Divine Darkness: An Interview with Kris Kuksi
The human psyche has an unyielding fascination with its own mortality. From the religious iconography of the Bible’s final rapture to the gothic themes of Macbeth and the pervasive brutality of The Hunger Games, society is obsessed with the certainty of death. But though we all share this natural disposition, there is often an aversion to facing its origins. There is a tendency to repress our interest in death so as not to be too morbid, too bleak, or make people too uncomfortable. Artist Kris Kuksi, however, has never been afraid to explore the dark side.
Kuksi assembles sculptures out of found and altered figurines, finding inspiration in the macabre themes of nature and society. His large scale scenes exist somewhere between an intricate baroque dreamscape and a waking nightmare. By facing this mortality and highlighting the balance between life and death, Kuksi’s work finds a strange balance, shedding light and beauty in the darkest of places.
What was your relationship to art as a child?
I was always an observer. I grew up in the country, with no distractions. We didn’t have television and it was a very isolated environment. I was left to create this personal, artistic ability, but I was more interested in the stranger things. I liked the decay of things. There was this dilapidated barn that I was intrigued by, and I would build dead animals little shrines out of bricks and pieces from the old barn. I had this ancient Egyptian fascination and connection with nature.
How did you transition into creating these large scale, intricate models?
I was always a builder, using legos or stuff I found. In college, I majored in painting but I dabbled a lot in sculpture. I would get really into making elaborate frames for my paintings and in 1995 I finished my first full sculpture. I didn’t take it very seriously at the time. I’m a purist about painting, but I had friends encourage me and galleries started catching on once I started making more of my sculptures.
Were these sculptures not purist, in comparison to your paintings?
Well this assemblage idea is more of a post-modern movement, and I was a purist on the whole tradition of painting. But I had the urge to make these assemblages and so I had to let go of the idea of only being a painter and realize I was also a builder. But my painting abilities lead well into making these sculptures and helped me with the contrast, the subtle color, and the final touches.
What materials do you use?
Everything I use is found or bought. I don’t leave anything untouched, it’s all manipulated in some way. These mass produced items get their identity removed somehow and are then combined with other things. When I’m building, I start with the largest object and move down to the smallest and toy with perspective: the largest object is farthest away, the smallest is closest, the darkest is farthest, the lightest closest. It’s a play on twisting around nature and how things should be.
As I build things, I need new things. Pieces talk to me, they tell me where they need new things or details or developments. It’s a strange communication. A good medium-sized piece might take two months to come together, but I work on a lot of things at one time.
These dead objects, these kitschy things, when you look at them, are just fallen dead objects. Putting them together, you have to be able to bring some life to it. It needs character and personality. You have to give it the illusion of motion and emotion and make it come to life. There is a balance between the elemental and the more rigid, between hard and soft, and bringing the old in with the new. The old being this baroque ornamental style with the more modern, solid, rigid lines.
The level of craftsmanship and detail in your work is uncommon in most contemporary art. Do you feel more connected to a previous era?
It’s the artist’s job to always do what no one else is doing. I say, do what you want to do, don’t feel like you have to follow the art trends. No matter what, always be edgy and out of the ordinary.
Do you want your work to be shocking?
I want it to be intriguing, to have a dark intrigue to it. It’s like when you watch a movie and everyone is obsessed with the bad guys. There is a secret affection towards the dark—people are drawn to drama. My work explores that but there is a sense of humor to it too. I don’t try to be extreme in any ideological sense.
What shocks you?
Human behavior, especially on the darker side, and the violence obsession in the world. We seem to be smart enough to be able to resolve things in a nonviolent manner in most situations, but humans don’t always do that. The thing we have to do is embrace those dark elements, that’s the only way you can know them and understand them and initially overcome them. I think the ideological fanaticism that humans engage in, political or religious, is really just a big detriment to our continuing development. We have to get in touch with the dark side and not be so obsessed with it or avoid it. Religion is so obsessed with that, but never addresses it, it just perpetuates this self-loathing idea that we are ultimately flawed. We just move with the ideological and don’t make our own paths.
Is your work a way to face this darkness?
Yes. Humans are the masters of distraction and we try to avoid what we don’t like. But I think highlighting our imperfections is a way to change these things.
What is beauty?
Beauty can be visual but also mental. Symmetry is part of beauty but it also has some mystery and intrigue. There is a whole science to symmetrical beauty, but what is beautiful is hard to really explain.
And what is your WILD Wish?
I want to build a giant castle that eventually becomes my own museum that I can live in. A place where the counter cultures and subcultures can have some sort of mecca to come to.