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Kumkum Fernando Interview with Cool Hunting (Miami Art Week)

Interview: Artist Kumkum Fernando

A detailed conversation from PLAY, the nostalgic exhibition held during Miami Art Week

MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA – DECEMBER 07: American Express and PlayLab, Inc. Present PLAY by American Express Platinum at The Miami Beach EDITION on December 07, 2023 in Miami Beach, Florida. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for American Express Platinum)

Hosted on the sand at the Miami Beach EDITION hotel during Miami Art Week, the immersive gallery PLAY by American Express Platinum indulged in nostalgia as a force of inspiration. Unlike at traditional galleries, guests visiting PLAY were encouraged to touch the artwork within the exhibit—thanks to the fact that the participating artists had been tasked with reimagining toys from their past and bring them to life as stand-alone art pieces that were available to purchase. Among the talent involved, Kumkum Fernando, a Sri Lanka-born sculptural artist represented by Jonathan Levine Projects, created special pieces that encouraged guests to explore the ephemeral nature of art and nostalgia. “His ‘Tomorrow’ is a toy robot that sits at the intersection of art and play, with colorful hand-silk screened patterns and wooden shapes fastened together by magnets, inviting guests to play and assemble the robot in myriad ways,” explains Bess Spaeth, SVP, US Premium Products and Membership Rewards at American Express. We were able to sit down with Fernando for an exclusive conversation during art week to dive further into his piece “Tomorrow” and learn more about what the future holds.

MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA – DECEMBER 07: Kumkum Fernando attends PLAY by American Express Platinum at The Miami Beach EDITION on December 07, 2023 in Miami Beach, Florida. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for American Express Platinum)

How did you get into this type of sculpting and art? What was the genesis for this all?

In short, my artistic journey began with mixed media collages. During one project, I explored the patterns of antique window grills documented on Saigon’s streets. As I arranged these elements, the shapes evolved into a figurative form. Witnessing this transformation, I turned a flat object into a three-dimensional shape, giving birth to one of my first characters. I named it “Lotus Face,” inspired by the lotus flower pattern adorning its face. Inspired by this, I made a conscious decision to infuse more figurative elements into my work. Since then, my focus has shifted to creating geometric sci-fi characters.

You’ve worked on huge installation pieces for the likes of Coachella, how was it recreating your work in a much smaller form that is available for sale?

Before Coachella, my artwork was typically small, and everything I created was available for sale. However, I had never undertaken such a large edition before. Preparing for all 50 editions posed a challenge because all my pieces are handmade. I didn’t want to cast or make the toy in resin; I wanted to stay true to my process and keep all editions handmade just like my previous work. To meet this demand, I collaborated with lacquer artisans from Vietnam who I worked closely with to produce all the editions for PLAY by American Express Platinum.

How did your partnership with American Express Platinum come to be?

It was great to be part of PLAY by American Express Platinum at Miami Art Week. Both American Express and PlayLab, Inc. granted me complete creative freedom to create “Tomorrow,” and I loved seeing the interactive installation that was inspired by my toy. When I first started out as an artist, it was my dream to work on projects where I have complete artistic freedom to bring my ideas to life. Being a part of this allowed me to do just that and it’s been something I used to only daydream about.

What do you think people took away from your art?

I think people had various interpretations; during the event a lot of them told me that they felt like a child playing around with the wooden magnetic blocks. They loved the fact that you could keep changing the shape of the robot. For me the intention was exactly that: every time you play with it, you can transform it into a different character, symbolizing a fresh start for the toy whenever you change its persona. That’s why I named it “Tomorrow.” Personally it’s a symbol for new beginnings.

What’s next for you in the future?

I have a few releases lined up and a few projects and shows down the pipeline; however, they are not set in stone. I will be in touch to share with you the new developments as they unfold.

COLOSSAL ART: In ‘The Lost Mystics,’ Kumkum Fernando’s Enigmatic Wanderers Chase Illusions Through Time and Space

A robotic sculpture featuring hundreds of wooden blocks and recycled nails and brass.

