from Slow Chemical Orchestra
Merry Karnowsky Gallery Los Angeles, 2013
by Shana Nys Dambrot
Shana Nys Dambrot is an art critic, curator,
and author based in Los Angeles. She is
currently LA Editor for WhiteHot Magazine,
Contributing Editor for Art Ltd., Art Editor for
VS. Magazine, a featured writer and arts
blogger at the LA Weekly, a contributor to
Flaunt Magazine, Bluecanvas, and KCET’s
transmedia culture program, Artbound.
“Contemporary history is told like a huge concert where they present all of Beethoven’s 138 opuses one after the other, but actually play just the first eight bars of each.” That’s from Milan Kundera’s 1995 novella – a strange, slim, prescient volume having to do with the relatively frenetic pace of modern life and what that both does to and says about the condition of our perceptions. The concept of “slowness” comes up in speaking with Jeff Koegel about his painting practice, because the remarkably measured pace at which he proceeds is germane to both the experience and meaning of his work. At least as fundamental as color theory, pattern, and texture, slowing down and inhabiting nuance also applies to the work’s effect on the viewer’s eyes, mind, and bodily motion. These complex, intriguing, generous and elusive paintings exist in the fullness of time and in conscious objection to the relentlessness of our world.
Koegel works nearly every single day, and completes maybe six paintings a year. “The biggest enemy of pictures is that there are too many,” says Koegel. “Our eyes are endlessly flooded with images,” and working meticulously on one single painting over the course of a relatively lengthy period of time is a balm for that condition. He’s not alone in celebrating this instinct for a pace correction. Slowing down and taking pleasure in the details of rhythm is an increasingly frequent motif in the current zeitgeist as evidenced in for example, the slow food movement, and the enthusiasm for hearing music on vinyl. Referring to whatever works are in progress in the studio at a given moment, he’ll says things like “I’m very interested in the relationships that are forming,” quite as though he had nothing to do with it and all the time in the world to wait for the painting to work itself out. Such observational detachment has roots in a quasi-scientific mode, but also requires an almost spiritual capacity for patiently brooking emotion.
Part of the reason all this takes so long is the jute. An extremely coarse fiber that is the raw material woven to make burlap, jute is earthy and “the most primitive material” Koegel knows. It offers one of the most seemingly unfriendly surfaces on which to deploy pigment, which Koegel absolutely loves because of “how it bites the paint off the brush,” jute forces Koegel to approach its presence both for the object that it is and the image it is helping create. Its contributions are disruption, disintegration, and supersaturation with absorbed paint applied in layers like spackle. The edging of hard-line shapes often means going in with fingernails, pushing tape deep into the weave, making stencils with more tape on top of the paint – tons of micro-adjustments in service of playing the roughness of the material against the crispness of shape and line. Koegel uses paint a little differently in every painting, even within a series; sometimes he pushes it through from the verso side, or drags a loaded brush across a grating surface, and myriad other formulations.
Kundera posited in the same book that “Conversation is not a pastime; on the contrary, conversation is what organizes time, governs it, and imposes its own laws, which must be respected.” He did this in the context of describing a scene of seduction, 18th century style, in which careful orchestration of events and their order and pace are the prerequisites for any memorable expression of passion. In In fact it is not only conversational, but it is also structurally similar to a symphonic composition (continue)
At least as fundamental as color theory, pattern, and texture, slowing down and inhabiting nuance also applies to the work’s effect on the viewer’s eyes, mind,and bodily motion.