Interview: Eileen O’Kane Kornreich
Updated: May 26, 2022
1-a) What are your background and story?
Ah, the background and story, how far back and which story? A beginning would be I’m the seventh child of eight children, raised without much money by parents who tried very hard to instill independence, self-motivation and to be entertained by what we created.
1-b) What are the cultural and historical inspirations for your work that you get from the sources outside of your life?
My content is not pictorially confessional. I use Greek, Roman, Mesopotamian cultures. I mine historical and mythical figures of those eras to stand in for many of my thoughts, actions and fantasies. This month I was invited to exhibit in the Drive_By_Art show that was focused on Covid-19. I used children’s fable characters, animals from Japan, Indonesia and Europe fables as stand-ins for our human suffering.
2) Who are the artists that inspire you the most? Who are your favorite artists?
I do not have a list of ‘favorite’ artists. For me that would be impossible and an impractical way to think.
3) When you separate the vibrant colors and the gestural marks from the basic forms of the figures in your paintings, figures, in essence, appear to be constructed from clay in terms of their thick, organic form. Do you agree with this statement? Why did you choose this kind of aesthetics or appearances for the figures? Is the concept of mass important for your figures?
Being dyslexic, my thinking at times can be backwards, inside out and /or upside down. This is not a conscience act or formula I use, it’s a non-process. I came up in the form and space times of the 1970’s, though the Picasso ‘line’ and Matisse ‘color’ dominated my formative schooling. I search for form, mass and space through color and line. All that layering, erasing, reconstructing, painting over, sanding it down or out and correcting is how I get there, most of the time. Sometimes we artist are just lucky, it’s done; one, two, three! But you said ‘clay’! Recently I started investigating clay as a viable medium. I had an epiphany one night that my creatures should be three dimensional, free standing creatures exactly because of that thick, dense form I start with. I ‘ve been working in reliefs as they are basically drawings, charcoal drawings with much more heft. I’m in love with clay reliefs.
4) In some of your works, when you separate the forms from the colors, the colors of the figures have this luminous and harmonious quality that deviates from the violent, gestural and expressionistic mark-making that is typical of Neo-Expressionism and found in the forms of your paintings and drawings. Why do you think there is this discrepancy between the colors that are luminous and harmonious, despite their emotional and expressive nature, and the forms that are more violent and gestural? Is it something that you try to balance in terms of harmony and chaos, and expression and observation?
My generation saw the first televised war; the Vietnam War, in color. Luminous colors can be as deadly as seductive. Harmony is a sweet way of saying formation. The firing squad must have harmony, the blood they seek is luminous.
5) Do you find energy and unity in the circular forms that you put down on the figures? Why do you choose the circular shape rather than a triangular or rectangular shape, for example?
The viewer’s eye moves softly with the circle, it will seek similar gestural marks, move from one form or mass to another. If it’s a good composition the eye travels from plane to plane to open space, finally resting in harder, negative space. Of course, color helps push the eye along.
6) In your other works, both the colors and forms are highly violent, psychological, and expressive. Are they like this because they are describing the vulnerability and the psychology of the female perspective of being the victim of the violence and the psychological warfare committed by men who have the power in society? Or are they describing the violence, hatred, and love that is a part of the condition of being alive in the physical form and being sentient observers of the violence in the cosmos?
They are reflections of the human condition. What is it to be human, what is it to be animal? Why are we here or are we here? Is this our dream within a dream? I think about this a lot.
7) Are the figures humans, animals, or both? They appear to be mythical creatures that allow you to connect humans to animals and animals to humans. Are these winged creatures that are half-human and half-animal bizarre and abnormal, thereby being inferior or superior in some ways to us “normal” humans? Perhaps you are subconsciously reflecting on the experiments in China to create half-monkey human soldiers with superior fighting abilities? Or perhaps you are criticizing the slaughter of animals in farms and their status as food?
I am fascinated by the concept believing in God(s) and higher powers. It’s human nature to make up something that is more powerful than we as individuals and as collectives, societies, then these beliefs define us. These most recent creatures explore what it is to be divine, what it is to be from an underworld, what it is to be mortal. They are fantasies render as a luscious fantasy.
8) How do you shrug off the possible criticism that you are echoing violence by creating violent images, which you sometimes interpret as rape or sexual violence? What do you think it is about violence in general that makes it such a prevalent topic and vehicle for creative expression not only in art but also in movies and cartoons?
I’ve been asked this question by artist-peers and collectors of the nice, middle class millieu who’ve come to my studio, knowing they do not like the images but the love the work as a whole. I’ve been asked ‘why do you do these things?’. They want the talent but preferr the talent to make pretty pictures or a sexier one, like a painting of sexy girl masturbating. That’s a big thing now, female artists painting vaginas and penises or tits out and bush hanging. It could be viewed as just another porn shot. The argument is it’s ‘owned’ by the female artist who puts it out there. It may not change the outcome when it’s in the spank-bank of the collector. But when that content is done by a female artist for that female artist, that’s when its fabulous. When artists make work for themselves the rest of the world, me included, can talk smack all they want but that work is pure, it was done by the artist for the artist, and no one can take that away. I do work to amuse myself or ask myself a question or look for an answer or sometimes I need to clean a brush of a color and that stroke starts something.
9) What are your next steps and what do you hope to accomplish in the future?
I am weary, tired, and anxious right now, this pandemic mode. Just like you and all of the people world round. How I escaped the virus, I chalk it up to being careful, but in December, January, that was luck. I have many friends, rich and poor, who were or presently are, infected and very sick. I help as much as I am allowed. After the shut-down travel to my studio was no longer tenable. I set up a small studio for paperwork in my apartment. Five weeks later I left the city in a huff as my building had a large number of virus cases, with caregivers going in and out, no gloves, no masks. Once here I had five days to ready for the Drive_By_Art show, for which I produced ten pieces, four canvases, two on boards and four paper works. I chose the children’s fable animals as I knew my work was too dark, too rape-y, too war-ish for a public installation in the harsh light of Covid-19 America. The finished pieces had my hand of darkness, lifted by a sweeter, kinder aura. That is what I wanted to see in public art at that moment and we all will need in the near future. Let’s be kinder to each other and let us, of voting age, vote this November for whomever you vote for, get out and vote, or mail it in. I’ve taken a week to think since that installation, to think what is next. I have been kicking the idea of the world of fables around for a while. Maybe I have to marry the fable animals with my rap-y, warring dudes and dudettes? I started some monoliths for an artist’s book or two that’s in a few piles here. And clay, I need a clay studio where I am. Maybe when it gets really warm I’ll put up a lean-to and do clay outdoors like a Mesopotamian artisan.