“Formally Known as Izah,” 950 blocks composed of upcycled wood, hand- and spray-painted wood, scratched coated brass detailing, and recycled nails, 31.5 x 56.2 x 21.5 inches. All images © Kumkum Fernando, courtesy of Jonathan LeVine Projects, shared with permission

In vibrant color, Kumkum Fernando’s hulking, hybrid figures (previously) wander through an enigmatic and quickly evolving world. “The melancholy characters of The Lost Mystics are searching for meaning, crisscrossing time and space, unmoored and chasing illusions,” says a statement from Jonathan Levine Projects, which presents the artist’s solo exhibition during ArtPrize.

Fernando repurposes found wood, nails, and metal details into modular beings, some of which have removable crowns. The artist draws on a wide range of global traditions, from Ethiopian and Sri Lankan masks to American board games to Buddhist and Hindu folktales. Simultaneously robotic and mystical, each character interacts with its surroundings in a unique way. The duo in “Soul Mates,” for example, are said to have traveled 23 million light years to find one another, and in “Which Way Is Home,” the creature turns its three heads in a perpetual search for direction.

The Lost Mystics is on view at the ArtPrize Clubhouse in Grand Rapids, Michigan, through October 1. Explore more on the artist’s website and Instagram.

A robotic sculpture featuring hundreds of wooden blocks and recycled nails and brass.

“Which Way is Home,” 1,900 blocks made from upcycled wood, hand- and spray-painted wood, scratched coated brass detailing, and recycled nails, 24 x 56 x 22 inches. Installation includes 3 removable heads that articulate 360 degrees and a base made from an antique coffee table found in the Mekong region of Vietnam

Two robotic sculptures featuring hundreds of wooden blocks and recycled nails and brass.

“Soul Mates,” upcycled wood, hand- and spray-painted wood, scratched coated brass detailing, and recycled nails, 24 x 28.3 x 12.6 inches each, containing 300 blocks

A robotic sculpture featuring hundreds of wooden blocks and recucled nails and brass.

“Voodoo Veera”, 230 blocks made from upcycled wood, hand- and spray-painted wood, scratched coated brass detailing, and recycled nails, 19 x 19 x 10 inches

A robotic sculpture featuring hundreds of wooden blocks and recycled nails and brass.

Details of “Voodoo Veera”

A robotic sculpture featuring hundreds of wooden blocks and recycled nails and brass.

“Baby Devis Board Game,” 650 blocks made of upcycled wood, hand- and spray-painted wood, scratched coated brass detailing and solid brass halo, and recycled nails, 25.6 x 44.2 × 14.5 inches. Installation includes 180 hand-turned pawns

A robotic sculpture featuring hundreds of wooden blocks and recycled nails and brass.

Detail of “Baby Devis Board Game”

A robotic sculpture featuring hundreds of wooden blocks and recycled nails and brass.

“Formally Known as Izah”

A robotic sculpture featuring dozens of wooden blocks and recycled nails and brass.

“Yellow Fellow,” 45 blocks made from upcycled wood with added pigments, scratched solid brass ears, and brass detailing, 22 x 30.5 x 13.2 inches

Kumkum Fernando’s Colorful Robots Take Over Coachella (Interview with designboom)

The 2023 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival opened its doors to immerse visitors in a world of vibrant art installations. Among the four new designers joining this year’s art program is Kumkum Fernando, a Sri Lankan-born artist known for his colorful sculptures of gods and robots. Fernando’s newly commissioned works were created specifically for the California festival to add a touch of Hindu mythology and retro-futurism to the iconic Coachella landscape.

