Artist Interview | Michael Koerner

Independent & Image Art Space
Jun 29, 2020 9:15AM

Independent& Image Art Space: Hi Michael. We can find your works are carefully arranged, with words hidden behind the lines. Looking at your works is like a game finding out these words and the work titles give us ahint. It is a process similar to carefully find things we have lost, which reminds us of your series title "Things We Will or Have Already Lost". Is it a reaction you expect from your audiences?

Michael Koerner: Yes, the playful and reflective engagement is certainly intentional.

Independent& Image Art Space: The series has 30 drawings and online exhibition RE-SEE features four of them. You say "each overlying digital drawing is initially created by hand with an ink pen on paper".And then what have you done to get finished works as archival pigment prints?

Michael Koerner: That’s correct, I initially develop the drawings using Kuretache ZIG ink pens and an old industrial lightbox. I then make high-res scans, bring them into Adobe Illustrator on my Mac and begin the process of vectorizing the raster-based image. Vector images are infinitely scalable without resolution loss and malleable so the possibilities are limitless in terms of output. I am unable however to get the same inherent fidelity and human touch with a digital tablet so I inevitably start the process with the first tool I used, my hands. Once scanned, Illustrator has an automated process for this vector conversion and cleaning up, however I intentionally go in and tweak the presets of the automation to get the desired effect. Additionally, instead of cleanly removing all the trapped white space captured by the scan and exposing the underlying color that I’ve added digitally to the background, I selectively leave some of these artifacts in the composition to push and pull the relationship with the viewer more dynamically. Plus, I like this idea of relinquishing some of the control of the finished look to the process itself as it never fails to surprise me and keeps me engaged.

Patience, Series: Things We Will or Have Already Lost, ink pen & digital drawings, archival pigment prints, 50.8x50.8cm, 2016, ed.11/50

Independent& Image Art Space: We can easily find that these works at RE-SEE have a close relationship with the graphic design. How about your other works? Do they have the same characteristics? What are the themes you often focus on?

Michael Koerner: Sure. Well, there’s the ever-present issue of balancing generality/ambiguity and specificity which permeates all of my work. Meaning, what type of entrance do I want to provide the viewer? As the artist, am I intending for them to receive a specific message or have a specific experience? Conversely, do I want the audience to have ample room to bring in their own unique experiences, baggage, and interpretations? I believe that striking the right balance between these two seemingly opposing directions allows my work to operate graphically and directly tackle topical issues as well as being self-expressive, abstract and accommodating to interpretation. I spend a great deal of time, – months and in some cases several years – conceptualizing, calculating the approach and delivery of a particular piece before production.

For example, the series Things We Will or Have Already Lost, was originally inspired by an experience I had four years earlier when my oldest son Benjamin, who was then only three years old, approached me with a question. I had been watering the backyard to sow grass and the sunshine had made a small rainbow in front of his eyes. A few minutes after we had cleaned up and come back indoors, he turns to me and asks “Daddy, can you turn the rainbow back on?” The poignancy of that question stuck with me and the series was born from this notion of investigating what we have or will personally or culturally lose. The curved shape at the top right of each image is a symbolic remnant of this source material, the rainbow. Additionally, this series was produced as an artist book with a total of 30 images. In the book, I chose a color spectrum that initiated with the color of grass at dawn and then cycled through the rainbow until it arrived at the color of grass at dusk. Each increment of hue and value change was carefully crafted so that the steps felt natural as one explored the book.

The aesthetics, mediums and delivery characteristics change from series to series as I am developing each artwork on a case by case basis.

My work revolves (either overtly or covertly depending on the aforementioned approach) around topical issues and making social commentary that often highlights the absurdity of taking a particular side or opinion too far. In addition to the works showcased here, subjects I have or am currently responding too in my art practice include: Japan’s whaling industry; battery farming of chickens in the US; integration of natural, rural and urban landscapes; environmental plight; gun control interpretation. I genuinely wish that I didn’t have as much material to work from. However, given the current unrest in the world – the lack of empathy, dishonesty, racism and greed spewing down from my own administration in the US, etc., – there is no end in sight.

Job, Series: Things We Will or Have Already Lost, ink pen & digital drawings, archival pigment prints, 50.8x50.8cm, 2016, ed.11/50

Independent& Image Art Space: From your own experience of art creation and teaching, how do you think the relation between art and technology? To what degree do you think technology will influence the development of art shortly? Will you have more technology involved in your art?

Michael Koerner: I am currently an Associate Professor of New Media Art & Technology (NMAT) at Indiana University. Our program’s development a few years back was the result of an introspective, honest and methodical look at who we were as individual interdisciplinary faculty working at that time within the confines of two separate programs labeled Fine Arts and New Media respectively. How does destroying antiquated silos that no longer fit us and encouraging a natural cross-pollination of ideas, mediums (traditional & digital) and methodologies benefit students and faculty alike?

For myself, technology can be simply another tool in the box to selectively use or a direction/user experience to move towards. I don’t view technology or digital mediums as replacements for traditional ones. Rather, I seek to find ways in which to bring out their respective strengths and use them together.

Well, I think there is always an ebb and flow in terms of the accessibility, prevalence, influence and popularity of a particular creative vehicle/medium within a generation or culture of making. It’s also relative. For example –according to the latest stats posted on May 31, 2020 – 40% (over 3 billion)people still don’t even have internet access. This particular technology is something I have been using and I suppose, been taking for granted since the early to mid-90s.

Some artists, will stick to their guns, work in proverbial time-tested silos and continue to use traditional mediums because they’ve solely identified themselves as a painter, sculptor, or printmaker…respectively. Others will inevitably find traction creatively within mediums and technology that presently don’t exist but will be on their doorstep when they eventually take their creative first steps, kinda like drawing with Crayola was for me in the ’70s, or making videos on an iPad and using code to program a robot currently is for my 8-year old son. In these last examples, I am seeing first-hand how the prevalence and continued emergence of new technology inherently brings the possibilities of new forms of creativity. Then finally, there are those that will simply surf the technological wave of popularity until the particular craze has died down or there’s been an upgrade.

Honestly, I have a pluralistic response to this – to each his or her own. However for my own practice to develop in a trajectory that I can be relatively confident in having integrity, I think the determinant factor for using a particular medium should be its relevance and relationship to the underlying concept or impetus to make a particular work. This requires being responsive and objective to the context you’re in, being willing to look at the development of each piece you make on a case by case basis and not simply rest on one’s laurels, being willing to take the time and invest in yourself to proficiently learn a new medium/technology/methodology, being willing to fail and get back into the ring time and time again.


Sight and Sound, Series: Things We Will or Have Already Lost, ink pen & digital drawings, archival pigment prints, 50.8x50.8cm, 2016, ed.11/50

Pulse, Series: Things We Will or Have Already Lost, ink pen & digital drawings, archival pigment prints, 50.8x50.8cm, 2016, ed.11/50

Independent& Image Art Space: How do you stay creative? Do you have any new ideas recently?

Michael Koerner: Remembering to treat art as play, even when the topics I’m addressing are mentally heavy. The piece I just wrapped up this March – The journey is the destination – is a large-scale sculptural installation involving luggage and poured house paint. Concurrently, I am also developing a series of wallpaper designs (digitally illustrated) to send into production. A drop of Whale Blood and Good Morning are from that series.

Independent & Image Art Space