Kris Kuksi in conversation with Jacob Hicks

A Presumptuously Pagan Celebration, mixed media assemblage, 43” x 33” x 12”

Jacob Hicks: It is an honor to interview you, I have loved your work for a long time. I see in it an infinite kind of maximization. Experiencing it makes me imagine running through a city with a microscope magnifying glass machine simultaneously allowing me to see everything giant and minuscule at once. It also reminds me of those exponential distance videos where the camera eye starts zooming away from an individual object at rapid speeds, moves up through the atmosphere to reveal outer space, moves through space to reveal our solar system, then through the galaxy and so on forever outward. Even though your sculptures have boundaries it is easy for me to imagine them extending on indefinitely, and it is not an easy feat to capture the concept of infinity in a work of art. Tell me about your relationship or thoughts on miniaturization and immensity…

Kris Kuksi: Since childhood I’ve been obsessed with miniatures. As a child I made a small scale winnebago out of construction paper at my grandmother’s house. It was a fascination with a fine line between the real scale world vs. pretending I was really only 4 inches tall. My action figure toys were the players of my world and a rich rural outdoor access without the distractions of cable TV and video games just fueled artistic ventures. I built shrines to dead animals found around her farm with bricks from a slowly collapsing barn. Watching a barn slowly collapse over the years really influenced my artistic ideas. Time was another subject I always felt drawn to, such as looking at a large amount of time within a short perception of distance. I had hours of time. Rural life was slow, very slow, but considering the tree whose roots I had a makeshift fortress for my action figure occupants to dwell, I must have only been a split second of that tree’s life experience. Realizing the selfish human application of measuring time against nature made me appreciate our limited time on Earth.    

Prosperity, mixed media assemblage, 48” x 46” x 12”

I know you are an accomplished realist painter, and those works seem very unlike what you do sculpturally. Does your painting influence your sculpture, how does each mode of making resonate with the other and do they ever live together in a single work?

It certainly was a very necessary fundamental background for my sculptures. It was like a simulation game before jumping in, I’m thinking mostly from a compositional ability to place things in relation to each other to create harmony. I love the compliments objects can have to each other. In my college years my painting instructor taught me to look at the negative space between positive forms to find relationship and balance. I had a huge advantage painting the sculptures after they were built because I understood painting. I experienced a hard life lesson realizing my true following was the 3-d realm, though my ego wanted to be a painter. I had to come to grips and surrender to being a ‘builder’ when it came to the real world calling me.

Reclining Nude, acrylic on panel, 24” x 48”

Who are your primary influences? I see a lot of iconography, the baroque (in terms of frozen or expressed motion) pop culture (in the detritus of works based in assemblage), and a lot of H. R. Giger. Am I off-base? What artists move you and most strongly influence you?

You are definitely correct there. I’m influenced not only by visual artists but also by architecture. I have a fondness for the works of Louis Sullivan, who is largely overlooked because he was the mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright. But it’s also design, ornamental decor, and the relation between the human form and the occupancy within built structures. We as modern humans build our nests as elaborate and complicated places to live, much like my sculptures. I had to provide the setting for the characters and architectural influence is a crucial part of the compositional nature of my works.  

Reign of Ceasar, mixed media assemblage, 46” x 34” x 9”

I’m interested in your fairly consistent choice to maintain a monochrome reality in your assemblage. This is also really fascinating seeing you are a capable and talented colorist in your painting. Tell me about the decision to keep your world monochrome?

It’s interesting because I do actually use a lot of subtle color in my works. There are rusty tones, cool tones, greens, turquoise, etc. Photographs tend to blur or wash those out but its intentional to stay close to neutral zones. It’s a unifying method to make it look as though all the forms are of the same material. Something is always admired in a timeless manner for sculptures of monochromatic finish. I tend to think color defines trends or trends assign color schemes, I try to steer away from being locked into a period of time. I seek to remain ‘timeless’ in what I do. Again, there is that subject of time; ‘all time together’ is a vision I like to explore.

Churchtank Type 6.6F, mixed media assemblage, 12” x 4” x 13”

In your artist statement you talk a lot about cultural decadence and decay, how people’s amassing of material wealth, clutter, and general “stuff” is ultimately their undoing, and how your works are a reflection of death in this regard. They are also extremely elegant, delicate, and beautiful. Tell me a little bit about that conundrum, the beauty and elegance of decadence and decay...

It drives our wants and desires. We make material goods responsible for our happiness and self-worth. I’m probably on the low end of materialistic though I salivate at owning a castle someday while driving a late 70’s Pinto or very run down Mercedes. I’m obsessed with the opulent lifestyle but also ‘fake wealth’ persona. There’s a lot of ‘acting rich’ that goes on and we live to trick others into believing this. So there’s a destructive element to our conditioned response to material needs. My most valued possession is a Civil War era wooden prosthetic leg. For one it’s old, two, it carries an experience with it as it was a necessary tool to help in that person’s life after what trauma they must have experienced. Like you said, it has beauty and decay together. Furthermore in my life of meeting an amazing collection of people, I’m blessed to have had the experience to sit and chat with a homeless person and see the expression value in his views on life. I painted his portrait and it was accepted into a big portrait competition at the Smithsonian years ago.  I really brought the world to him where he was oftentimes overlooked by society. On the flip side, I once sat down to a meeting with the world’s richest man over a proposal for an art installation of mine (in just one of his many homes). We laughed after he felt comfortable in saying “I’m glad I’m not the only crazy one here!” 

A New Divinity, mixed media assemblage, 36” x 36” x 9.5”

If it was the end of the world and you could run into any museum and take out with you one work of art, what would it be?

I’d refuse to take anything. Instead I would just wander around the museum (The Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna) and look at master works while the world ended. I’d like to be a corpse in that museum for the end times!

How are you doing through the pandemic, and has this global event impacted your practice?

Doing fine. I’m mostly a hermit by nature so it hasn’t been such a change. And I still managed to keep sales going through it all. If anything it’s been a blessing for making art but I did manage to get a mild form of the virus for a few days.

Do you have any upcoming exhibitions, events, or publications you would like to share?

I’m coming out with a chess set. That is probably the most exciting news I have, a few other top secret things, maybe.

Eros at Play, mixed media assemblage, 21” x 16” x 8”

What is your advice for young artists, the ones who are driven by a passion for making but maybe don’t have the resources and stability of a lot of the successful artists making their way through this difficult field?

It’s a tough road ahead. I’d advise finding the fine line between making art true to your personal vision, but also making what the world wants a piece of. It’s not always predictable. I never thought the sculpture that I did would be taken seriously, but the world wanted it and it was definitely a very enjoyable path to take. It takes lots of luck too and being visible to the world as much as you can. Say ‘no’ a lot. Say ‘yes’ to challenges. Stretch your abilities. Cut down on the sleep, it’s bad for artists. Eat lots of caffeine, sugar, and carbs, as they help with creativity. Give into your impulses, moderately. You don’t have to be popular, just know your limits. Don’t copy anyone. But if someone does copy you, you’ve made it pretty far already.

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