‘The fusion of Asian cultural elements with futuristic designs in my sculptures is a natural expression of my artistic vision. I am not attempting to impose any particular meaning or message onto my work, but rather to explore the possibilities of combining different elements to create something entirely new and unique,’ Kumkum Fernando tells designboom. Dressed in bright tones and playful patterns, the otherworldly totemic creatures are titled ‘The Messengers’ and deliver their own message to each passerby. ‘I anticipate that (visitors) will experience the artwork in their own unique way. Some may be drawn to the intricate details and vibrant colors, while others may be captivated by the underlying themes and cultural references.’ the artist explains. To learn more about Fernando’s giant robot god sculptures, his sources of inspiration, and his artistic process, read the full interview below.

designboom (DB): Can you tell us a little about your installation for Coachella 2023?

Kumkum Fernando (KF): My installations at the festival draw a parallel resemblance to my previous sculptures of gods and robots. These new works are by far the biggest I have ever dreamt of making. The festival will showcase figurines, which I have created solely for the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. The inspiration for these works comes from a combination of South Asian art/architecture, Hindu mythology, personal memories, as well as imagery of retro-futurism.

DB: You are known to transform found objects/ motifs into artworks. Can you tell us a little about your artistic process? How do you incorporate your background into your work?

KF: My artistic process mainly involves repurposing old motifs, stories and designs into futuristic/ surreal forms, giving them a new life. As part of this process, I collect and document the shapes and motifs that capture my imagination. As I arrange shapes and patterns in specific ways, a face often emerges, serving as the foundation of my creative process. Each of my works begins with this as the starting point and gradually evolves as the design process unfolds, eventually taking the form of a complete being. Growing up, I was steeped in the rich cultural traditions of Sri Lanka, where I was exposed to ancient folk tales, myths of flying machines, and stories of divine and demonic beings from other realms. These childhood experiences along with my personal stories continue to inform and inspire my creative process, as I draw upon these narratives to shape and give meaning to my art.

DB: In your work, one finds a series of futuristic robot-like sculptures that are influenced by the colors, shapes and ornaments of Sri Lankan and other Asian Cultures. Is this a conscious attempt to combine the past and the future?

KF: My intention is not to force a connection between the past and the future, but rather to create a new world where they can coexist. The fusion of Asian cultural elements with futuristic designs in my sculptures is a natural expression of my artistic vision. I am not attempting to impose any particular meaning or message onto my work, but rather to explore the possibilities of combining different elements to create something entirely new and unique.

Lance Gerber

DB: Many of your works are presented together with your poems. What does poetry mean to you? Will the Coachella piece be accompanied by a poem, too?

KF: My writings for the characters I make are more like a window into a moment of their lives. The words together with the sculpture hope to capture the feeling that I am trying to create for the world the characters live in.

DB: What do you hope your new installation will bring to this year’s Coachella? How do you expect visitors to interact with it / what do you think they will take away from it?

KF: The stories behind some of the artworks that will be showcased this year are very personal to me.

As for how visitors will interact with the installation, I anticipate that they will experience the artwork in their own unique way. Some may be drawn to the intricate details and vibrant colors, while others may be captivated by the underlying themes and cultural references. I hope that due to the immense scale of these works, the audience experiences a sense of awe and feels transported to a world where these characters exist in their midst.

Jonathan LeVine on Blind Shovel Podcast

A veteran Blind Shovel, this one with curator and trail-blazer Jonathan LeVine. LeVine sat down with Blind Shovel host, Michael Olivo, to discuss his New Jersey origins, the low-brow art explosion, running a gallery, his melodic-punk band Cyclone Static, and much more. Click here to listen to the episode.

Blind Shovel is an arts and music podcast focused on interviewing creators about their inspirations, process, and maturation. Released every Tuesday night at 8pm EST.

 

The Messengers by Kumkum Fernando at Coachella

Kumkum Fernando: The Messengers at Coachella

By Valerie Milano, The Hollywood Times

Indio, CA (The Hollywood Times) 4/19/23 – Among the beautifully stunning art installations at the 2023 Coachella festival, the tallest and most prominent piece by far is a collection of 3 sculptures entitled The Messengers conceptualized and created by the talented Kumkum Fernando.

