EK Interview: Coro Kaufman

art blog - Coro - empty kingdom

Coro Kaufman’s art feels real, check out the feature we did back in 2010, so do his words, his interview follows, read on.

art blog - Coro Kaufman - Empty Kingdom

You have quite a few pieces that combine the homelessness and creatures, what kind of commentary are you trying to make with these pieces, if any?  Can you discuss the inspiration behind these pieces?

I was walking to work one day, back in 2003, and saw a homeless man having a conversation with an imaginary friend, and thought to myself how interesting it would be to film it, and then CG composite in whatever he was talking to…I kind of obsessed over the idea, since it’s a fairly common thing in SF to see folks talking to themselves. So a couple years later, I was talking about it with some of my coworkers, and one of them mentioned the idea about basing it around some sort of  back story, like if there was a war for humanity hero’s journey type thing, and it just kind of brainstormed into an idea I was interested in pursuing. In late 2005, I drew and wrote 10 pages of a comic book, based off this whole bum/monster idea. I didn’t really feel confident as a comic book artist at the time, so I elaborated on the idea by doing some oil paintings and drawings to help flesh out the universe.  In early 2008, I revisited the comic book and began writing and drawing a story.  It turned into a 3 and a half year project called transient  www.transientman.com.  I just finished writing and painting the novel a couple weeks ago.  It ended up being 210 pages. I’m really glad to be  finished with it.

art blog - Coro Kaufman - Empty Kingdom

How long have you been painting?

I started writing graffiti in 1992, which led to lots of mural painting.  I began painting in oils around 1998. I tried it and fell in love.

The way you portray glass is incredibly detailed, whether on jars or the bongs you’ve done, how long did you take to get such a mastery of that detail?  Can you tell us your process for painting glass?

I don’t know, honestly. I love painting reflective materials.  Its something that has always just made sense to me.  My process is pretty  straightforward, I look carefully, and control my values and edges; how they relate to each other. That’s how you can get reflections to work.

art blog - Coro Kaufman - Empty Kingdom

You said that you were inspired to use oil in part by Rockwell, Parrish and Wyeth, can you tell us what about their work spoke to you  so much?  How does that influence manifest in your own work?  What have you learned from them?

Well they made really beautiful paintings for one. But beyond that I think the thing I love about those guys works is how eloquently they could communicate their ideas. They spoke to their audience through their pictures. They understood how to guide the viewers eye, and provoke a precise desired emotional response.  For me, as an aspiring illustrator, I was like “that’s what I want to be able to do!”  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t see myself even in the same league as those guys, they defined the aesthetic of their time. but if I can speak to my  audience even a fraction as well as they can, well I can die a happy man.

What about oil painting do you find so desirable, why is it your favorite medium?

The finish, the color and edge subtlety, the smell, and of course the ritual of the whole thing….the setting up of the paints, the selecting the brushes, setting up the lights, all in the hopes of trying to capture something. It never gets old. Its always different in some  way…and every once in a while, you get lucky and come up with something you’re proud of.

How do you think growing up in El Paso has contributed to your work and  your identity as an artist?

Well, I have a genuine fondness for all things cholo culture, I grew up  on LA graffiti, and I love a good bowl of menudo.  But seriously, the desert is a beautiful, colorful place. The sun, the big skies, and open spaces, they’re all things that formed me, and I see it come out  in my  work from time to time.

art blog - Coro Kaufman - Empty Kingdom

Do you still go out bombing at night ever?

Ah! not anymore.  The sun’s officially set on all that for me I think.  It would be difficult to explain at this point in my life, as a 35 year old  part-owner of a design studio.

What was the hardest part of art school? What was the easiest? How do  you think going to school has made you a better artist?

I’d taken a few years off between high school and art school, working and starving, so by the time I started going to school, I was very focused. I worked very hard in school because I wanted to learn so bad.  I had no problems doing the work and usually had good grades. The hardest part of art school for me was learning to see. I’d always drawn from my head, and it took me a while to understand the idea of honest, uninterpreted observation.  It’s something I still struggle with.  Working from life really helped me to be able to make work closer to what I wanted to make.

art blog - Coro Kaufman - Empty Kingdom

What was the hardest piece for you emotionally? What made it so  difficult?

That would have to be the transient project. I’ve painted lots of pictures, fine art stuff, and TONS of commercial stuff, some of which I’m happy with, some of it I hate…but the undertaking of drawing and painting over a thousand little panels, some of which were incredibly  complicated, THEN tying them all together in a story- it was INSANELY educational. I’m not saying the work’s even all that great, but I learned more doing it than I’d learned in art school, or any job I’ve ever worked on… it was so hard to keep it going, through such insane  shit, with the studio, health stuff…it became cathartic in a way, writing it and painting it on nights, weekends and holidays was SUCH an undertaking that it also made me a little crazy.  It was a real trial.  It redefined to me what a personal project is or can be, and what artistic sacrifice is all about.

Where do you go in the city to find the scenes you’ve painted in your  cityscapes?  Do you just set up shop and paint or do you take photos  and then paint it later?  What’s your process?

I go to places that appeal to me. I live downtown, so I’m in the shit every day.  Sometimes I’ll see an alley or something that I might walk past for months before I get the right moment and  right shot. I paint  the oil paintings from photos, as its easier to faithfully reproduce the  lighting situation that probably attracted me to painting the scene in the first place. I work a day job obviously, so I do most of my painting at night.  My process is pretty direct. I will draw the scene lightly in pencil, and paint it in, usually in one pass, from top left to bottom right. I paint it this way so I can control the wet edges and get more fluid transitions.

art blog - Coro Kaufman - Empty Kingdom

Of all your works, which is your favorite? Why?

I have a few that I like and consider more successful, but a big part of  the creation process for me is the act of making something and letting it go. I don’t play favorites, and I hate most everything I do about a  year after I do it anyway.

What kind of work have you done at massive black?  What games have you worked on?

I’ve done lots of concept drawings and storyboards for all kinds of video games, films, toys, commercials, tv shows, all sorts of stuff.  The short list: Nike, Coke, well over 100 video games from all the major publishers, Hasbro, A&E, Dancing With The Stars, Desparate Housewives, The Rolling Stones, amongst a host of  others.  I’ve been very lucky to have been able to contribute to so many cool things. I always drew robots and monsters when I was a kid, so its a dream come true to get to do it for a living now.  In addition to that however, as the studio art director, I’m also responsible for meeting with clients, strategizing with them and figuring out what they’re after, and helping bid the project out. I’m very lucky to have a great  team of illustrators and the best executive producer in the entire world, all of whom make my job way easier than it should be.

What’s next for you, whether in terms of shows or series?

I’m not really sure.  The future’s wide open. I just wanna keep making stuff. Maybe do some more paintings for a while. Definitely want to do another comic project at some point.  I just try to take it as it comes, since if there’s one thing I’ve found over the years, it’s that it’s impossible to predict where ones artistic path will lead.  The best thing one can do is keep their eyes open, observe, and follow what interests them.