Every painting can be viewed as a library of marks, although for Hyperpointillist artist JoKa, the libraries that comprise his portfolio may be considered a little bit more extensive than most. Employing thousands of tiny dots made with uncommon artist’s utensils, such as toothpicks, JoKa constructs his surrealistic imagery by layering colours side by side and engaging the eyes and mind of the viewer to blend the hues and realise the full image (a technique originally pioneered by artists Georges Seurat and Paul Signac during the Impressionist era). While JoKa’s subject matter draws on nostalgic themes, his artwork is undoubtedly rooted in contemporary times and integrates elements of popular culture, touching on aspects of sex, violence, religion and mysticism, and projecting them through his own prism while engaging his dark sense of humour; in turn, developing a sensation of absurdity and presenting the concept that a singular sense of understanding is often hard to formulate in the complex world we inhabit.
JoKa is a fine artist currently living and working in Philadelphia, PA. Formally trained as a graphic designer, he remains largely self-taught in his painting practice. Since first exhibiting his art in 2005, JoKa has shown his work extensively in his home country and abroad, in prominent New Contemporary Art galleries including, Modern Eden Gallery (San Francisco, USA), Strychnin Gallery (Berlin, Germany), Last Rites Gallery (New York, USA) and Guru Gallery (Mexico City, Mexico).
WOW x WOW recently grabbed the opportunity to fire a few questions in JoKa’s direction, in order to find out a little more about his background and delve deeper into what drives him and his intriguing work. Find out what he had to say in the following exclusive interview.
Hi JoKa! First of all, thanks for agreeing to free up some of your valuable time in order to have this wee chat, we really appreciate it. If you could please start us off by introducing yourself and talking about your background, touching on anything you feel has been relevant to shaping JoKa the artist?
On a cold dark night, many moons ago, a small bundle of meat was delivered………hmm, too far??
Naivety and lack of know-how are probably the two most relevant factors in me getting along thus far. I’ve got a knack sense for figuring out how to do things without actually learning the correct way first. And throw in a dash of stubbornness for good measure.
I went to school for graphic design, but realized early enough on that it wasn’t for me. My first job out of school was working for an adult film studio, so that was fun. But I wanted a more tactile artform to devote myself to. For a while after school I’d been toying with different paint projects, but nothing really clicked. But after stumbling onto a gallery that was Philly-based at the time, I kinda went, “that’s what I wanna do”, and tried to veer more in that genres direction of aesthetic and theme.
We’re interested to hear about where you’re currently living and what you like about the area? What is the art scene like there and do you feel a part of that community? Are these aspects of your existence that are important to your creativity?
I’m currently in Philly, have been for just about half my existence now, and don’t see myself leaving any time soon. I’m a bit of a sedentary beast.
The art scene here has definitely changed over the years I’ve been here. Unfortunately, it’s been a stepping stone for some galleries which then make their way to NY, but a good number of artists seem to stay put. It’s a much more manageable pace than that Apple to the north. And as far as if my region dictates my art, I think I’d still be doing the same kinda stuff no matter where I reside.
What’s your first memory related to art?
My memory is a bit shite for that kinda stuff. I traced a lot when I was little (comics/cartoons/toy packages), and then later on drew from comic reference a ton. In my early teens I definitely would have told you that’s the path I would take.
This isn’t a memory as much as artistic evidence, but there’s a drawing somewhere back home in a box of childhood memories of a leprechaun standing on a pile made up of little circular golden nuggets. I noted on the bottom how long it took to draw all the gold. That’s very indicative of where I’ve wound up, meticulously clocking the hours it takes me to dot a piece.
Humour has been a prominent characteristic of your art over the years. What drives your motivation to make people smile and how do you approach this aspect of your work?
I’ve got a pretty dark sense of humor, which oozes out naturally. Mix equal parts sarcasm/cynicism/realism. Early on, I wanted to make it a point to interject that into every piece, but sometimes that gets in the way of concept or execution. Sometimes I have to suffice with a punchline title, never knowing if anyone’s going to get the joke.
You employ a technique reminiscent of the Pointillism of Georges Seurat and Paul Signac, which you’ve dubbed, Hyperpointillism. Give us a little background on how this journey started and what evolution the technique has gone through. How do you break down the layers of colour? Do you use a computer for any preparation? What is it that appeals to you the most about your techniques aesthetic? We’re interested to learn more.
