Alexander Kori Girard

Artist, Echo Park / LA // August 2013
It’s funny how ideas are born. For me, they always kind of begin as droplets… just small visions, small images that come out of an experience, any experience. These images are a way of interpreting, an initial way of trying to communicate and extend that experience.

When Kori told me that “more times than not my works are born out of dreams or visions,” I was reminded of something a favorite writer of mine once said… “It began with a mental picture. I didn’t know at the time it was symbolical.” In 1956 Jean Stein interviewed William Faulkner for The Paris Review and that was part of his response to her question, “How did The Sound and the Fury begin?” I’ve read this particular interview with Faulkner too many times to count, but that answer continues to thrill and surprise me. I suppose it’s because The Sound and the Fury is often referred to as a stroke of genius and is considered to be one of the greatest contribution to American Literature. If you haven’t read it, I should warn you— it’s not an easy read. It employs a number of different narrative styles and is often allusive and fragmentary. But I love the idea that this incredibly significant, complex and enduring novel started with just a single image, a white-hot mental flash that then became something so much bigger.

In that same interview Faulkner’s continues on and says, “ I wrote it five separate times, trying to tell the story, to rid myself of the dream which would continue to anguish me until I did.” Kori’s vivid work does indeed look like it was born out of dreams; the geometric compositions are rich in color and cryptic, and evoke a sense of the mystical… as if they might represent lived realities that we have no words for. I find that his pieces are something to be repeatedly contemplated, but not necessarily entirely understood. And like Faulkner, Kori approaches his work in an exhaustive manner— testing all possibilities, considering all elements, excessively turning the same idea over and over. As an artist I think permitting yourself to obsess, is both brave and problematic. It’s gutsy to commit that fully, to allow for reiteration, to not leave something alone, and to just keep at until you get it right. This is a tough place to be in though, because sometimes certain ideas are impossible to get right. But I think making yourself that vulnerable to your work is crucial.

Kori talks slowly, thoughtfully. As we chatted in his sunny garden in the lush LA neighborhood of Echo Park, I thought about how unhurried he seems about everything; the way he handles his ideas, his words, and his art reveals a remarkable amount of patience and a certain kind of assurance. I think his assurance comes from a clear understanding of his own process— it’s all about the trying and seeking, and ultimately it’s just about trying to bring that one image, that one vision, into the world, and to actualize it in its most authentic and true form.

My heart thumps thinking of Faulkner’s craftsmanship in The Sound and the Fury and it thumps even louder when he says, “It’s the book I feel tenderest toward. I couldn’t leave it alone, and I never could tell it right, though I tried hard and would like to try again…”

There is so much courage in wanting to try again and again… thinking you haven’t yet gotten it right, even when everyone else does…. And I’m guessing Kori might appreciate Faulkner’s sentiment as much as I do.

How would you describe your subject matter or the content of your work?

The subject matter of my work varies but is often completely abstract. I would say that more times than not my works are born out of dreams or visions relating to the subconscious. When I was in high school I got very interested in the writings of Carl Jung and the idea of using dreams as starting points for drawings and paintings.

What mediums do you work with?
I have had a strong drawing and painting practice for about 15 years and so I would say that the majority of my work would fall into those two categories (gouache, watercolor, acrylic ink, pens, pencils). That being said I have always been interested in sculpture, photography, film, and architecture. I have explored working in all of these materials and processes and have always related most to the idea of the renaissance artist who is at home working with any medium. Moving forward I hope to maintain a diversified practice of making work.

Your work has referenced elements of India in its color palette and the use of appropriated photographs. I’ve read that you take trips to India for inspiration— can you tell us more about why you are drawn to India? What regions have you visited that you’ve found influential to your work?
I first visited India when I was 19, which is 15 years ago now for a graduate architecture immersion program for about eight weeks. We were guided by an Indian born architect who took us from one incredible example of architecture to another and at each stop we were asked to draw and write about the different aspects of each location. On this trip we spanned almost the whole country starting in the Himalayas and ending in Cochin in the very southern part. This trip was all I needed, I was an instant Indophile and after that I made it my goal to return as soon as possible for a longer period of time. Since that trip I have visited six more times and have spent significant periods of time in different regions studying the never ending wealth of creative arts that India has to offer.

