Perrotin is pleased to announce its collaboration with San Francisco-based artist Koak with her first solo presentation in Asia, The Driver, an exhibition of new paintings and sculpture.
The expression of feeling is a signatory attribute of the paintings of Koak, and it is a force that she uses to articulate her bold, arresting style. Her canvases, saturated in mood, denote various emotive timbres through her deployment of color, line quality, spatial configuration, and gesture.
The figurative subjects that populate her compositions—namely feminine figures and felines—moreover, are vehicles for expression and indexical devices that communicate a vast range of behaviors and emotional states. Koak has said that her paintings are “about archetypes of self that we have that are developed throughout our life or are internalized by experience” and she suggests that she is playing with, and perhaps upending, these internalized archetypes.
Koak developed this body of paintings
during the pandemic and in them she heightens the sense of delay, interiority, angst, and expectancy that are quintessential aspects of
the human emotional experience over the last two years. As a result
the compositions exhibit and are redolent with the internalized,
desperate cultural mood of the time. In particular, they convey a sense
of pressurized space that is juxtaposed with the ominous atmosphere
of the outside world. In this sense they tap into our experience of
isolation and self-reflection.
One of the first things that strikes the viewer is the intensity of the palette which exhibits a variety of
psychological states. The hues are markedly different from previous
bodies of work that possess cheery canary yellows, soft peaches,
pale pinks, and baby blues. In fact, in this most recent body of work,
the colors are what Koak describes as “domineering.”
Koak sought to blend colors that “shouldn’t really go together,” in an effort to render harmony through coloristic
disharmony. In this way, she represents the
conflicting moods and psychological states that blend in the physical body
and become a composite reflection or expression of the self.
Koak has named the exhibition after this work, signaling to the viewer that the underlying import of the paintings has to do with agency—perhaps foremostly female, self-agency—and an interrogation of control: who is controlling whom? Relating to this Koak asserts, “I think when we’re imagining ourselves as a conglomeration of selves, there’s often the question of who rises up to the surface, which fractal is our true self.”
Doubling and mirroring are emphasized in several of these paintings. On the importance of duality in her work, Koak surmises, “I’ve noticed that it feels impossible for me to make a show that does not center, in some form, on ideas of duality—and that that duality often has to do with the distinction between ourselves and others, the interplay of that. This show feels as though it’s about merging that duality. That it’s looking at the places where those parts get muddied, where we subtly absorb one another only to become more of ourselves."
There was a visual that I kept in mind when starting the initial works for the show. I imagined myself in conversation with another person—you for example—and in that context, I imagined both myself and you as a mirror and a light. When I sit and talk to you, from my perspective, I am a beam and it’s in the reflection of my beam, filtered through your mirror, that I discover who I am. In being around you, I internalize your filter of my reflection and use it in shaping who I am.
Koak plays with the weight of light and color as a signifying device of the cultural moment. In An Empty Sea for instance, a bright red curved mirror reflects light from a vermillion sun hidden behind a sheer curtain in a room saturated in cobalt blue. The light of the mirror becomes a strange object in the room, more solid than reflective, that starkly accents the surrounding blue room. In effect, the light becomes another character in the painting behind the pensive figure in the foreground. As she elaborates, “I think there’s something about the act of painting light, of physically representing an intangible element, that gives it the same weight as the depicted physical objects.”
While she was developing this exhibition, Koak read the cognitive scientist, Douglas Hofstadter’s book I Am a Strange Loop, in which he discusses how the self becomes a feedback loop, or a subjective construction of disparate experiences that fold back and reflect on our psyches and thus impact the formation of the self.
Koak plays with this metaphor in this body of work, where bodies morph and reflect various psychological states. This is perhaps most evident in Strange Loop, a large-scale bronze sculpture depicting the elegant, elongated bends of three feline bodies, whose curves visually reflect and complement the arcs and bows of the other proximate appendages. In this work, it is difficult to discern where one body begins and another ends, as they all appear intertwined in a fantastical loop, despite the fact that none of the bodies actually touch.
The works in this exhibition are the signs and symbols not only of Koak’s lived experience of the last several years, but also point to a more sublimated reality of the pandemic. About the subjects she portrays, she asserts:
I can find myself in any of the pieces. Some fragment of myself. A skewed mirror. A version that I felt once. But at the same time I can see each one entirely not as me. A fiction, a part of a friend or loved one, a stand-in for broader society, a historical trope, or an archetype reimagined.
Extracts from the essay Archetypes of the Self in Living Color by Apsara DiQuinzio, Senior Curator of Contemporary Art, Nevada Museum of Art.
Sometimes I think of line in my work as the tongue and tone of a piece…The line has the potential to become a window of impact I’m opening, in hopes that the viewer can follow it towards a recognition of their own experience. So much of art to me is about communicating beyond or across the black holes of dialog, and I think the ability to be easily read while carrying the subtlest of tone makes the line one of the strongest tools we have to convey all the intensity of life that language cannot.
Born in 1981 in Lansing, Michigan, USA
Lives and works in San Francisco, USA
Koak creates emotionally charged portraits of figures invariably imbued with a sense of agency and inner life. Drawing on the visual vocabulary of comics, her work engages hierarchies of gender as well as form, interrogating commonly held cultural assumptions on identity and human nature. The exquisite technique for which Koak is known is expressed in beautifully effortless mark-making and demonstrates a rare type of generous and hand-made master craftsmanship.