James Krone

James Krone Interview - By Steven Cox

An idle, otiose fish tank, devoid of function, sits quietly within James Krone’s exhibition Waterhome: We Is Somebody Else at Brand New Gallery. Void of shimmering goldfish, the tank serves purely for the existence and accretion of natural algal bloom. Steeped in mold and microscopic organisms, the various species of phytoplankton physically present are autotrophic; they photosynthetically feed off the gallery light, mindlessly evolving and producing further colourful strands of algae that bind and cling precariously to the glass walls of the tank. These colourfully pigmented strands of algae simultaneously appear within the contrasting algae/monochrome Screen Paintings of James Krone that hang close by.

Krone’s use of viridian and sap green emulate the green chlorophyll pigments present within the chloroplasts of algae. Alizarin crimson highlights the presence of Rhodophyta, or red algae, whilst additional yellow and blue tones further accentuate the various carotenoids found within the photosynthetic, chloroplast organism.  These tones are more difficult to differentiate when examining the dark monochrome surfaces that are on the opposite side of each canvas, for each of these colours were gradually applied one atop another, generating highly subtle colour shifts within a predominantly dark field.  It is though Krone’s Screen Paintings own a double life, presented as if the water tanks lights have been switched on or switched off.

Upon exploring the stained surfaces of Krone’s Screen Paintings, one is made aware of the causality occurring between the artist’s systematic layering process and its entirely arbitrary result. The speckles of varying algae related tones highlight the repercussion of oil paint seeping through insufficiently sized canvas. Acting as a visual analogy, the algae-esque surfaces of Krone’s Screen Paintings comparably relate to the evolving and growing algal bloom that physically exists within the lonesome tank that stands only feet away. 

James Krone was born in 1975 in Chicago, where he obtained his BFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, before concluding his academic career in 2008 at the Mountain School of Art in Los Angeles. He participated in several exhibitions and events in both Europe and in the United States, amongst which his recent solo and group shows "Waterhome: We Is Somebody Else" (2013) at Brand New Gallery Milan, "Waterhome" (2012) at Kavi Gupta, Berlin, "Xstraction" (2013) at The Hole, New York, "Elipsis et cetera" (2012) at Galerie Charim, Vienna, "The Paranoia Of Time" (2012), Carter & Citizen, Los Angeles and "Sea of Crisis" (2012) at Infernoesque, Berlin. Moreover, Kavi Gupta organized his personal exhibition at the last edition of Art Berlin Contemporary (ABC). James Krone’s work has been published and reviewed in many influential magazines such as Artforum, ArtUs, Artslant and Monopol. He currently lives and works between Berlin and Los Angeles.

Steven Cox: The organic appearance of algae has acted as the visual stimulus for your work from early 2012, where simultaneously, the physical presence of algae is presented within each of your Waterhome exhibitions to further bridge this connection.  Can you discuss where and when you initially explored algae as a stimulus for your painting?

James Krone: I’ve never thought of the algae in the aquarium so directly as a metaphor. It is something more metonymic in that it actually does what it appears to signify. I like that it is usually read as decomposition when it is total composition.

SC: Your paintings could signify something more abstract if the aquarium was not presented in close proximity to your paintings.  Considering the literal connection between your Screen Paintings and the algae filled fish tank, do you feel that the presence of both counter-parts is integral to the correct interpretation of the Screen Paintings, for they simultaneously mimic painting tropes within contemporary abstraction and could alternatively enter this conversation?

JK: I think that the paintings can operate separately. Perhaps they cannot act as perfect models of the entire work but I don’t think that they lose all meaning when isolated. I’d say they work differently when alone. What the paintings do individually replicates, both materially and conceptually, what the algae does to the aquarium in terms of problematizing assumptions between causality and perspectival intention. By the occurrence of the paint, its mimesis of intention and of topicality as intention, I think the work does subvert certain concerns that have been prevalent in painting but also in art in general. There is something about the suggested presence of the aquarium that irritates the recognition of abstraction in the paintings.

