Augustine Kofie Remixing Deep Cuts in ‘Inventory’
By Jaime Rojo and Steven Harrington
Co-Founders, Brooklyn Street Art
Newly re-mixed and sampled soulful works by Augustine Kofie are featured in the “Inventory” show that just opened here in New York at Jonathan Levine this weekend. No, he’s not looking through his storeroom of canvasses and clearing out old year-end inventory, the name refers to the “controlled hoarding” Kofie goes through to amass the muscles and skin of his 45 degree compartmentalized grid pieces.
He may be a crate-digging cultural magpie when collecting packaging and office supplies and jazz records and science journals that span a half century, but when he lays it down in shades of ochre and rust, golden rod and walnut, steel grey and maple, stuttering birch and enameled persimmon the rational leafing of text and texture all makes reassuring orderly, nostalgically spun and sampled sense.
And then there is the patch of seafoam sky, the deciduous limbic form that is not strictly geometric, the shock of hot tomato cheeks… the speckled face of a cat-eyed Doe sunnily perched in her modest bathing suit, or the closely-shorn dome of a white glove architect bending lithely toward his tilted graphite rendering. These are the human elements that anchor the shifting planes, grounding the piece, adding warmth, with good reason.
“I’m making beats,” he says as he rests with a short glass of amber spirits on Levine’s modernist office couch as the first guests flow into the gallery out front, “and those are records I’m pulling samples from.”
Like a studied and somatic DJ and collagist, Kofie’s segue is not limited to the auditory, and he continues to spin the metaphor when describing the visual building process for his vintage futurism. “When you are using a drum machine people are saying that it is without a soul – but I’m trying to make this electronic beat music using samples. The way I’m manipulating and maneuvering the curation of certain things – some are very focused but the majority of it is very serendipitous, off the cuff. A lot of things that I begin to do end of being covered up for of the sake of the design.”
We’ve hit on something: a cocktail of Coltrane, Marvin Gaye, Cypress Hill, Kandinsky, Eames, mid-century modernism, rusty rocket ships, Edward Murrow, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Cornel West, and Bill Nye the Science Guy and suddenly the West Coast mixologist is at the controls. “You have to go into the process like a hoarder who ultimately knows that you will have to let things go,” he says of the sharply natural math at hand.
“The thing looks very technical and very precise but there is a lot of fun, soulful play happening in the beginning. In order to get it on there I do have to cut up these shapes and forty-five degree angles so I can get everything in – and then see what comes up.”
“I like throwing in some of the graphical elements; portrait and people’s faces – that happens when I use the thinner paper. For this collection I’m using mostly pressed-board and packaging, which doesn’t have that many portrait graphics unless it’s a record cover I found. Literally I have a box of things and I’m sifting through. I’m like “I need this horn!”… Or Herbie Mann might have a flute that I need instead. There is a lot of picking and going through it. I enjoy that crate-digging kind of process. What ends up popping up is mostly kind of serendipity.”
The exhibition allows you to see a miniature version of his workshop in LA that gives stage to the inventory of found objects, ephemera, and texture, and you get a sense of the purposeful tranquil stirrings that are always at play. In tandem with the gallery show of paintings and collage he has done his first big New York wall – actually in New Jersey with Mana Contemporary.
No matter the scale, Kofie’s work is close-up and personal and he sits easily with you peering at the details. “Large wall- small collage; It’s intimate in both sizes. It’s just the approach of it, the thinking that goes behind it.”
Again he is creating in the moment. “For the wall in Jersey I had an initial idea before it but when I came to the wall and saw it, saw the space, looked around and I even put my back to the wall and took a look out and around and saw… Also the colors, working next to Shepard’s piece – I didn’t want it to look misplaced.”
“So I had to change everything up. Sometimes you have to go in a little blindly.” He talks about time constraints, malfunctioning tools, and recalibrating his approach to fit the new environment. Luckily, his first decade as a serious LA graffiti writer came in handy.”Yeah a lot of the old can control tricks came out on this wall. There are some tape points, and I’ll use twine – I mean I could have brought a laser thing, I’ve done that before. I didn’t want to deal with it and I didn’t want to project the piece. I really liked the spray.”
Give him the tools and the right inventory and there will be music.
All photos © Jaime Rojo