Kevin Appel is a true multi-dimensional artist. Based out of Los Angeles, he is always busy sketching architectural plans on paper or mixing nature photography with abstract shapes in his screen paintings. His versatility and expertise has recently led him to be a professor at the University of California, Irvine.
We caught up with the artist as he shares his inspirations for creativity and the importance of architecture in his work.
1. Let’s start by talking about your creative process very generally: where do you get inspiration? When do you decide it’s time to articulate these ideas?
I get inspiration from music, light-forms I see around me, photography, novels, etc. Right now, the landscape – particularly the compromised landscape – is where I am finding a lot of source material for my work. My process tends to be one of slow percolation followed by frantic obsessive production.
2. You started incorporating photography into your work around 2009 – why is that? What is it that photography offered you that your previous forms of work didn’t?
The photographs act as a location, a point of identification or projection. The physical paint is a screen over the photographs compressing the space and bringing two methods of viewing together on the surface as a means to explore new territories of representation and reception in my work. Looking through one element to another and back has become a consistent visual space in the work. I am interested in the sense of loss the photographs instill as a moment past, alongside the immediacy of the abstracted architectural proposal embodied by the paint.
3. One thing that has stayed consistent thought is your interest in architecture, and abstract lines – what do these geometric shapes, like triangles and squares, mean to you?
Architecture has been a consistent interest of mine. It is the location where we eat, sleep, work, worship, screw, learn, etc. It has profound psychological impact on us for that reason. There is a lot of memory residing within the visual material of architecture. The path of my work has been a narrative stream of building and dissolving architecture repeatedly – this was not planned so much as an intuitive track I have taken in the work, which upon stepping back and looking at the connections between different visual strategies one starts to see a story of collapse forming. Currently the forms in the work are very simplified – it is how they collide with the complexity of the photographs that give them energy.
4. A lot of your work seem to comment on the idea of construction and home. What attracted you to these subjects? Do you have any plans to incorporate more human subjects into your work?
The home is a complicated structure. Culturally, visually and psychologically. I have always thought of the viewer as the occupant of my works. So the addition of a human image felt like a breach of the relationship one is able to develop with the space on their own. It is like when you are in a park by yourself and someone enters in the gate on the opposite side. There is then an interaction that must take place no matter how slight. I prefer the solitude that the paintings present.
5. Your works are often done in different sizes – some are huge (83.5″ x 131″), while some are small (8.5″ x 11″). How do you decide on the scale of each project? How does scale impact your message?
The smallest works tend to be sketches, they are free and without the pressure of larger works. The use of larger scales is for the visceral impact. One feels that they can step into the space of the painting. It has a bodily relationship.
6. What do you hope viewers get or feel when they look at your work?
I am interested in associative communication. The affect of the work pointing toward subjects without stating them. The American West, spacial crisis, dissolution of the comfort of what is known, ecological degradation, landscape intervention; these are the things that motivate me at the moment and have for some time. I have always been interested in resenting these ideas as a feeling rather than a statement. Like music – affect by association with known and unknown forms.
7. You are also a Professor at UC Irvine – what got you into teaching? What’s the greatest lesson you think you can teach your student? And how would you say your relationship with your students changed the way you look at your own work?
I stumbled into teaching. I love the job though; it is a deep connection with people who are trying to find their voice. The greatest lesson I teach my students is honesty; to understand the history and the culture in which they are producing, but foremost to be straight with themselves about their work and what their true interests are from an internal perspective. If you can master that in your practice, you will be productive as an artist.
My students teach me as much as I teach them. They are the voice of a new generation always. They open ways of thinking that I may not always be able to see because of my own set ways, or attachment to history. It is great to witness.
8. You started in 1995 – how do you think the art scene has changed since then? Has your process changed? What’s something you wish you knew before starting this amazing journey?
The art world has exploded. The internet has had a lot to do with it and the proliferation of galleries in Los Angeles and around the world. There have been ups and down. Booms and crashes – this is the cycle that continues and repeats throughout one’s lifetime as an artist. I wish I had known to keep more of my own work!
9. What can we look forward in your 2012 collection? What is inspiring you now?
In 2009 when photography entered into the work, I was working with found photographs. I have turned to the camera to take control of the subject and enter into my own relationship with the landscape instead of one mediated by a second eye. There is a compression of space happening in the work. Landscape reduced to pattern and architecture reduced to essential form.
10. And the final question: Why are you an artist?
I have never been anything else.
Appel’s current show runs until August 23rd at Susanne Vielmetter in Los Angeles.
- Francis Poon
(artwork courtesy the artist / portraits by Lou Mora)