become interested in being an artist? When were the ideas or pieces that sparked your career as an artist?
AK: I was really, really lucky in that my grandfather was a painter from Taiwan so as a young kid, I was exposed to what it felt to be inside a painting studio and around somebody making paintings. It sounds so simple but he had a full operation going on and it felt like something that adults just did. Luckily, my parents were open enough, being Asian American, that they let me pursue art and sent me to art school. Some of my first memories of art were my parents taking me to the Andy Warhol retrospective at the MOMA and the Francis Bacon show when I was a little kid. I was too young to understand anything, but my mother told me at the time that these shows would never come back and if I didn’t see them then, I would never see them again, she was right.
A: How do data and statistics interplay with your artwork?
AK: In the work about Data and Statistics I try to marry the idea of stories that can arrive through points of information that you create. Whether that be counting something, or describing something as information you can represent in numerous ways. For example how people can paint flowers as they see them or flowers as squares or flowers as a photograph. It’s all points of information. With the works about data and statistics, I write stories about things like spending the night at home or going out to a birthday and I create data points and a way to talk about that visually. This has to do with the fact that I’m really interested in sports, the stock market, how old I am, what my shoe size is, how tall I am. All these things are ideas or pieces of information that I think tell a really distinct story.
A: What do you hope your audience sees or understands from your work?
AK: Hopefully something new that they may have a reference point for but is a new take on something that they can understand. The goal is not to make something totally unrecognizable where it’s so new that people can’t relate to it. My goal is to create work that reminds me of something I have enjoyed previously but pushes it to a point where it looks, feels, and means different things.
A: You have been described as an innovative artist. Is innovation a specific focus for you? Where do you see art innovation happening?
AK: It is something I certainly try to think about as much as I can, but again without going too far. As somebody who tried to make art in my life, a goal of mine was to figure out a way to talk about something. When I say my life I mean how the Internet happened in my lifetime and that was a really big change in the way I talked to people and communicated and thought. Instead of a book or a magazine I started thinking about the structure of a social network or the way a browser works. I think a lot of innovation has happened there and the question is if that’s truly innovation or if it’s the same story with a different framework. I have yet to figure that out. I think about that all the time. I’m not sure if the things I’m exposed to are new to me or framed in new ways. The goal is always to try to make something fresh but it doesn’t have to necessarily make the leap into something that can be called innovative.
A: I understand you have lived in New York City for most of your life. How has the city influenced your art? What do you think is unique about experiencing art in New York?
AK: It may be Stockholm Syndrome, but don’t I think there’s a better place than this. I think it’s the people that have decided to come here; if I’m lucky enough to meet them or be friends with them. Its incredible how it can feel like a distillation of other all these other places. I think about my friends and how they come from all of these other places. I only have a few friends from New York. It draws curiosity; all of the things happening here are worth checking out. It’s a wonderful place to be not only to look at art or try food but to meet people who also came here to do that same thing you wanted to do.
A: What are you currently focusing on in your art? Are there any upcoming projects you are working on?
AK: Every few years it feels like I need to do something different and right now I’m in one of those times. I’m probably going to have a show in 2019 at my gallery and I want to be able to present something new to me. It might look the same to someone who has seen my work before but in my mind it’s a different color, tool, or material. I’m at the point now where I have to quiet things down and see where I want to go next.
For more information on Andrew Kuo’s work in the TimesTalks collection, go to absolutart.com.