Monday, August 16, 2004

Interview with Toly Kouroumalis


Toly is the artist who currently has is art up here, I interviewed him about two weeks ago, and Lauren Wagner graciously transcribed the interview. All the pictures were taken by Paul Litherland.

Chris: Your art gives off a lot energy and a lot of emotion especially when you take into account the colors as well as your techniques. On the first look, you say Oh my God, and it's sort of like holy shit and then upon looking at it close you say ...ohhh okay

Toly: Well that [Teenagers in Heat] painting came from a misdialed phone call, this 18 year old girl called me up and she invited me out for a drink, and that's basically it. we were drinking 40's in the back of a depaneur. A lot of the paintings stem from that, misdirected phone calls or tense meetings with people or thoughts that I could encapsulate into one image.

Teenagers in heat - 20" x 30"

Chris: How did you get into painting?

Toly: I started doing illustration design at Dawson, I got into painting cause I was always reading comic books and I was inspired by comic art.

Chris: Anybody in particular?

Toly: At the beginning, every kid likes Boris, but I outgrew that and I got into other styles of paintings.

Chris: No I was thinking in terms of specific comics.

Toly: Comic books themselves? I like the Wolverine series the one John Jacobs did, but I stopped reading comics ages ago.

Chris: So then after Dawson?

Toly: I went to Concordia to study film animation, and moved on from there into live action.

Chris: And what brings you back to painting now, because as far as I know you are still working as a filmmaker.

Toly: I got sick, and I wanted to just sit around and do paintings, cause I've just lost a series of about 80 paintings, my ex-wife has them in Vancouver, so I basically needed a new portfolio, so I thought better sit down and do some work.

Chris: With this series, when did you start and when did you finish?

Toly: When did I start? I don't even remember. It took all winter, I started in the fall and finished it around the spring. I took a month off in between because I was getting bogged down; but I rifled out about 15 paintings and then I reached the plateau and then it was like a combination of all different works, and the last little while capturing the great spirit, and I took it from that time on I just started creating new pieces.

Chris: Which painting is your favorite?

Toly: I don't have a favorite.

Chris: Which is the one you dislike the most?

Toly: Most dissatisfied with? I haven't seen them in a while. I like that one of the hot rod.

Chris: Do you remember the name of it? Is that called Christine?

Toly: No I think it's called Jessica's Hot Rod, I was in a bar and they had a sex Olympics type of thing, and she was one of the girls that I was in the sex Olympics with. They made us do stupid stuff like she would put on a condom with her mouth. So I went home piss drunk and drew that.

Jessica's Hot Rod - 20" x 30"

Chris: When you were drawing it how did you, come up with the image in your head, in terms of the technique?

Toly: I had the car drawn from a comic book, and I just drew her in the driver's seat; but I was inspired by Ed Roth, his style but I took it to another level and made it more of a painting instead of just being flat drawings like you always see.

Chris: So it's a sort of thing where you go through and take marker and draw the car, dump her in...?

Toly: Pencils first then marker, a sharpie just take a sharpie then acrylics and then I just keep on adding layers of acrylics on top. Sometimes I go in a pencil, crayon, sometimes I don't, not in that one but in general. and then I go in and put acrylics and I like to farkles on the guys just so ...

Chris: Farkles?

Toly: Farkles, white spots on the paintings so that certain things just stand out more than the others. I just dip my rag in the paint, where I would stick my brushes and water it's all black and I just do a wash over the paintings so that certain parts in the painting get pushed back.

Chris: In this one specifically?

Toly: Yeah the car is unwashed and she isn't washed, so the car would stand out more for some reason, I don't know, I was just in that mode.

Chris: When you visualize the image, do you visualize in you head and then is it recreated on paper, or are you sort of saying....

Toly: With that one I just sort of let my hand take over

Chris: So then there are certain ones, which you have...

Toly: I enter some sort of trance-like state, it's been talked about to death but it happens, something takes over my arm, my mind.

Chris: How much form in advance was this image before it got onto paper?

Toly: The car was formed, drawing the girl wasn't. The drawing of the girl happened in 30 seconds before I passed out.

Chris: Are there other ones in here which did come to you fully formed? And then you consciously recreated from what you thought out?