With a height that ranges between 65-75 feet tall, The Messengers stretch to the heavens and have been a pleasantly striking and powerful addition to the landscape of the eclectic concert. When chatting with THT, Kumkum describes the planning stages of bringing the vision of The Messengers to life. He recalls, “We worked with Paul Tollett directly–Coachella has a badass production team that did an awesome job. So, they did the fabrication part of the piece, and I did the 3D rendering and selected the colors. Because I was not on site, I didn’t really see the artwork until a week before the festival, so I worked online with the art department and that is how it worked. I’ve never worked like that before, because I am really hands-on with my work. At some points, I was nervous because I have never done work like this before- working from a distance, but Paul just did an awesome job and I’m really happy with it.”

The Messengers represent something extremely personal to the artist. Kumkum reveals, “The Messenger in the center, the tallest one, is named after my son. My son lives away from me in Germany while I live in Vietnam. I had done a similar model before, and it was called Ilo the Dreamer. For Coachella, I wanted to bring back that model and revisit that because it means a lot to me because it is my son. In this case, I wanted to give [the Messenger] a jet pack that symbolically means that my son can come to me whenever he wants. It is also dedicated to those people that cannot be with us at this very moment; it was kind of dedicated to love.”

Originally featured in The Hollywood Times

Art Fair 14C Recap

Art Fair 14C returned to Jersey City from November 11th through 13th featuring galleries from around the county. The fair took over the Jersey City Armory at 678 Montgomery Street. “This whole thing was made so that we could help people in the visual arts make a living,” said Robinson Holloway, executive director of Art Fair 14C. “It helps people in the arts be seen and it also helps art lovers see new things. Whether it’s new art or challenging art.”

Our booth was a comprehensive group showcase highlighting artists from New Jersey, as well as artists based around the world who have exhibited extensively at the gallery over its 21-year history.

Artists making their inaugural debut with the gallery include Aaron Robert Baker (Chicago), Joseph Borzotta (Asbury Park), Jessy Nite (Miami), Pixel Pancho (Italy) and Erik Pyontek, (Trenton) and Pork Chop (Asbury Park). Returning gallery veterans include Dylan Egon (Jersey City), Shepard Fairey (Los Angeles), Kumkum Fernando (Vietnam) and Jenna Krypell (Brooklyn).

Click here to view all the pieces exhibited at Art Fair 14C. Continue reading to view installation images of our booth and feel free to email us regarding availability of work. There are still beautiful pieces still available!

Art Fair 14C: What’s there this weekend and what’s next for Jersey City’s biggest art gathering
By David Mosca

Jonathan LeVine unpacks artist Shepard Fairey's artwork which he will be exhibiting at the Art Fair 14C at the Jersey City Armory from Nov. 11-13, 2022. (Reena Rose Sibayan | The Jersey Journal)

It’s the largest visual art event in New Jersey that happens under one roof, and it takes place in Jersey City. Art Fair 14C is returning for its fourth edition this weekend at the Armory in Jersey City from Friday, Nov. 11, to Sunday, Nov. 13.

Artists from New Jersey and around the world are preparing to take part in the annual event that allows artists and galleries to connect with the broader public and gain additional interest and engagement in the visual arts.

In October, it was stated that attendance at this year’s event is expected to surpass all of the previous records at Art Fair 14C.

“This whole thing was made so that we could help people in the visual arts make a living,” said Robinson Holloway, executive director of Art Fair 14C. “It helps people in the arts be seen and it also helps art lovers see new things. Whether it’s new art or challenging art.”

Following this year’s event, visitors will be sure to wonder what’s next. As of now, that can be answered. Next year, the Art Fair 14C will expand its model to satellite fairs in Monmouth County. Further expansion is expected in 2024.

“We’re seeing that the future for the state is very bright when it comes to arts and culture, especially with events like 14C and its community activations” said Jason Rand of HarrisonRand, one of the partners of Art Fair 14C.

While still an experiment, their first satellite fair, Art Fair 14C: Detour Bell Works, will include a space of over 20,000 square feet in April 2023 at the historic building by famed architect Eero Saarinen designed for Bell Labs in Holmdel. The satellite fair will be half the size of November’s event, with each fair having its own identity.