More specifically, the last time I went I spent time in Bihar. I visited a town called Madhubani where they have a very long and sustained tradition of folk painting— the Mithila style, a raw distinctive style that explores folk themes and mythology, and utilizes plant and mineral based colors and materials. We got hooked up with an art historian who enabled us to visit with a few artists and it was a very rich experience because I got to ask questions, and discuss, and learn. The way these artists use color has been hugely influential, and also their way of working reminded me how compelling simple symbolism and shapes can be.

It is often mentioned that you are the grandson of noted architect and textile designer Alexander Girard, how do you feel about that? I’m assuming his work has been influential to you?
Yes, it is sort of unavoidable this connection especially since my proper name is the same as his. Most of the time I am not bothered by this at all, I knew him very well and loved him dearly and thus honored to have the connection. He passed when I was 15 but for those early formative years we had regular interactions and no doubt something was being downloaded. My grandparents home was very near by and was a child’s fantasy full of examples of creative expression in all of its forms and from all over the globe and placed with the utmost consideration.

It was not until my early 20s that I really began to understand the magnitude of his life’s work. There were so many facets to his artistic practice that up until recently I think it has been difficult for anyone to wrap their heads around. About five years ago I set out with Todd Oldham to create the first retrospective book on his work. That book was released in 2012 and for the first time the general public has been able to see the extent of what he and my grandmother did. I continue to help manage his archive and work with different design groups to rerelease his designs to the contemporary market. So yes, in short he and his work inspire me greatly and has much to do with my fascination with working in so many mediums.

Do you see your work as autobiographical at all? Does personal history work its way into your practice?
Yes I think that my work is autobiographical, although some times my abstract interpretation of a personal experience could read in a completely different way for the viewer.

What are you presently inspired by— are there particular things you are reading, listening to or looking at to fuel your work?
I aspire to remain open to what influences my artwork and for me this is a daily pursuit. I like the idea of chance playing a role in what I do. I like the practice of taking walks or drives both in the city and nature alike not knowing what I might notice and be affected by on any given day. One of my favorite sources of inspiration is the marketplace. I am fond of all types of markets and really feed off of the life and energy of them. I especially like flea markets or antique markets due to the unknown quality of what you might find. I’m also so influenced and inspired by the natural world, having always been attracted to plant and animal life of all origins since I was young.

It’s funny how ideas are born. For me, they always kind of begin as droplets… just small visions, small images that come out of an experience, any experience. These images are a way of interpreting, an initial way of trying to communicate and extend that experience. I have a tendency to go on tangents and really work through ideas, spending a great deal of time on one vein, creating lots of reiterations of a single idea.

What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
My studio at the moment is at my home, which I really appreciate. We live in a part of LA that feels a bit more “rural” and I have been working quite a bit outdoors due to the warm climate of southern California. Having my studio at my house is great in that it is so accessible— I’m able to work late into the night and early mornings if it makes sense. For years I made artwork on the road and this dictated the scale of my work because what ever I could fit in my bag was what I had to work with. Now having a dedicated studio for about seven years has allowed me to see more easily a progression of my work over a period of time. It also allows for me to have stations and to be exploring many different ideas at once.

Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
I have been working towards a couple of group shows, one here in California at Berkeley Art Museum and the other one in Santa Fe, New Mexico which will be at the Center for Contemporary Arts. I am also working towards a retrospective exhibition of my grandfather’s work. Other than the above mentioned I am developing a number of personal ideas that I’m not sure of the application quite yet.

Do you have a motto?
My only motto is to work hard and remain open.

To see more of Kori’s work: