From Winnipeg, VoCA contributor Whitney Light sat down with painter Krisjanis Kaktins-Gorsline to discuss the development of his painting practice, the importance of variation, biological systems and how he keeps it all interesting.
VoCA: What is keeping you busy now?
KK: I’m at the start of something new. I’m interested in taking motifs from my paintings and reusing them over and over again, in pattern making and, in doing that, exploring a parallel with biological processes, or evolution. I’m trying to develop a way of painting that employs little systems. I’m interested in the way biological systems work rather than what they look like; how they make structures out of small bits.
VoCA: Who or what has motivated your ideas in this direction?
KK: Predominantly right now the two things I’m looking at are the history of ornamentation and also really trying to understand how certain biological processes work. They don’t come out directly per se, but I’m trying to use both to shape what I’m doing. Ornamentation became interesting to me because it’s a domain within which you can see an evolution of motifs and forms; it reveals small parts generating larger systems or patterns through time.
VoCA: You have been looking for a model process. How does this new work compare to your previous?
KK: I was looking for ways of making things that I could get behind. My previous work (around 2008) was really almost about working without a model. On some level I had a reticence about having a model or a system. At that time, I was really interested in making paintings that would to some degree explore ideas about the production of subjectivity, or even express doubts in relation to this idea. This also paralleled an interest in and doubt around how to pursue making paintings. Rather than depicting the figure as a discrete whole, I was interested in looking at it as an assemblage of heterogeneous parts that come together briefly to form a kind of shifty multitude as opposed to an individual.
I think that my reticence around the idea of a system or a model really came out of not seeing one that didn’t in some way involve an appeal towards some kind of abstract ideal or involve me having to impose my will on the process in an aggressive way. I was more interested in pursuing something more passive and more like tending to a practice as one would a garden, preferably a pretty scruffy English garden.
I think with the newer work, looking at areas like the study of biological systems, has provided me with models or ways of working that seem less determinist or reductive. It presents models and systems that at their core are about variation, interconnectedness, evolution, and change. So things are explored as being dynamic and in constant motion as opposed to being static.
VoCA: This seems to have taken you away from representational imagery toward greater abstraction. Would you agree?
KK: When I was coming out of undergrad, my favorite painters were late Medieval and early Renaissance. I pursued that for a while. And then I became done with that idea.
I still consider my work to be representational in many ways. I think it is a myth that “abstraction” operates outside of the field of representation. I find it more useful to consider the term abstraction in its original meaning as a representation that is severed from its material referent. In this sense I just think about the more painterly effects in the work as being a kind of profane or material exuberance. I think these material events maybe open up a space in the more representational aspects of the paintings and allow for a slippery read of the image. The formal play becomes a kind of categorical play in relation to the figure depicted.
I think the move away from a more concise form of representation happened because my ideas changed. When I was making my most finely tuned representational paintings (from the spring of 2007 until winter 2008) I was interested in looking at the painting as a kind of stage or virtual arena where motifs would move around within a narrative. I was really interested in Hogarth’s paintings. On some level I think I was trying to paint a movie almost. I was really interested in seeing what could go on in that virtual space but also how things could come out of that space, and tracking those movements. So the painting surface became the looking glass or a kind of fold between two types of space.
But the problem I started having was that the actual making of the work became sort of boring to me. I would figure out the image in drawings and then just paint it to the best of my abilities. In that sense the painting was just there to fulfill a technical requirement in order to create the virtual space. I always think of that work now as some sort of failed conceptual art for a really good video game.
VoCA: Whose work interests you right now?
KK: Hans Arp really interests me right now. The way he works through his drawings and his paintings and his relief sculptures. He used a lot of chance but then took the results of that and it almost became a little system. I’m interested in his drawings and collages in particular, the way he reused them to make new works. They became like little machines that function on their own.
A lot of the stuff that I’m looking at right now is anonymous patterns not attributed to anybody. They’re these free-floating entities. There are motifs that go through cultures and they’re not attributed to anybody but they’re used by everybody. For instance, in Moorish architectural patterning. There were specific influences, but the motifs got adopted by successive generations and then they become these traditional forms. But they mutate as they’re used.
VoCA: Are you interested in the motifs that pervade society today, then?
KK: I am not appropriating any specific motifs, though I look at them and try to understand them; I’m actually more interested in generating my own. It’s more interesting to start from scratch. They start really simply and then I sort of reuse them in different ways across different mediums and as I do that they change and become more complex, develop relationships with each other. It’s becoming like a kind of population that I’m using and the work itself is a trace of those interactions.
VoCA: It sounds like you’re creating a sort of microcosm of images, or a fabricated history of them. Does that adequately describe what you’re working towards?
KK: Yes, in some ways. I definitely recognize that there is a kind of formal genealogy being produced. As I make the work I am producing a lot of stencils, drawings and digital files so there is a really clear visual record of what’s being made. Each one is sort of like a little specimen in a field guide.