“We’re attempting to do a satellite fair in a different part of New Jersey every spring while we keep the big fair in Jersey City every November,” said Holloway. “Bell Labs is such a huge and beautiful space. With Monmouth County being a very arts rich area, it felt like a good place to start.”

The application for exhibitors will be opening the first week of November 2022 and for the first time, the Showcase exhibition will be open to artists beyond New Jersey to honor the innovation of Bell Labs. For 2024, 14C is hoping to hold its satellite fair in Bergen or Morris County.

This weekend is also 14C’s first time showcasing the event at the Jersey City Armory. Last year’s event was held at Mana Contemporary. But bringing such a large-scale art event to a space that’s not exactly for entertainment was challenging.

“This is a team that is literally working 24/7 to get this produced,” said Rand. “It’s hugely ambitious in scope and there are so many details that people don’t see or hear about when there’s a vision to activate a space like this.

“Jersey City has all of these amazing large-scale buildings that are waiting to be activated,” he said. “New Jersey has all of these different communities and I think the one thing that Robinson and her team does well is that they understand the unique DNA of each community and they’re able to reach out and pull them in wherever the space is, and it’s activated in a way only an art experience can do, which is bringing in all different kinds of artists as well as visitors and art lovers.”

Featured artists for this year’s event include Geraldine Gaines, a visual artist from Jersey City who was the winner of Art Fair 14C’s People’s Choice Award in 2021 and has a free booth at Art Fair 14C’s 4th Edition fair.

Gaines is known for her African traditional mask carvings, which have been shown in several art shows in the New Jersey and New York City areas. She refers to these works as “Doors to the Past” in which she uses old and new wooden doors as her canvas in recreating the elaborate masks images on her doors.

“I started painting masks while going back to NJCU and while in a studio class where the professor told us to make up a concept and use something old,” said Gaines. “I know I wanted to do the masks, but I didn’t know what to put them on. The idea of a door popped into my head, and I figured I could use that, but I still wasn’t sure how I was going to do it. I didn’t know if I would burn it in or carve it in. After sleeping on it, I realized that I was going to carve it in, which I’ve never done before.”

The collection consists of several doors with mask-themed carvings overlying African inspired fabric wax prints. She completes each carving by adding dark contrasting colors, which makes the image appear as if it’s popping off the surface.

Gaines has been commissioned by others to do the same work, where she creates the work on their own door. She’s been doing this since 2007. The goal of her concept is to educate those who don’t know the history and culture, and creativity of African masks.

“It’s been a journey to find places to show your work or to connect with other artists,” says Gaines. “14C has added visibility to my work, especially for people that wouldn’t normally be able to see and appreciate it. People see what I see, and it makes me smile that I don’t have to explain it to them.”

Also participating for the first time at 14C this year is art dealer Jonathan LeVine, a former Jersey City resident now residing in Rutherford who had a hand in creating the event with Holloway.

LeVine was the former coordinator of visual arts of Jersey City in the 1990s and used to be roommates with “Dancing” Tony Susco, who is known for putting together the Ghost of Uncle Joe every Halloween at the Historic Jersey City and Harsimus Cemetery and Grove Street’s Groove on Grove.

“This is me hanging out with my old community. It’s social and it’s stimulating,” says LeVine. “I’ve always kept a dialogue with the art community here since I got my start, and while I’m in in Rutherford I’m here quite a bit.”

When Holloway pulled together some of Jersey City’s galleries to do an art show, LeVine suggested they have the show at a hotel. The first Art Fair 14C would end up at the Hyatt Hotel in Downtown Jersey City when it debuted.

“It was easy to do it that way because I was used to doing hotel fairs when I first started out,” said LeVine. “But a lot of this is Robinson’s baby and she did a lot to make it happen.”

LeVine deals with street art and pop surrealism, working from the comfort of his own home online after closing his space before the pandemic began. He also had a former gallery space at Mana Contemporary. Some of the artists that he’s worked with include Ron English and Shepard Fairey.

