Berlin – my luxurious waiting room…
Kottie Paloma is American, born in 1974 in Los Angeles, Ca. In 1996 he moved to San Francisco. His work addresses the ridiculousness of life. Inspired by contemporary urban life, his pieces explore the darker side of society in a humorous way. Much of the text in his art derives from overheard conversations, lyrics from his favorite music or from past experiences. Kottie Paloma’s work has been displayed in exhibitions throughout the United States, South Korea, and Europe. He currently lives and creates in Berlin.
I met Kottie a few weeks ago. I saw one of his photographs in an exhibition at ‘Das Gift’ and already knew that I definitely wanted to talk with him about his art. We met on one Saturday evening at his studio in Neukolln.
Dagmara: When did you start to paint?
Kottie: I am a late bloomer, I started when I was maybe 22 or 23, but didn’t really get going till when I was maybe 27 years old. Then there was a big break for about 3 years or so. I went to Art School but I got kicked out for not being able to make the payments. Actually, If I could start over I would have never gone to Art School.
K: Too expensive and full of cry babies. But that was like 15 years ago and its not in my mind anymore.
D: How did your family react to your decision of becoming an artist?
K: Happy. Though I do not talk with them about my art. As long as I’m not living on their cost and it is nothing illegal what I am doing, they are happy.
D: Apart from selling your artworks, what do you do to make a living?
K: I am currently working in a bar called Das Gift, which is owned by Barry and Rachel Burns. Barry plays keyboards for that band Mogwai. They both rule and are super cool to work for. I also work part time in a tea warehouse which is suicidally boring. These two jobs create a full time job.
D: Do you still manage to paint regularly?
K: Yes, I come here each day for an average of 8 hours. Its my 2nd home and my studio mate Leah has a super comfy couch which I take really awesome naps on. Though she is moving out next week and I plan to take over her studio, thus almost doubling the size of the space we are sitting in now. But crap… I’ll need to find a new couch.
D: Is the life of an artist lonely?
K: Lonely? not at all. I have the most friends I have ever had in my entire life. If an artist feels lonely these days, then they are doing something wrong or I don’t know or maybe they lost a best friend or a loved one and this makes them feel lonely, but…just no one should ever have to feel lonely when there are 7 billion people on this planet.
D: Where do you paint from? Do you paint from your imagination or photos, real life? What is your inspiration?
K: I am a very reactionary person. One song or a conversation or the way a person talks or laughs can inspire me. I also think of myself as a social commentator. The earlier work with the text bubble and solid imagery was more about things that happen in life. My goal was to make crappy situations into craptastic situations, something laughable. The new big paintings are changing fast. It’s not so much about solid imagery as it is about moods and being dirty yet still shining somehow. The new paintings are more abstract and more spiritual in a been-dragged-through-the-streets kind of way.
D: I do especially like one painting of yours called Sacred Life. It differs from others, it does not contain any words.
K: Yes, this one speaks for itself.
Kottie Paloma Sacred Life
D: Is there any story behind it? What is this artwork about?
K: It was created mostly because I needed to paint something. I would say that very rarely I have an intention to paint something specific. From the very beginning…the intention is being discovered through the process. This one was painted in 25 minutes. But I was and am, for some reason, thinking a lot about death. I don’t know why. Its just something sitting on my shoulders. In the period last year when I created this one, I could have sworn I saw my old friend Lyndsay in my studio. I mean he wasn’t there in the physical presence. But more like in a cartoon, like a Tom and Jerry cartoon, where Tom will have an angel on one shoulder and the devil on his other. Both the angel and the devil are the same person, just one is an angel and one is a devil. Each one telling Tom to do something in contrast to the other. I had this with my buddy Lyndsay, and I don’t know why as we hadn’t even spoken to each other since 2008. Anyways, he was sitting on both my shoulders as both an angel and a devil. The angel version kept telling me to use more pink while the devil was saying use more black, then just like in a cartoon I had to squash one of those voices so I could finish the painting, I worked very late this night, I think till 2am or so, When I got home, a friend in San Francisco contacted me to say Lyndsay had died one week earlier. I was really blown away by that. I thought, hmmm maybe Lyndsay really was sitting on my shoulders tonight. The next day I titled the painting “Sacred life”.
D: Crazy! That’s very impressive. Do you manage to sell a lot of your artworks?
K: I already sold quite many, I have works in the MOMA Collection in NYC, lots of work in other institutions like Harvard, Yale, Stanford University, The Bavarian State Library in Munich among others and a few private collectors. I have a new art dealer in NYC named John Pollard who co-runs MULHERIN + POLLARD NYC and a second dealer named Lillian Munch who runs Munch Gallery also in the lower east side. I had a show with her in 2011 and she still wants to sell some of the left over works from that show. So at least for New York things are moving forward. However here in Berlin, it seems to be pretty difficult here. Not to sound like a cry baby… but I don’t feel like I am on anyone’s radar here. Even dealers, curators and galleries here whom my friends work with still haven’t tapped into my work yet. Too combat this I have teamed up with a high end furniture dealer named Bjorn Berger and his company called Supergrau at his showroom here in Berlin. Its kind of a back or side door to the art world. He is selling my paintings with the furniture of his designers based in Munich. In January Bjorn Berger will be showcasing some of my paintings at the IMM Furniture fair in Cologne. I say its a side or back door, but still an open door I am happy to walk through. This works for now in terms of Berlin and I exhibit in other cities in Europe a couple of times a year. But it would indeed be nice to have a dealer here that is connected to the Berlin art scene as well as globally. For now in arts speak, while everything is in motion and slowly moving forward, I would say that Berlin is my luxurious waiting room.
D: How do you react to criticism of your art?
K: I do not care about that. Usually if someone attacks my work it has nothing to do with art, it’s just a way to attack me. One problem is that I do not get much feedback here in Berlin. Everyone just looks at my work on the internet which creates a whole new problem. For example, last year Claudio Pfeifer who owns Pogo Books here in Berlin published my first catalog. I think when people look at the work in the catalog, or online they associate it with illustration, but to me this couldn’t be further from the truth. My work is too crude for that pigeon hole. Then when these same people see the same work from the book or from the internet in person, their minds change quickly and then they seem to associate it more with painting. But for the most part, I would say most people who see my work in person smile and tell me I need a larger audience.
D: What is your dream project?
K: I would like to buy an entire building here. Gut it out, hire my architect friends to re-build it. Expand everything I am currently doing on a larger scale, hire assistants, all the stuff many artist dream about. But, I am already doing alot of what I want to do in terms of creating art. I try not to let anything or anyone hold me back. Just right now because of a lack of money, everything I am doing is on a small scale. I also don’t have enough storage space to create all the stuff I want to make, so its this weird balance of which ideas gets put on the shelf for a latter date and which ideas get created today. But I see these things as minor problems that are hopefully soon fixable. One new thing I would love to get into though is product design. My wife Meike is an amazing designer. With her I would like to create things for the house like dinner plates and shower curtains, blankets, beach towels etc…
making fun of historical monuments … Teddy Bear as a hero
Thank you Kotttie for this interview! Wish you very best in the future and many plates with your name on it;)