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AS IS | Jakob Bokulich


From Santa Cruz, California, US

Based in New York, US

Being a multidisciplinary artist, Jakob currently works predominantly with painting but has created a large body of sculptures as well. His work focuses on the in-person sensual experience of art, its perception, and the audience's involvement in the process of art-making

A: Please, tell us a bit more about yourself. What brought you into art?

J: My sister tells me that when I was a kid, my teachers would ask her if I was deaf or mute because they never heard me speak. I did spend all my time drawing, though, so I suppose that from the beginning I was mostly interested in expressing myself through a visual medium.

When I was 12 my family was left homeless from a house fire, and for a while my brother and I stayed with a local landscape painter. Spending time inside his studio, with all the paints and canvases everywhere, felt extremely liberating. I began painting with oils immediately after, and although I’ve explored other art forms and forms of expression over the years, painting has always been the foundation for me.

A: What inspires you the most?

J: Inspiration is everywhere. I sometimes stop just to observe how light reflects off the river or the windows of a building. Recently I saw a performance of “Seven Pillars” by Andy Akiho, and I had the impression of hearing sounds that I had never heard or even imagined before. With my paintings, I attempt to have that same effect, but with colors.

About 20 years ago I was fortunate enough to see Yayoi Kusama’s exhibit here in New York, without any large crowds and selfie-seekers. It was like a transcendental experience that I had only dreamed of before. Other shows that similarly impacted me were the Joseph Beuys retrospective at Pompidou, Philippe Parreno’s show at the Park Avenue Armory, and Studio Drift at the Shed. Shows like these have inspired me to continue creating and dreaming large at times when I would find myself frustrated and in doubt.

Often, inspiration can come as a surprise. I was already well on my way towards making my first kinetic sculpture when it hit me that having grown up as the son of an auto mechanic had manifested itself subconsciously into my artwork.

Recently I’ve become enamored with the energy in the streets of my neighborhood (which has come to be known as “Dimes Square”). There is a creativity and expression in the air that feels fresh and new, while evoking a more gritty and feral New York vibe from the past.

A: Do you have any specific rituals while working(creating)?

J: For me, studio work is the ritual. The artwork is the artifact or talisman of that ritual, which enters into a new, different kind of ritual with the viewer. When I’m working in the studio, whether it’s painting or making drawings and a maquette for a sculpture, it’s a very different process from the fabrication of a sculpture, which is more of a collaborative, left-brained process and involves a lot of machinery.

Painting can be an alchemical, magical process when you’re in the zone. At the same time it’s extremely solitary, so it’s important for me that I don't get too lost inside my head. The painter I stayed with when I was 12 told me that it’s important to paint standing up, not sitting down, and I’ve always adhered to that. There are times when I’m painting where I’ll go for days without talking to anyone at all, so I make sure to schedule in breaks, meditate, and do things to get myself back into my body - taking long walks or running with my dog, stretching and exercising, the occasional solo dance session, etc.

A: What would you recommend to someone who's new to art (whether artist or just an admirer), what to begin with?

J: I think the most interesting way to think about art is by asking, what does it do? Not, is it art or not, is it good art or bad art... but what does it do? I see so much work by artists that does nothing but try to be "art", and as such does nothing at all and is frankly quite boring. There is a plethora of artwork that fits this description, unfortunately expressing nothing but the hope of being a trophy in the home of a collector.

If you’re new to art, whether as an artist or admirer, I think the most valuable thing you can do is to immerse yourself in the history of art, from the earliest sculptures and cave paintings to ritualistic and religious works of all cultures, to the understanding of art and the artist as it exists in our society today. The story of art is the story of humanity.

A: What are your three favourite adjectives related to art?

J: Do you mind if instead I share my favorite phrase to hear someone say? “What am I looking at?”

A: The best angle to look at art is from ...?

J: Every angle that you can get away with. When I saw Amy Sherald’s show at Hauser & Wirth a couple years ago, I was thrilled to notice that her work takes into account the sheen of the surface, how the light bounces differently from one aspect of the painting to the other. This can only be observed by experiencing the painting in person. It’s something that I also keep in mind with my own painting, and it’s something that I’m afraid many artists have lost sight of. It’s as though we are so accustomed to experiencing images in a purely two-dimensional way via our screens and phones, that it’s easy to forget that paintings are actual objects, they are a physical experience. In a sense, paintings are sculptures.

Looking at the backside of a painting can be extremely revealing of the artist and their process. In art, everything springs from intent, and clues to the intent are everywhere. I enjoy looking at how sculptures are mounted to their bases, for example - sometimes I might discover some very elegant design choices, which are an extension of the artwork.

A: The perfect phrase to start any conversation about art is: ...?

J: Assuming that the conversation is taking place somewhere within the context of art, such as a gallery or artist’s studio, I would begin with talking about anything except for art - the restaurant down the street, the way the light shines through the window, etc. The conversation will steer towards art as naturally as talking about the weather. If it doesn’t, then maybe that’s a statement in itself.

A: Must-read books to help us talk about art (or do we even need them)?

J: The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord was written in 1967, and in many ways it predicted our society today. To attempt to sum it up briefly, the basic premise is that we have become so attached to the symbolic representations of things that we cease living life itself, and our lifestyles suffer as a result. I believe that artists are in a unique position to explore this predicament, because we deal with the realm of perception.

Daily Rituals by Mason Currey is a really good read about the rituals, routines and lifestyles of many well-known artists, creatives, and intellectuals.

A: If you could change one thing in the art world - what would it be?

J: I would inject some terminology into the art world that’s equivalent to "fast food," "diner food," "favorite local restaurant," and "fine dining." Then I would have the art market and cultural institutions reflect these labels in how they deal with an artwork’s value and importance, both monetarily and culturally.

A: Please, share your favorite quote (not necessarily related to art).

J: "If you admit to yourself what it means to be an artist, then the best way to do it is to give up making art, and put what you’ve got into other people." - Damien Hirst

Thank you!

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