Toly: Yeah, Beershits.

Beershits - 20" x 15"

Chris: And then are there ones in here where you had no concept before hand but you just said okay, I'm going to see what comes out; sort of the opposite extreme?

Toly: Opposite extreme, yeah the painting Tanya, a friend of mine, I had no clue that I was going to paint her, it just started happening and everything just kinds happened around it.

Tanya - 20" x 15"

Chris: I see basically three separate styles, what I call splatter, straight up cartoon, comic type stuff such as Tanya, and Teenagers in Heat, and then you have a much more psychedelic style as in Angelina Jolie.

Toly: I tried to capture a Chinese dragon, you know chasing like a dragon type feeling.

Tanya - 20" x 15"

Chris: How do you deicide from your style or conversely, do you see any other ones, am I missing stuff?

Toly: No, you're right. When I start out something I know if it's going to be a graphic looking poster or if it's going to be more of a painting, which you call splatter. With the splatter stuff I do have to develop space sometimes, in other words it's just that I like the way paint looks when it's wet, when it's splattered. So I just work on something as long to make it look good.

Chris: In your art work there are a lot of reoccurring symbols such as skulls, a triple X and the anarchy symbol, I was wondering why are you so interested in this specific symbols?

Toly: They're symbols of our generation really, some of them become mainstream, they don't bear any meaning any more, but I'm trying to put meaning into them again. Like the triple X used to mean something cool but now it's like lost most of it's meaning.

Chris: Do you find or is this a way to unify your work?

Toly: Yeah it puts it into a genre if you will, if you want to look at it that way, of society that is viewed, is not viewed with all the greatest respect. I don't know? I'm a working class kid and this is what's around me.

Chris: How did you conceive of the idea to do Angelina Jolie as a Chinese boat dragon?

Toly: I didn't conceive it, I don't know it just happened, well I had a really intense dream and that was one of the images that was in the dream so I sat down and drew it. I was at my friend's place and I sat down, he was drawing something else, he's a tattoo artist and I was drawing something else, I came up with that. It was a small drawing in black and white, I took it and transferred it on the board, and I colored it. I've done psychedelics, so it tends to come out through the work, I don't do them any more but I have done them, so it's still apart of my psyche, so that's why if something looks psychedelic it's cause it's there, it apart of me.

Chris: Okay yeah so then we sort of touched on this with the history but then she then asks why do you choose the comic book theme as opposed to something else?

Toly: I find that it's freer, you can actually expand upon the themes that you wouldn't normally do in painting; like I'm looking at the wall and I don't know that's the way I feel any way. It also has to do with the medium, I mean if you're working with acrylics it's harder to get something to look like a posh painting or whatever, but I enjoy flat images.

Chris: A lot of your paintings in some way degrade women; I was wondering why this is?

Toly: Degrade women?

Chris: specifically, Resurrection Crucifixion.

Resurrection Crucifixion - 40" x 30"

Toly: Oh , that had something to do with a conversation at a triple X bar, where a girl told me a joke. All that trash about "The Passion of the Christ" was driving me up the wall, and everyone tends to be like so God feared that it makes me ill.

Chris: Let me find out what the title is that I'm pointing to, this is "Soda Pop Sideshow" if you look at it closely you can see fine there is a women front and center on it and there isn't necessarily anything explicitly degrading. But the vibe with all the splatter stuff, there's the idea of blood and then you get the triple X sensation, and the 666 somebody who is sort of thinking that way could conceivably perceive that way as being degrading even when in effect to your eye it isn't.

Toly: Maybe it's the Henry Miller in me…

Soda Pop Sideshow - 20" x 30"

Chris: And so then, why the amount of violence?

Toly: Cause violence is a part of everyday life and you can't turn a corner without seeing something violent; it's just apart of my life.

Chris: So is this a reaction to it? Is this just sort of a photojournalist type of concept? Saying this is what it is, I'm not trying to change it?

Toly: Yeah this is what it is, and it's a part of my life and I'm trying to just...in a sense it's like art therapy for me cause it calms me down when I paint, so I don't know. So that's actually from "Tomorrow's a Dragon" it's a 50's film, there's this section in the film where this girl recites a poem, so I just turned it around and put in a soda pop shop and said tomorrow is a dragon and girl was like yeah, and there was a guy that was trying to pick her up and she's like motioning with her fingers and and she was saying like he had a small dick...I don't know. it's not really that deep but at the same time...

