I had the wonderful opportunity of interviewing artist, filmmaker, writer and curator Juri Koll. Juri’s passion for art runs deep. He has produced and managed the production of features such as Disappear Here, Until The Music Ends (Slash, Chrystal Method), American Cowslip (Val Kilmer, Bruce Dern, Rip Torn), New Wave (Rachel Grant), The Truth About Kerry (Stana Katic), NekroBeach, and That Game of Chess. Juri has produced and/or directed over 40 short films, both fiction and documentaries. His films have screened all over the world, in over 70 festivals, including Cannes, the Cork International Film Festival, the Australian International Film Festival, and won many awards.
Follow me as we journey through the world of Juri Koll.
Renisha Marie : Who is Juri Koll?
Juri Koll: I’m an artist, a filmmaker, a writer, and curator. My passion is art of any kind, whether it’s painting, sculpture, music, or other kinds of performance. I love to communicate, to tell stories, to stimulate conversation, thought, ideas. I like to hatch plots basically.
Renisha Marie: You’re an artist, filmmaker, writer and curator. How do you balance it all? When does each of these talents surface? Is there a season to which you focus only on film making while the artist takes a break or do you perform these talents simultaneously? What inspires the rise in each of these talents?
Juri Koll: I do all of them at the same time, unless I’m shooting a feature or a film project that’s 5-6 days per week, which means I’m actually working 16 hours a day, from dawn till the wee hours, and usually on my days off. A producer and/or a director works full out and never stops till the film is done – a producer often much longer – through festival release and ultimately theatrical and TV deals and such. Most of the time, during development of a film project, it’s half the day on a film project and the rest on painting, or a combination of both. My studio where I paint is right next to my editing bay and office, so they can often happen simultaneously.
I often find that one helps the other. For example, when I’m painting, I can go to places where I just can’t go anywhere else, and that frees my mind, and then I’ll find myself back at my computer with a new idea, or a thought in my head I hadn’t even conceived of before. They inspire each other and stimulate me to move in new directions.
Renisha Marie: What projects are you currently working on?
Juri Koll: I’m always working on one documentary or another, which is usually balanced with a film of a more commercial nature. Plus I paint and make photographs every day. Right now I’m finishing up a documentary on the Los Angeles-based painter Lisa Adams, another on the famous muralist Kent Twitchell, one on Fred Eversley, the sculptor, and another on Tim Youd, who was introduced to me by Mat Gleason, of Coagula Curatorial in Chinatown.
I’m working with iLia Anossov of the Fresco School on a project we call Space Fresco, which is a long term project. We want to be the first to launch a fresco into outer space. I’ll be helping teach buon fresco at the Getty in September.
I write a regular column on the Huffington Post about the art world . I recently founded the Venice Institute of Contemporary Art, which is another long term project for an Institute/Museum based here in Venice. Peter Frank, the well known curator/critic, is one of my partners. We’re currently doing shows each month at temporary spaces while looking for a permanent space and funding. And I’m working on a semi-autobigraphical feature film and a TV series called A Venice Tale with a producer from Fox named Alexis Edelman.
Renisha Marie: What do you love about your work?
Juri Koll: I love the inspiration I get from the people I work with. They bring so much too each thing they do, it’s hard not to become even more jazzed about an idea, a project, a film, a painting or otherwise. Of course, my painting and photography is an escape, being alone with my work is very important, helps me recharge, try things out. I love all of it.
Renisha Marie: What was your motivation behind the art world television show?
Juri Koll: I did my first doc back in the early 80’s about a fantastic painter named Gloriane Harris. I was in love with her, but I did it anyway. I was fascinated about the process, the personality behind the work, and how her work reflected her, whether on a personal or world-view level.
I continued to make documentaries, including one about Mark di Suvero in the early 90’s that ended up in the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian recently. I always wanted there to be a program on TV – on national television each week – that showed the art world, but not just art, because that can be boring as hell, but about the people behind the art – how do they survive as artists? How do they find their inspiration? What makes them stick it out when the odds are so stacked against them? That’s what makes the art world tick, and I wanted to show it. I still do.
Renisha Marie: When choosing artist for art world TV, what characteristic do you look for?
Juri Koll: Honesty. Honesty combined with creativity and technique. Honesty is something you can see in every brush stroke, every shape, every form, every pixel, every note, for that matter. When a person is honest with themselves about why they are doing something, it shows in their work. When they do it because they must do it, they have to do it or they’ll die, that’s real work, whether art of otherwise. It becomes something that sticks out in the crowd, something worth spending time looking at or listening to. It extends itself into the commercial, or rather, audience-driven world as well, such as in a film in a theater or a musical performance on a stage.