Other participating artists such as Patricia Pedraza from New York City does digital photography on her smartphone. She is currently exploring structure as seen in nature, whether it be botanicals or flowers, as well as in man-made constructs such as architecture and bridges. She then uses digital tools to find new and different ways to look at the original image, sometimes creating a kaleidoscopic event. She will have nine pieces on display at the show.

Pedraza is part of a group of artists being represented by the Venezuela Art Fair and Guaicora Studios. Also among that group is Melissa Schainker, who describes her work as figurative surrealism.

“I create work that is representational, but also distorts reality,” says Schainker. “The goal in this style is to depict both reality and the subconscious.”

This is Schainker’s first time participating in Art Fair 14C, with two works that explore grief and resilience. She has also exhibited at the Hamptons Art Market. She has lived in New York City for almost 10 years.

Nyugen E. Smith, a first-generation Caribbean-American interdisciplinary artist based in Jersey City, maintains a studio at Mana Contemporary. He deepens his knowledge of historical and present-day conditions of Black African descendants in the diaspora through found object sculpture, mixed media drawing, performance, photography, sound, video, and writing.

Smith launched his series Bundlehouse in 2005, which consisted of mixed media, assemblage, and sculptural works that focus on forced migration. He will be bringing the series to the fourth edition of 14C.

“Having Jersey City’s Nyugen E. Smith and his Bundlehouse series featured in our exhibition space reinforces this mission, ” said Kristin DeAngelis, director of community outreach at Mana. “It is an extraordinary opportunity for art collectors attending Art Fair 14C to engage in this stage of Nyugen’s rapidly advancing career.”

Other participating artists from Mana Contemporary include Sunil Garg, a 3D experimental light artist; Danielle Scott; Allan Gorman; Deborah L. Morris, a ceramic and textile artist; Lana Abraham-Murawski; Greg Rosen; and Michael Aguirre and Kristine Go, co-owners and founders of MK Apothecary.

One of the additional themes for this year is a focus on veterans, and how fitting as the event begins on Veterans Day. Art Fair 14C recently collaborated with the Ivy Brown Gallery for its 4th Edition Art Fair to increase the visibility and inclusion of local veterans and military personnel.

Ivy Brown sponsored a special exhibit of artwork curated by veterans to raise visibility, understanding, and support of arts and health services for military personnel. Through this recognition, art allows veterans to develop social connections, provide hands-on activities, and acts as a form of creative therapy.

This year, Frontline Arts is partnering with 14C as they continue to focus on veterans in the arts. Frontline Arts is located in Branchburg and will have two veterans in attendance at this year’s event: Ron Erickson of Bogota, who does printmaking and paints; and Hoboken’s Jim Fallon, who some might know from his 2018 exhibition at the Hoboken Museum, “Heaven, Hell, and Hoboken.”

Frontline Arts has been providing veterans with an art program since 2011. They also travel across the state to meet veterans and spread their program at institutions such as the Montclair Art Museum, Stockton University, and Monmouth University.

Artists that are a part of the showcase receive lifetime attendance to Art Fair 14C along with exhibition and residency opportunities during the rest of the year.

Two artists from the 2022 Showcase will be awarded prizes of a free exhibition booth at the 5th Edition of Art Fair 14C in 2023. The People’s Choice winner and the Director’s Choice winner will both be offered free exhibition booths in 2023.

Tickets for Art Fair 14C can be found at https://artfair14c.com/. Tickets for access on Friday, Nov. 11, are free to the public. Public access is from 1 to 7 p.m. The show continues on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 12 and Nov. 13, from noon to 6 p.m. There’s also a special VIP reception the night before on Thursday, Nov. 10, from 6 to 9 p.m. The Armory is located at 678 Montgomery St., Jersey City.