Chris: It's as deep as you want it, if you wanted I could make it extremely deep. I could foam at the mouth and say through the use of the red splatters, which symbolize blood and the blood comes from here, and then because the guy is not actually completely filled in there is a certain ephemerality to him. Because the women is not only fully drawn in and is also smack dead center in the middle of the painting, there is much more significance to her. Then I go back and check out Greek mythology or something like that, and pull out some sort of Medusa, and foam and foam.

Toly: She is a powerful image and if you look a little closer she is at the bottom she is like smacking someone with the back of her hand and it says "zodiac" on the back of her right hand. So I don't understand why it is degrading.

Chris: Oh I'm not, I'm using that as an example. It's more of an overall sensation, given the violence, naked women. But on a less contentious issue; When reading some of the comments in the paintings, that you write, it gets somewhat confusing. Some of the comments actually confuse the viewer rather than clarifying what is going on in the painting, why do you do this?

Toly: I did that cause they're interesting; because it is a comic kind of stereotype of you know like a big Lichtenstein or something like that. I use words to draw the viewer in, to tell a story but I'm not really, so I try to encapsulate, I try to bring together a story within one frame.

Chris: However by using text that is confusing, you're saying that it is trying to engage the viewer

Toly: Yeah.

Chris: Have you contemplated the thought that the idea potentially by confusing the viewer you're actually putting up a barrier between them and yourself, between them and the painting?

Toly: That's possible.

Chris: Through the confusion you either get it or you don't. There's nothing you can hang your hat on. Although I'm certain that if you took all the ones that are absurdist in their use of text, and put them together, then there would be a much different effect on the viewer, than there is now by having them scattered through out the exhibition. Do you use that effect to engage the viewer? Or is this a tactic used in order to emphasize the chaos within paintings?

Toly: Yes.

Chris: Why would you want to emphasize the chaos as opposed to something else?

Toly: My worldview, I guess, the world is in chaos.

Chris: In most of your paintings you portray people as ugly and monster like…

Toly: I don't know. People put on masks, and those masks are sometimes violent and the real person between all those layers of hypocrisy and guilt and just all that bullshit that they've fed themselves since they were children and it just shines through and I just want to paint it.

Chris: You seem to use a lot of warm colors, pinks and purples and they are greatly contrasted by the dramatic violent images.

Toly: Yeah I was thinking "Ice cream" getting killed while eating ice cream.

Target Practice - 20" x 15"

Chris: Is this a conscious thing where you're saying okay this is a relatively violent painting therefore make it more gentile by using warm and fuzzy colors.

Toly: No it was an actual thought for the whole series, ice cream getting killed, somebody eating ice cream and getting killed while eating ice cream. Something that is supposed to cool you off on a summer's day and you get your brains blown out.

Chris: "Tiger's outcall" integrates mixed media, why did you choose those certain passages?

Toly: Those are passages from a script I wrote, it's more of a poster for a script I wrote. So it has something to do with the script that I wrote, it has to do with a guy who gets married into the mob, and he has a mistress, she's a crack whore and he's sort of a dealer so tiger outcalls, which is basically a prostitute. The reason why there is mixed media is because it is a mixed media film, that's the way that I'm seeing it any way.

Tiger's? Outcalls - 27" x 15"

Chris: What do you expect the audience to gain from viewing your art?

Toly: What do I expect them to gain? Some cool pieces of art work.

Chris: Any insight? any thoughts that you are trying to direct the viewer to, any certain ideas?

Toly: No it's just like, direct the viewer in terms of... no not at all, it wasn't even conscious.

Chris: So when you were painting you were just saying this is me, grab the brush and markers and that's it, I'm not contemplating anything beyond.

Toly: No I wasn't thinking about what people would think, I did the paintings for me, first thing and for most; cause I needed to do them, and if I could make a few people smile or sneer, then I'll do it.

Chris: You're getting a lot of reactions.

Toly: Cool, thanks

Chris: No problem, thank you very much.

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