If there was a class about street art, he would have the title of University professor. Mazes, hieroglyphics, circles, as well as other symbols, dominate his creations. He managed to convey the style of South Bronx to the heart of Manhattan. Few people know him by his real name. We are talking about a famous artist who is the most Kool presence in the field of art. Ladies and gentlemen, Kool Koor from the heart of Brussels on our pages!
By Popi Kouzoupi
If there was a class about street art, he would have the title of University professor. He managed to convey the style of South Bronx to the heart of Manhattan. We are talking about a famous artist who is the most Kool presence in the field of art.
You were born in New York and you live in Brussels. How different is America’s lifestyle compared to Europe’s lifestyle?
KK: I would say the biggest difference is the languages spoken. Though Brussels is very cosmopolitan in that there are may languages spoken here, NYC has over 800 languages spoken on a daily basis and is the #1 globally for different languages spoken. Besides that I often say that the art world is very similar across the map. We can see similar types of people and similar expositions.
You have studied Art & Design in New York. How early did graffiti art get into your life as a student and future artist? Did the neighborhood you grew up or the neighborhoods you lived in play a major role to that?
KK: I started writing graffiti at the age of 12 as a result of noticing a new painting appear in a courtyard outside of my bedroom window in the South Bronx back in 1976. For sure the neighborhood I grew up in played a major role in my early development because it was there that the process of learning how to decode what was on the walls all around me began. I knew from that tender age that I wanted to be a part of that something that was so much bigger than little me. That something was the city wide phenomena called “writing”.
Street art is often a “misunderstood” art, since we do not see it in a bright art gallery but on the street. You don’t seem to be affected by that fact. How did you manage to stand out among other similar artists?
KK: It’s so interesting your question because indeed it is misunderstood. We have to firstly look at the terminology. What is “Graffiti” and what is “Street Articles “? This question has endless answers. For me it’s important to state that the words we use have a very big impact on the way people in society react towards this entire culture. I put it all together in one culture, Hip Hop Culture. When I was a teenager trying to define myself within this culture I was misunderstood when I started to show my artwork in galleries because there were so many “purists” to the title “Graffiti artist”. For so many they felt it had to stay on the street and remain something underground for those of us “inside the culture”. I felt different because before I started writing graffiti I was drawing and designing as a young kid. My universe was drawing what I liked to draw and “keeping” it and “showing” it to family and friends. At the moment I was presented the possibility to show my art in an exhibition at the age of 15 I knew that again I was entering into something that was bigger than me and I wanted to be a part of it. Artwork on sustainable surfaces meant for me that long after I am gone these things might still be around and appreciated. That for me was very important. The one thing that always stayed with me throughout all my years was to be myself and not be a follower or copier of others. Being influenced is one thing that everyone on the planet is, however I found my style early and stuck to it. As the years passed I became recognized and appreciated for my unique style.
It is no exaggeration to say that you are the artist with the most distinctive style and an inspiration to dozens of people who want to step in your footsteps. How did you manage to stand out? What was your source of inspiration?
KK: I can’t say that I have the most distinctive style, nor would I ever. It’s not for me to say. I do what I do and I try to push myself forward exploring what life brings me on a daily basis. I love the challenge of reinventing myself in new directions. The funny thing is that no matter how hard I try to step away from my comfort zones, I still remain identifiable artistically. I understand that everything around me is so much bigger than me so I remain humble and share what I have accumulated with other as often as I can to help them on their respective creative paths. I say this so often, I get my inspiration from all that is around me. We absorb daily so much. I allow this to fuel my creative process.
The shapes and symbols you use are selected one by one. How easy or how difficult is it to take specific things and create an abstract effect?
KK: For me the entire process is organic. I allow myself the time and space to let each step in the process to lead me to the next. Today I can explain where the shapes have come from and how they have evolved. It’s with 40 years of reflection that I can do this. If we look back at what I was creating in the mid to late 1970’s we can clearly see the connections. There has always been elements of abstraction in my artwork. What has happened over the years is that I have been systematically subtracting elements, putting a focus more and more on the essence of my work which is “movement” and “light”.