Originally featured in The Jersey Journal

Installation Magazine Interview with Jonathan LeVine

The monolithic sculptures of Kumkum Fernando look to the future in their design language but pay homage to the past in their handmade construction and collaboration with Southeast Asian artisans.  The forms revel in their celebration of ritual as they are born from a labor intensive and secretive process that transforms robots into idols.

Kumkum’s sculptures are mixed media, however, the main material is wood. The blueprint for each piece is rendered into individual building blocks, which are subsequently hand-sanded and constructed. Color and silk screen designs are added to bring vibrancy and depth to the blocks. The pieces are then finished with a high-gloss lacquer by southeast Asian artisans. The lacquering process is quite secretive; Kumkum has been working with the artisans for years, but they have never completely revealed their techniques.

How does the philosophy of your gallery align with the vision of VOLTA?

Jonathan Levine Projects is committed to cutting edge art, which is something I’ve always found VOLTA to celebrate. I also appreciate how VOLTA, similar to my gallery, provides exhibition opportunities for emerging artists.

Is this your first year exhibiting with VOLTA?

This is the third time Jonathan LeVine Projects is exhibiting at VOLTA NY. Our first time was in 2011 with an exhibition of work by Jim Houser. We returned in 2014 with work by Pose. This is not our first time exhibiting at VOLTA NY, however, it’s exciting to return after eight years. I look forward to being back in New York and seeing many familiar faces.

In what ways are your exhibiting artists engaging with VOLTA’s messaging of “Connect,” “Collect,” and “Discover?”

Our booth is a solo presentation of work by Kumkum Fernando and his process is the epitome of VOLTA’s messaging – “Connect. Collect. Discover.” He was born in Sri Lanka and is the son of an antiques and curiosities collector. As far back as he can remember, Kumkum has been a collector as well: of stones, spoons, statues, masks, and other ancient marvels and treasures. From his home base in Vietnam, he scours the streets for found materials and uses them as a source of inspiration. By repurposing their aesthetic, he creates monolith sculptures that connect to the past, yet present fantastical visions of the future: mighty robots, flying contraptions and mystical beings. In addition, Kumkum is always discovering and playing with new techniques. For example, all of his paint colors are custom made, sometimes discovering over 70 unique colors before selecting the perfect hue.

The 2022 edition of VOLTA New York is particularly special because it celebrates the fair’s return to the city after an unprecedented season of change. The international restrictions of the pandemic were deeply felt and presented opportunities to develop new programming and methods of engagement that may never have been considered otherwise. In what ways has the programming of your gallery evolved? How did you maintain a connection with your collectors and artists? Will these changes remain a part of your gallery moving forward?

In 2019, Jonathan LeVine Projects transitioned from a brick-and-mortar gallery to a virtual exhibition platform. When the pandemic hit we were luckily already established as a digital space for exhibiting and selling fine art. Over the last two years we’ve refined our ability to recreate a gallery experience solely through virtual interactions. For example, we developed a website dedicated to Kumkum Fernando that includes images, videos and descriptions not only of his work, but of his entire artistic process from inspiration to final creation. The goal is for visitors of the site to develop a connection to the work by getting a first-hand look inside his practice, pulling back the curtain so to speak. This is something that will continue to be part of our programming moving forward. It will make our in-person exhibitions, like VOLTA NY, a sought after opportunity.

How did you determine which artists to exhibit at VOLTA?

I began working with Kumkum Fernando in early 2021 when we started planning his first solo exhibition at the gallery. Then the pandemic happened and everything went on pause. Choosing to exhibit his work at VOLTA NY was a no brainer because he had these amazing pieces that had waited years to be shown, in addition to new works.Also, following the success of his March 2022 online exhibition Temples, Gods and Robots, I had to take this opportunity for his work to be seen in-person by art enthusiasts and collectors from around the world.

What dialogue does the work of Kumkum Fernando engage in? How does it fit within the greater narrative of the other artists in your roster?