I don’t court an absolute interpretation nor have I placed an empirical end point anywhere in the work that’s awaiting discovery. The work is critical but as I don’t wish to use things or gestures exclusively as signs, a strict notion of legibility becomes very complicated. A strict notion of legibility would always be complicated.

It’s important for me to be in this thicket. There is always going to be a possibility for misreading but I would only use this term to describe what might be something like an opposite of curiosity.

SC: The surface irregularities of paint upon the surfaces of your canvases are formed through a systematic process of applying thin coats of oil paint to a rabbit skin glue sized canvas.  The areas of excreted paint that fall through the weave are therefore visually read as algae matter.  I am hoping that you can discuss the early processes you initially explored when aiming to achieve this aesthetic, and how you gradually developed this to the point of its current state?

JK: The thing of it is that there wasn’t so much development in the aesthetic of the paintings. There was this moment where I was unstretching an unrelated painting that I had made and the marking on the back of it only signified anything to me because it happened a few feet away from the aquarium. It wasn’t a terribly exciting moment. If anything I found it disturbing that something so totally arbitrary could immediately begin to convincingly resemble a correspondent language. I appreciate it as a model for language formation as an irrational process. An aesthetic authority develops as language coming into being is made visible.  And then of course this pantomiming of language formation becomes a language in and of itself.

So I wouldn’t really call it a technique so much as a perpetual result. The behavior yields a kind of aesthetic variety that painters sometimes try to produce causally, by a set of conscientious distinctions. I decided to behave like the aquarium behaves. I produce, cease and repeat my actions; accreting for no particular reason other than it’s what I usually seem to do in one way or another anyhow. It’s a station for mirroring the desire to accrete, burning excess energy, life force, something like this.

Vladimir Nabokov in discussing the role of biographers coined the terrific word psycho-plagiarist. In a way I am performing a psycho-plagiarist’s relationship with a set of inanimate objects or perhaps inanimate subjects. By imitating something that is void of perspective or desire I am filtering my own crap through these objects via the form they give to my behavioral patterns.

The hope is that when they come out on the other end I have removed or at least distanced the work from something like the signage of myself.  It creates a frame for a kind of subjectivity that I can tolerate. A lot of my work revolves around this kind of question.

SC: So, you are linking your role as an artist to that of the biographer?  By positioning yourself within this context, you avoid the didactic of teaching the viewer what it is they are viewing, for a pre-understanding of what the sign signifies should already be pre-established?

JK: Yes! I don’t want to say, here’s a little story about me. Nor do I wish to say, here is a little lesson about this or that. I’m not into the idea of creating a voice from my position that shits out op-ed or topical explanation.

I’m more compelled by the murkier, perhaps more basic questions one always must ask and probably never answers, such as- What is this?  It has something to do with where an artist locates his or her ego. I am aware that I am looking at the work from more or less the same position that a viewer would be. I do not think that I put myself into the work to then stare out at the world from it. In many ways I consider myself a viewer to my own work. This is particularly the case after the work is finished being made.

SC: Referring back to the reading of algae as total composition as opposed to decomposition, have you considered the gradual decay of the canvas through the use of oil paints?

JK: I have, although, mostly in relation to their dispersal of the work for exhibitions and because of studio storage. I have the first Waterhome painting I ever made, about four years ago, hanging in my apartment. It looks as fresh as it did the day I hung it. There are paintings made more recently that appeared to age because they were stacked or wrapped in plastic. It’s super weird but they tend to require exposure. It’s to do with an oxidizing process I suppose. When I tell people what will happen when they wrap or stack them it seems like they think I’m being a little nuts. I’m fine with what happens one way or another. When restoration crews in Italy speak of restoring old master frescos and such, they are usually speaking of repainting them. It’s very strange and they don’t call it repainting them, I ultimately believe, because that process makes people feel uncomfortable. It’s like a form of taxidermy or funereal makeup. I consider any aging of my work to be an inevitable part of their existence as things in the world.

