Journal: Chad Kouri: Thumbnail

What necessities do you require when making your art?

I need noise. Music, people, some kind of energy that helps propel me forward. Materials-wise, I can find a way to make most anything work with time, but if it’s somber and quiet, I’ll have a tough time.

Describe a typical day in the studio for you.

Over the past few years, I’ve worked very hard to take a slower pace in my day. I used to think that I'd rather burn out than fade away, but that feeling has changed drastically. I'm thinking way more about my career arc and the longevity and relevance of my work. I’m much better at my job when I can wake up naturally without an alarm, pack some lunch, and get into the studio whenever I’m ready. I’m generally “working” from about 11 am - 7 pm on most days, but work is always different. Sometimes I have an on-site meeting with a client or patron; sometimes I’m running to a printer for samples or to the post office to ship something. I rarely get a full eight hours of uninterrupted time in the studio. And when I do, a third of that time is typically spent on emails and other communication. But if that's what I need to do to make a living off of the work that I enjoy doing, I have no problem with that!

Your work examines themes of visual literacy, particularly different aspects of the world in which we encounter. Given this theme, where do you find your day-to-day inspiration?

Mostly in things that are seemingly mundane. The corner where two colored walls meet, reflections off the back of service vehicles, city sounds and overheard conversations, scrap paper, bus rides… this list can go on forever. There are very few genuinely brilliant moments in this world compared to the mundane. So why not use what’s in surplus as a catalyst for making, rather than reconfiguring something that is already making a strong statement? Better yet, why not consider those mundane moments and appreciate them as much as the exciting ones?

I only use paint or ink colors directly from the tube. No mixing. And often I'll buy 'starter sets' of colors to further remove myself from the agony of choice.

Chad Kouri

This sounds like your #photosthatshouldbepaintings series - given the surplus of things that are (seemingly) mundane, how do you choose these objects or imagery?

It’s mostly about color and contrast. Finding moments that have an interesting push or pull between two or three counterpoints, and then finding the proper angle to capture them from—typically straight on in order to flatten the perspective on the picture plane. I approach the process of these photos like I would a jigsaw puzzle, only in three dimensions and without a reference image. It’s also about removing the image from its context, to make the viewers' minds wander a bit when seeing it. Where could this moment be? Why is it or is it not important? The goal here is to make someone feel as if they have “stopped to smell the roses,” inspiring more curiosity and empathy in our day to day lives.

How has your work developed in the past few years, and how do you see it evolving in the future?

I worked exclusively with cut paper for about ten years when starting to develop my studio art practice. The past few years I’ve begun making paintings on raw canvas. This change came because I wanted to make larger, less delicate works and framing works on paper is costly. I’ve also done a lot more large-scale and site-specific works in the past few years. I love these projects as they typically come with funding that allows me to really dive into some new and unexplored realms, or unpack ongoing bodies of work that haven’t had a significant platform otherwise.

You mention shifting from cut paper to paint on raw canvas. Besides the practical reasons like wanting to work on a larger scale, how does this material choice reflect the issues you’re facing in these works?

This is a great question. Initially, the reason for switching to canvas from works on paper was to make larger work that was a bit easier to store and archive. Paper is so delicate and prone to dimpling or bent corners, especially in larger works. I wanted to work larger, so the pieces had the potential to fill the viewers’ entire line of sight when in front of it, making for a more intentional and immersive experience with the work. I did realize that moving from a very accessible and approachable material, like cut paper, to works on canvas made my work more precious and in turn less approachable. For me, it’s important to use art as a tool for greater understanding of ourselves and the world around us. At a very base level, all art has the power to be a portal into experiencing or considering something that you otherwise wouldn’t be confronted with. Even more so, it’s important to me that art is accessible not only physically, but conceptually as well. If this is my intent, I have to use the tools of the trade, develop relationships with collectors and institutions and throw rocks from the inside, so to speak. By that, I mean working with institutions that can feel closed off and exclusive at times and create experiences where a range of different people can come together, learn and have a good time.

Are there any aspects of your process that are left to chance? And if so, how is this incorporated into your creative process?

Yes, I love utilizing chance in my practice at various intervals. Most of my finished works have some element of chance. Although my work is heavily research-based, the time I spend making work is very improvisational and intuitive and often involves using flaws and imperfections along the way to influence next steps. I have also recently started making drawings based on a set of rules and the role of a die. Removing choice from my practice in various ways is an excellent tool to create momentum without agonizing over specific decisions like color or size. For example, I only use paint or ink colors directly from the tube. No mixing. And often I'll buy "starter sets" of colors to further remove myself from the agony of choice.

Did you go to art school?

I went to school for graphic design, but I knew that I didn’t have enough money to pay for a four-year program. I took my first freelance design job when I was 15, so when I started a proper design program, I already had a lot of the tactile skills that they were teaching the first year or two of school. This was thanks to a job at a photography studio in high school, a lot of personal research and interest and some vocational school training in my senior year of high school. I did not go to art school. My training was very much skill-based, similarly to how someone learns how to fix a car. It involved way more thinking about the “how” than the “what” or “why” of making. So most of my art practice has been built around personal interest, research, and continuously asking a lot of questions to my peers and others that I admire.

The goal here is to make someone feel as if they have 'stopped to smell the roses', inspiring more curiosity and empathy in our day to day lives.

Chad Kouri

Do you see your works as unique or as part of a series?

I see my work as a life arc. Every piece draws lines to previously made works in some way or another. This is a relatively new way of thinking for me. I used to get very caught up in the potential for perfectness in each piece, and that was very crippling. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a perfectionist, but I look at my work as a collection of everything I do—all the works produced, research, material test, even my social interactions, and what I choose to do with my downtime—it all informs the next, in a never-ending cycle.

Is there something people would be surprised to learn about you?

From a very young age, I wanted to play saxophone and did through high school. I almost went to school for performance, but decided to go for design instead. I also took dance classes for nearly eight years, although I never really had the traditional dance physique, so it didn’t seem like something that would go beyond adolescence. I also did a lot of sewing and knitting on the bus on the way to school when I was younger. I think my parents were a little worried about the punishment I would get from other kids on that front, but I didn’t really care. I always enjoyed making things or taking them apart to see how they work so most of my free time was filled with that, even if it was on the school bus.

Are you influenced by any non-visual artist?

I’m mostly inspired by musicians, as far as non-visual artists go. Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, and Sarah Vaughan area typically my top three recognizable mentions as they were all unapologetically themselves, in the way they lived their lives and the music they made. But there are tons of incredibly talented musicians in Chicago that are a constant inspiration. I have a hard time seeing live music in other cities (especially jazz and experimental music) because the quality and saturation of talented musicians here is incomparable.

Is there any artwork on display in your home or studio?

I’m a big collector of things, in many ways. I probably have a couple of hundred pieces of artwork that I’ve acquired over the years, mostly through trade with other artists. Some of my newest and most cherished are original works from Alex Ebstein, Katy Cowan, Alex Valentine, R. Treshawn Williamson, and Grainne Nagle, and editioned works from Alain Biltereyst, John Baldessari, and Lawrence Weiner. But the artists that I have far more editioned and original works from than any others are the Chicago sweethearts, artist/design duo Sonnenzimmer. I can't get enough of it. It's infectious in all the right ways.