Kumkum’s sculptures are vibrant deities that evoke a unique spiritualism. They appear as toys from a distance, however, upon closer examination, they transform into idols. I find the narrative of transformation within sculpture to be something I’m drawn to. For example, I gave Haroshi his first solo show in New York City back in 2011 and exhibited his work many times after that. At first glance, his sculptures appear like everyday objects. Upon closer inspection it’s revealed that each piece is composed of layered skateboard decks. More recently, I’ve exhibited work by the New York based artist Ronald Gonzalez. His sculptures transform found objects into human busts in an attempt to capture the darker workings of the human soul. Both Haroshi and Gonzalez literally transform their materials to create something new. Kumkum transforms the aesthetics of his source of inspiration. The traditional objects that inspire him, such as window patterns from ancient temples, are given new life within his cosmic monoliths.

How do their choices of material reflect those themes?

Kumkum’s sculptures are mixed media, however, the main material is wood. The blueprint for each piece is rendered into individual building blocks, which are subsequently hand-sanded and constructed. Color and silk screen designs are added to bring vibrancy and depth to the blocks. The pieces are then finished with a high-gloss lacquer by southeast Asian artisans. The lacquering process is quite secretive; Kumkum has been working with the artisans for years, but they have never completely revealed their techniques. The creation of one piece is a very labor intensive process and each phase is like its own ritual. I think this ties back to the feeling of spiritualism his work evokes. It’s also a nod to the indigenous peoples who created his sources of inspiration – jewelry, rugs, ornate doors, etc. – all of which were made in a ceremonial manner.

What curatorial considerations were made in preparation for VOLTA?

Kumkum played a vital role in curating this booth. Everything from the size of the sculptures, the pedestal placement, down to the lighting is very intentional. We’re exhibiting ten sculptures, all of which are two to three feet tall, in a 200 square foot booth. At first I thought it was too much work for that small of a space. But then Kumkum showed me digital renderings of his intended design and they were impactful. The works unapologetically consume the booth, like a mini robot army preparing for battle.

What message do you hope to leave visitors with (both those who are experiencing the fair in person and our readers who are exploring the work remotely?)

I hope visitors are left knowing more about Kumkum Fernando and eager to see more from him. Aesthetically, his work is amazing and can stand on its own. But a deeper appreciation is revealed when you learn about his background and process as a true artisan.

Source: Installation Magazine

Hype Art – Kumkum Fernando Transports His Mystical Robots to VOLTA Art Fair

Frieze is not the only art fair kicking off in New York this week. Along with 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in Harlem and AIPAD’s The Photography ShowVOLTA opened doors to mark its 14th edition.

Founded in Basel back in 2005, VOLTA has grown from being a dialogue between art dealers and friends, to become an international event showcasing a range of upcoming galleries spanning an array of artistic disciplines.

Located at booth 204, Jonathan LeVine Projects presents the fantastical sculptures of Kumkum Fernando. Largely inspired by the objects he’s collected in his travels, the Sri Lankan artist references everything from ancient temples in South Asia, along with jewelry, rugs and masks that are given new life as cosmic monoliths. Part action figure, part mythic relic, the sculptures on view are part of a new body of work that is based on the artist’s personal memories and made from Vietnamese lacquering techniques on wood.

 

Source: Hype Art

VOLTA New York Recap

VOLTA New York returned to NYC from May 18th through 22nd featuring galleries from around the world.  The fair took over the former Dia Building and Hauser & Wirth gallery space on West 22nd Street with the mantra Discover – Connect – Collect.  This focused approach resulted in compelling visual statements by up-and-coming and established artists, creating a vibrant and approachable environment of discovery for the engaged collector.

Our booth featured a solo presentation of new work by Vietnam-based artist Kumkum Fernando.  Following the success of his online exhibition Temples, Gods and Robots, fair goers had the opportunity to finally see his sculptures in person.

In addition to sculptures, our booth featured six limited edition prints on wood and the first 50 visitors received a giveaway of a limited-run posters.

Click here to view all the pieces exhibited at VOLTA New York.  Continue reading to view installation images of our booth and feel free to email us regarding availability of work by Kumkum Fernando.  There are still beautiful pieces still available!