I’ve been a fan of Pop Art from early on, and wanted to dabble with silk-screening. I was gifted a silkscreen kit but having no photography background to proceed with how I wanted to use it, scrapped it and tried to come up with a faux method involving dots to achieve the same effect. I painted solid color backgrounds and dotted black over it, and to get a small precise mark decided to use a toothpick. Seemed sane at the time. Then I just wanted to test myself and see if I could create whole pieces with only dots. For some years I was using toothpicks which had built up paint on the tips to swirl paint around for larger background areas, and then dotting the areas together. I’ve since gone back to using only tiny dots for those areas though. I kinda felt like it was cheating, even though I was still using the picks.
Concurrently to the time this practice was forming, I acquired a box of vintage magazines which became inspirational fodder for many early paintings. I really appreciate well done collage, and wanted to incorporate that aspect into the work as well. I’ve amassed a library of images now through magazines and archives. I make a digital mock up, and then transfer to whatever I’m painting on. The collage aspect over the years has become much more integrated and seamless, although sometimes I’ll keep it obvious.
As for color, I didn’t really utilize the typical ‘Pointillism aesthetic’ of letting your eye do the blending till much more recently. Instead, I was using dots as a hyper pinpointed way of breaking down the blending process. But as I’ve been steering towards working bigger again, I’ve been employing the official means more.
That’s the aspect I really like of the technique, figuring out how to break down the piece into little puzzle pieces of color that I then have to put back together.
The surreal narratives that run through your imagery provide instantly intriguing playgrounds that kick-start our imaginations and ask us a multitude of engaging questions. Do you start off the creative process with an idea of these narratives and build the image out from there? We’d love to hear how you go about piecing together your paintings?
Sometimes the idea comes first, but more often the images dictate the idea. I’ll see an image oriented a certain way which gives me an idea, or just a really interesting image and go, “how can I mess with this”. If the idea comes first, then I’ll scan my archives for images that fit, or if not, take some reference pics myself. Creating pieces used to be more random, but I try these days to keep within themes and build up a body of similar work. I will have mock-ups sitting around for years sometimes, of a pairing of pics that just isn’t quite right yet, until I stumble upon that final element.
Have you ever received any unexpected interpretations of your work?
At my first solo show, my mom overheard some art patron say something along the lines of, “he must have had a disturbing childhood”. I was highly amused she caught that.
What keeps you motivated when you feel like jacking everything?
To answer this, I must recuse myself from the obligatory joke stemming from the cultural divide of the term ‘jacking’. Too easy…
I dunno if it’s actually motivation or just a sense of normality for me. I’ve always made art, purpose for it or not. When I decided upon the path to showing art in galleries, I guess it gave the art a form of direction, but I often think, “if I wasnt painting for a show, would i still be painting”, and the answer is most likely, yes. I’ve found that its a method that I need to stay balanced, a mental release, albeit mired in strict concentration. I always need that art project sitting waiting for me. I’ve slowed on shows in recent years, but still have the strong drive to be creating art, although it does stretch on sometimes without deadlines.
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were first starting down the path of becoming an artist?
Well, not going to school for painting, probably a lot. Building relationships with others is key.
In order to get a better understanding of the personality of an artist, it can help to get a peek behind the curtain. Would you be willing to share a story from your own life, possibly one who’s memory you find yourself returning to for inspiration, or maybe just a tale about a hardship you’ve overcome which has helped define the person and therefore artist that you are now?
I don’t do that well looking to myself for inspiration. I find others’ stories more inspiring, particularly those who chose to do things their own, less accepted way and persevered. I was told early on about ditching the hyperpointillism thing, but that fueled me to keep going with it. That stubbornness kicking up.
I knew from the get-go that it was a loooooong uphill battle, not having gone to school for painting, having no contacts, and employing a style that takes tedious amounts of time, yet somehow deciding to not let that deter me. Yes, quite ambitious.
I feel really fortunate of the places I’ve shown and the artists I’ve shared walls with, and continuing that, is a main driving force.
If you could own one piece of art from any of the world’s collections what would it be and why?
Given that I had a house big enough to show it, I wouldn’t mind owning one of Chuck Close’s huge color portraits. Thatd be nice.
What’s next for JoKa?
I want to continue working bigger. Pushing my patience meter into the red.