Renisha Marie: You traveled across the world to work with major curators in museums and galleries, which one would you say was the most stimulating to work with and why?
Juri Koll: God, there’s so much inspiration out there! And I would say I haven’t even begun to get where I’d like to go when it comes to seeing artists and visiting museums and galleries. There’s so much amazing work going on in all parts of the globe, whether in Asia or South America or Africa – all over the place. But if I had to pick one, it would probably be my visit to the Titian show at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, in 1991. That show had been in preparation for almost 70 years – it literally took them that long to get permission to do it. There were, I think, 72 pieces in the show, and they were all carefully restored when they made it here – I got to meet and have dinner with the guy that was in charge of restoring them – he was in his 30’s at the time I think. I was fortunate enough to spend about 8 hours alone with them, before they opened, on a weekend – CBS did a piece on the show the Sunday I was there. I ended up being seen in the segment gawking at one of the paintings. But Titian’s work knocked me out. Just knocked be off my feet. I mean, here was a guy who lived and still painted into his 90’s. How cool is that? And his technique got better with age, at the end he looked like the first impressionist painter – only 400 years early. You could still see, still feel, all the detail in the painting, but it was so loose, so free, so honest and real. Amazing. But, to answer your question better, I’d say the curators I loved working with the most were Andre Emmerich who ran a major gallery for many years, and Olga Raggio of the Met, and last but not least, Willoughby Sharp. I loved that guy. All have passed on.
Renisha Marie: What fears if any do you have?
Juri Koll: Not having enough time.
Renisha Marie: Would you care to elaborate?
Juri Koll: Not having enough time is a constant, whether working on a deadline, a budget, a schedule, or otherwise. But limitations often provide opportunities for creativity, solutions to issues that become beautiful in themselves because of their simplicity, perhaps, or their ingenuity. Sometimes people I work with will provide answers, solutions, sometimes we’ll work together on it, sometimes it will just be something I think needs to get done in a certain way because of the experience of knowing how things fit together. But regardless, as my brother says, it’s one small step at a time, regardless of the size of the task. You make sure those steps are steady and sure, and you won’t fall back. It’s a lot like the pyramidal logic of successful discussion among people that the ancients taught. If you can build a good base upon which to continue the discussion – in other words, people can agree on foundational principles, then the next step has strong support, and it’s easier to build consensus, and the building becomes stonger, as does the conversation. Things get done that way, and stay done.
Renisha Marie: What has been your biggest challenge?
Juri Koll: The thing that’s the most challenging for anyone in the film, entertainment, or art worlds – how to survive. How to keep going when everyone says, “Hey man, cut your hair, get a job. What do you think you’re doing?” An old family friend named Bill Bathurst wrote a book in the 60’s while he was doing a stint in prison – it’s called “How to Continue”, which is an excellent book, if you can find it. He continued, and still writes to this day. Beating the odds, that’s the challenge.
Renisha Marie: What motivates you?
Juri Koll: The opportunity to tell stories, to communicate, to become excited about the great work I see all around me. The next splash of paint and how it’s going to change as it dries. Doing something people tell you that you can’t do. I love proving ’em wrong.
Renisha Marie: What advice do you have for aspiring artist?
Juri Koll: Be honest with yourself about why you are making what you are making everyday. Even if you don’t know what the outcome will be, you’re still there doing it for something. Make sure it’s for yourself first. And then ask yourself why. Don’t listen to the bullshit that people tell you about having to do serial work. Don’t pay attention to fashion or trend, and don’t believe them when they tell you that you have to have an MFA and mortgage the rest of your life to learn how to be an artist. Just do it. Last I checked, Picasso didn’t have an MFA (Master of Fine Arts). Neither did Pollack, or Warhol for that matter. Don’t get me wrong, an education is an important thing – but why mortgage your future to get it? Intern if you have to with an artist you admire – it will be a free education and all you’ll have to do is make sure you have a place to sleep and food to eat – not an easy task – but a lot easier than having to owe $100K when you’re done. What artist could EVER pay that back? Sorry, I got on my soapbox…
So, bottom line, do your art for the right reasons, and be truly honest with yourself about every stroke, chip, shape, move, or note you’re making.
Hope this works, and thanks, Renisha!
Renisha Marie: Thank you Juri for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with me. Continue to have a great day.
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