Kuksi’s Baroque confections treat history as primordial soup — a burbling stew of thrilling highlights and epic tragedies that not only resonate in the mind’s eye but also inspire all sorts of emotions — good, bad and otherwise.
– David Pagel,
Los Angeles Times
The sculpture hangs on the wall: a sprawling world, a warning, a revelation, a vision of a collective soul. From afar, the composition is what is striking, formally balanced, playful yet contained and graceful. It beckons, drawing the viewer into its tangle of meaning, history unfolding in its depths and reverence discovered within the assortment of invented iconography. This sculpture has it all--imagined conquests, sex and death, a hero’s hubris-filled demise, navel gazing and oblivion, tragic characters reliving the mistakes humanity continues to make, the quest, the vision, the warrior, the prophet, the mystic, the child—archetypes that you attach to, project yourself onto, archetypes that litter history and continue to fascinate in different contexts. This sculpture is a whole new framework for something that feels entirely too familiar. The closer the viewer moves, the more entranced they become. The intricate details of the assemblage bring to life the nuances of the narrative, and it becomes clear, that every one of the thousands of pieces within was chosen, plucked from this vast world of material objects, and placed with intention in the context of the sculpture. Though thousands of decisions were made for this one sculpture, they unify in a lucid, baroque harmony.
Kris Kuksi’s process is entirely his own. It starts with the spark of an idea usually encountered in the early hours of the morning when the work is humming, some flotsam rising up from his rich personal history, usually something iconoclastic, earnest, and loaded with paradox. He’ll catch a glimpse and the image will burn itself into his mind long enough for him to bring it into existence.
“The sculptures take hours, weeks, and sometimes months to complete and sometimes
I work fourteen to sixteen hours a day, but it all seems to go by so fast.”
The painstakingly gathered model kit pieces, injection molded orphans, bric-a-brac and knick knacks, figurines, jewelry and plastic animals congeal into a re-imagined frieze, a macabre amalgam, that reveals, confronts, and provokes a viewer’s belief system by reimagining familiar narratives into new contexts.
Ironic, a man deconstructing and reassembling iconography would work out of a repurposed, late 19th century church, but his studio spans the entire floor plan of just such a building across the Kansas River in a post-industrial corner of Lawrence, Kansas. Surrounded by the patina of old machinery and looming silos, it might just be appropriate that the majority of Kuksi’s process happens here. From foraging the depths of the internet for the perfect model components, to composing thoughtful and complex juxtapositions, all the way through the assemblage, priming, coating, and texturing the myriad pieces, Kuksi spends hours contemplating and executing a sculpture.
This process has not come easy for Kris Kuksi; he puts in the time and the work and has since a young age. Born in 1973 in Springfield, Missouri, he subsequently moved away from his father who struggled with alcoholism to a socially isolated childhood north of Wichita, Kansas. With a mother busy working to support her family and two brothers over a decade older than him, Kris’ creativity was encouraged by his grandmother who shared her stationery in order for him to keep his imagination alive through drawing. With the overwhelmingly muted environment of the Midwest and the isolation caused by his mother’s social phobia, Kris began to develop a rich, interior tapestry of fantasy and creativity. LEGO’s mixed with rural detritus, action heroes with agrarian discards, to bring to life the invented imagery of his mind.
A propensity for drawing and painting in high school and the support of an encouraging art teacher pushed Kuksi to complete both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in painting from Fort Hays State University. His early painting ranged from gestural portraiture a la Caravaggio to more psychedelic and visceral work, reminiscent of Hieronymus Bosch and H.R. Giger. The latter two influences would find their way into his sculpture but this would take some time. “My early paintings and mixed-media assemblages represent the apex of the discovery of myself as an artist. At first, it was hard to accept that I was really a builder and not a painter. If you turn me loose in a museum, I will find where the European sculptures are on the map. Italian Renaissance sculpture is what holds my greatest appreciation and respect—Bernini being my ultimate hero.” After benefitting from several extended workshops focused on the techniques of the old masters in Austria, Germany, and Italy, one of his paintings was accepted into a highly selective exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait gallery.
The passing of his father coupled with the intensity of his workshop training propelled Kris into new frontiers of meaning and medium. He was inspired and moved to take a risk, wanting to make something of himself with the realization that his destiny was his own--not at all related to his parents mistakes of the past. Following a personal vow to become a successful artist, he began to explore the depths of humanity’s struggles using a new technique of assemblage.
“The function of my work has to do with relating to the darker side of human psychology.”
It is more than his heavily religious upbringing that pushes Kuksi to reinvent iconography. “I enjoy the idea of distorting classical and religious sculpture because it is what mankind has always done. Humans have borrowed gods from other gods. The Romans replaced Greek gods, the Christians replaced Pagan gods, and so on. I just like to create the next step, another parallel reality where I have stolen from classical and religious imagery and created new symbols and idols.
Over the span of Kuksi’s career, his works have been featured in many magazine publications such as Hi Fructose, Juxtapoz, Wild, and many others. Kuksi’s art has attracted many public and private collectors in the United States, Europe, The Middle East and Australia that include individuals such as Mark Parker (Nike CEO), Chris Hardwick (comedian and entertainer), Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys (musician and producer) Wendy Asher (art collector), Sean Parker (Facebook co-founder), Steve Aoki (DJ), Kay Alden (three time Emmy award winning television writer), Fred Durst (musician and film director), Usher (musician), Chris Weitz (director of The Golden Compass and Twilight: New Moon) Guillermo del Toro (director of Pan’s Labyrinth and Hell Boy 2), Community Dinner Club (Los Angeles), Randal Haworth (plastic surgeon), and Robin Williams (Academy Award and Golden Globe winning actor). Kris has also collaborated with other individuals and companies such as Saatchi Art, Nike, Cosmopolitan Hotel (Las Vegas), The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (motion picture), Visionaire (publication by Givenchy), Iris van Herpen (fashion designer), and Tibet (benefit auction). He is represented by Joshua Liner Gallery in New York and Mark Moore Gallery in Los Angeles. He currently works and lives out of Lawrence, Kansas with his wife and three children.
Text by Neal Barbour