SC: Dual interpretations of your Screen Paintings exist depending on the installation of these works.  For instance, within Waterhome Feb 24 – April 14, 2012, they were presented upon trellises where the viewer could view either side simultaneously, though these Screen Paintings have also been exhibited with the monochrome hidden.  I am curious to know if you consider either side as being more prominent in relation to the context of Waterhome?  For one side could not exist without the other…

JK: I felt this was a necessary thing to do the first time I showed them, hanging them in this way. It exposed everything right off the bat so that I could demystify process and effect and get right to the more essential problems I want the work to be implicated by. I don’t consider either side of these paintings to be more prominent than the other. One is more descriptive and the other sort of obfuscates their making yet, of course, they are the same painting. As you say, they necessitate one another.

SC: In essence, the passage of time is visually presented within your paintings through the irregular growth of the algae, which appears gradually by the intermittent layering of oil paint.  I am interested to know to what extent time is an influential factor within your studio, and at what point you dictate the resting point of this cultivation process?

JK: I paint a single washed out layer of paint on the Waterhome canvases every day until I can no longer see any significant change by doing this. They saturate. I don’t use a pre-formulated number of layers for these paintings. It is totally based on how they become visible to me. There is a representation of time in the work but, like all representations of time that I can think of, it keeps starting over. It’s a subjective element of time. Time plays quite an enormous role in my work in general. It sounds kind of silly to say because mortality, quite obviously, is a priority for everyone.

Calendars are funny to me because of the way in which we choose to represent the accretion of years. The calendar year that documents the changing of the seasons, that marks the planets revolution around the sun, this makes sense as experiential time in a collective way. Adding years to years is somewhat absurd. After we go around the Sun 40 more times it will be 2053. What are we collectively counting towards? Are we so afraid of zero? I’d get it if it was for tracing a larger cycle such as an ice age or something like this. But what does it mean without that? Not much if you ask me. It just stresses everyone out, this constant raising of the ceiling. I would rather that we always just reset the calendar after every ninety-nine years. Everyone would know what was meant by “year seven”. It would refer to the year seven that people had collectively shared. For history, if anyone needed it, one could say three sevens ago. It would be better.

SC: There is an integral relationship between Waterhome: We Is Somebody Else and your 2010 exhibition Trickle Down Ergonomics, for both exhibitions specifically explore the domestication of art.  Being specific, this can be identified by contrasting your fabricated Museum Bench series (I-III) to your earlier Chair Painting series (I-IV), 2010.  Can you expand on the importance of Chair Paintings I-IV in respect to these works acting as a catalyst for your on-going exploration of the artwork commenting upon the domestic environment?

JK: I’m more interested in the way that art can exist in a certain state of dysfunction and also how the authority of this dysfunction can nullify functionality that might be assumed to lie elsewhere. By exposing the vulnerability in the assumed function of an object or of an idea one makes a clearing there. The objects that end up in my work are often placed there somewhat instinctively and I implicate other things I’m making to them so that a kind of irrational dependency develops between the gaps. I see it as a way to strangle the inevitable, incoming registry of generalized associations.

In the case of the chair paintings and to a large degree the Waterhome paintings, these works originate from the fact that both the chairs and the aquarium had ended up in my apartment. I can see why you’d say domesticity but for me this is more about what has had the time to become visible to me. In both works there is certainly a connection to the matter of influence objects have in accumulating associations just from consistent proximity... and then my susceptibility to these influences. But I think of influence here as something more like influenza than influence as inspiration or inspired design.

In the case of the museum benches, though, it’s a bit different. I chose this design because of its institutional employment. It’s an object one is used to seeing where art is presented.  In museums, the pamphlets that illustrate the rooms, usually with a group of numerized black silhouettes of the objects in their locations in that room, the museum furniture is often also illustrated as a way of locating the space, indicating the expectation of human presence.  The furniture is never registered by a number so that it isn’t signified as art.  So that it doesn’t register as anything besides a mapping detail. A lot of my work is about how art is used and what, if anything, it can then do in spite of its use.