It is often said that a work of art can take us away. Do you often travel? Is traveling part of your career or a personal desire and a way of life for you?
KK: A a kid I always dreamt of traveling far away into the cosmos. I would stare into the night sky and wonder what was out there. My early artworks are reflective of those questions I had way back then. When I finally travelled internationally in 1985 on the occasion of my first solo art exhibition in Europe I wasn’t sure about Brussels Belgium being the place that I wanted to live in, but from that day forward I was sure that I would make it a point to travel internationally as much as possible. Being in different countries discovering so many unique cultures was and is still tremendously inspirational and fundamental to my creative process.
Is Greece close or away, in the field of street art, compared to other countries of the world? Is graffiti always combined with urban lifestyles or can I integrate graffiti to a Cycladic Island for example?
KK: The street art scene in Greece for me is very similar to that found in so many places around the world. In Athens for instance I can see similarities to the scene in Lisbon. Everyone has their own references and ways of making connections so it remains a personal opinion.
How did your footsteps arrive to the island of Tinos? Tell us, what does Tinos mean to you? When did you visit the island for the first time? Have you known about its existence and its history?
KK: I was invited to participate the biennale in Mountados last summer by its founder and curator Mireille Lienard who is friends with Martin Ehmer the director of the gallery that represents me in Brussels, Belgium. I decided to visit Tinos in 2018 to see the site where I would be painting to get a feel for the environment. All of this to help me find my direction before arriving the following summer. I knew very little about the history of the region and for sure about the island I knew nothing at all. This also was one of the main reasons why I wanted to come one year earlier to allow the creative process to once again be “organic”. Needless to say I fell in love with the island.
Why don’t you talk to us about what happened last summer in Tinos regarding visual arts? What does this experience mean to you?
KK: Last summer I came to Tinos to paint a local bus stop in the village Mountados. What I didn’t expect is that I would build a deep connection to this Island. Upon returning I looked forward to revisiting towns and sites that I remembered from the previous summer. I delved deeper into the local traditions and made many new friends. It was an amazing summer. The biennale was a great occasion for me to meet again other participating artists and discover their works “in situ”.
I always feel that each thing that we do is linked to and guides us to the next things in our lives. We just need to take the time to see that it is all indeed connected. It’s directly because of those moments spent in Tinos in 2019 that I am returning now in 2020 to continue my artistic journey here on the island.
What are your plans for the near future? Where can someone find you and especially what will he “find” in your creations?
KK: My plans for the future are to try to remember to stop look and listen to what’s going on around me first of all and embrace each moment. That is in fact what life is all about. On an artistic level in 2020 I have two art installation planned for the island of Tinos in August. I will have a solo art exhibition at the SOUL FOOD bar / gallery and I am making and artistic installation in a renovated old school and in its surrounding small woods in Karya, located a little over a kilometer from Mountados. Beyond Greece I plan to continue having exhibitions, sharing my experiences with the youth and launching collaborations with highly talented creators. Follow me and stay tuned
Our island is a subversive place as well as your own artistic path. Do you see any common path to its development by developing your project into it?
KK: For sure. I can feel there is a strong desire to open up to the creativity that wants to be explored here in Tinos. It’s a beautiful thing to see and be a part of the development of a cultural explosion that also respects the heritage of the island.
What is street art after all? A fashion, a trend, or something that came to stay ?
KK: Street art is beyond fashion or trends. It’s a never ending way of expressing life and answering the questions we all have about our identity in society. In one word I can say that street art is “life”.
Thank you very much
KK: Thank you. The pleasure is all mine.
I was invited to participate the biennale in Mountados last summer…
Needless to say I fell in love with the island.
It’s a beautiful thing to see and be a part of the development of a cultural explosion that also respects the heritage of the island.