SC: The algae covered Museum Benches conceptually remind me of the trellises featured within your Waterhome exhibition February 24 – April 14 2012 at Kavi Gupta.  Whilst the trellises alluded to a controlled entropic growth within the gallery space, the Museum Benches contrastingly imply the uncontrolled spreading, or cultivation of the algae.

JK: They are similar in that way. It has to do with intention infecting a space. Superstitiously, suggestively, it’s generally what gets called context. Context itself is kind of a plague.

SC: To what extent are you interested in expanding the boundaries of how your paintings should be experienced and interpreted?  Should the Museum Benches (I-III) be interpreted as sculptures, paintings, or functioning benches?  Are viewers openly invited to sit and rest upon them?

JK: I consider the benches as an effect of the paintings infecting other objects. I think of them as a masochistic repositioning of my paintings. They would be damaged if anyone sat on them. But extending this surface also indicates my concern with locating the ego of the work somewhere beyond the boundaries of the object. In this sense they aren’t just paintings camouflaged as functional objects but mutant punctuation in the social contract.

I would say that I’d be indifferent to whether or not people sat on them but that might not be true. The gallery I am showing them with doesn’t want people to sit on them. I thought about this, that I could demand that the benches be activated for use but this seemed silly. It isn’t that they are so precious to me but that it creates a nasty trick that would serve no real purpose. They are art objects. I had them produced to be as such. They are performing the aesthetic roles of museum benches but they are not museum benches. The patio chairs from my chair paintings are actual patio chairs so I don’t really care if people sit in them. But now they are art, too, and this ruins its chair identity.  I can’t see why anyone would need to sit in them but they may if they wish to either very briefly or, if they buy them, for as long as they mortally can.

SC: Is it important for you that your viewer experiences your work through physical means, as opposed to being a purely visual experience?

JK: I think that there is an irrevocable difference between seeing art and seeing representation of art, assuming the work exists in this way.

Or do you mean physical means as in touch?

SC: I do refer more so to an ability to touch or physically interact through sitting.

JK: Then no. I don’t really care about physical contact with art in the sense of things being touched.  Certainly not with my art.  Some of my work invites or teases this kind of interplay but only as a kind of way to disturb the terms of experience, mostly about permission and implication. It’s an attempt to undermine some of the lazier categorical logic that gets projected onto objects.

SC: Referring to the benches as “mutant punctuation”, the algae matter is therefore understood as a metamorphosed extension of the algae’s physicality. With this in mind, I find the notion of transfer or infection increasingly fascinating.  To what extent can this contamination be explored and pushed? Would it be of interest to have an entire exhibition space contaminated?

JK: Well, I think it’s a precarious balance. Materiality is necessary for my work yet I’m not interested in inflating form to a super-spectacular moment. The biggest paintings that I make still relate more, by scale, to a door than to a wall. By keeping what I do in a human scale I think the notion of transfer or influence that I’m interested in becomes more internalized.

In a way I think of the aesthetics of this work as blank. The algae or the paint is a kind of an imposed content that disrupts this aesthetic. I suppose that I resist magnifying this content. I think when the parameters of the objects are sensible to a person then transgression of those boundaries becomes sensible as well.

SC: The titles of your screen paintings are coded in a sequential format; can you discuss this method for titling these works?

JK: There is another kind of a painting I make called Ceremonial Painting.

In this work there is a template I’ve created for basically making the same painting repeatedly. I don’t sequence them by title or even by date any longer, as it seemed like a contradiction and an impediment to the work. For the Waterhome paintings, they vary in terms of surface composition so it made more sense to give them some kind of registration. It is super basic a, b, … z, aa, ab, etc… It’s purely registration. The paintings don’t really evolve aesthetically except by accumulation so the order of their making is more like a production number than it is a narrative sequence.

SC: Waterhome: We Is Somebody Else marks the third installment, and evolution of your Waterhome series.  I am keen to know, what does the future hold for Waterhome?

JK: It isn’t really a project with a terminal point but I don’t think I’ll do anything with it for a little while. I think I’d like to wait for a bit before considering another exhibit with this work. The aquarium is in Milan, anyhow.

All images are courtesy of James Krone and Brand New Gallery, Milan