Kinstler Conversation with Kour Pour
By Maddie Klett
The following is a conversation with Los Angeles based painter KP Pour. This interview took place in December 2021 and has been edited for length and clarity.
MK : What is the significance of the subject matter in your recent works? You depict animals, carpets, and court scenes found in paintings.
KP Pour: To give a bigger picture, almost everything that I use in my work is a reference to a particular culture. Everything in the studio finds its way through a personal connection, whether that is my relationship to Iranian culture or my relationship to the cultures of my friends and family. I'm mixed-race and grew up in a mixed-race household. My conception of family extends beyond the typical idea of bloodline, especially since I moved to the United States and have a classic immigrant experience where I don't have a lot of my family nearby. I’ve connected in that deeper way with friends. A lot of the people I am close with here come from different cultures where there are different languages and customs, but ultimately, we have this shared experience of migration.
MK: Could you describe your printmaking process?
KP: I find the images in books, catalogs, and online. I draw them onto sheets of vinyl flooring, and then the vinyl flooring is hand-cut with Japanese carving tools. The next step is applying block printing ink, which is rolled onto the surface of the vinyl. And then the canvas is lowered down onto that surface. We crawl on the backside of the canvas and apply pressure using barens, which are these six-inch discs used for printmaking. We peel the canvas off of the block, which makes a really great kissing sound because the ink transfers from one surface to the other. Then the canvas is stretched and I'll go in and paint with oil and acrylic to change colors or add textures.
MK: So you're using a woodblock process, but carving into vinyl, not actual wood?
KP: Yes, it's scrap vinyl flooring. I use it for two reasons. The first is that I can get it in larger sheets than I can get wood panels, so I can make the larger works. The second is that it is also a little bit more forgiving on our hands than wood when we're carving out the image.
MK: When I think about woodblock or linocut, they carry this long history of print and bookmaking; replicative processes that allow for intellectual exchange, so it is one of the more accessible art forms. Peacock Tiger reminds me of a page from a picture book because there's a monochrome blue margin around the printed area. But unlike a book, you’ve made these images very large and printed them on canvas. So the painting still carries the visual language of a book page.
KP: That's exactly what I was thinking about. Historically printmaking was used to share information, so that felt very appropriate with this body of work. When I started printmaking, I was looking at Japanese Ukiyo-e prints, which were made in the hundreds for people to hang in their homes. A lot of the tigers are from Korean folk art. That’s a theme within my work, that the things I am looking at are accessible. I didn't grow up in a household where we had access to art or even art books, to be honest.
Using images that are more recognizable to people who aren't traditionally part of the art world is important to me. And then mixing that into perhaps a more Western way of creating something, which is on canvas at large scale and applying oil paint and things like this.
MK: Where does the tiger come from for Peacock Tiger (2021) on the Kinstler puzzle?
KP: The way the tiger image got into my studio was through my close friend Phil, whose parents are Korean but he was born and raised in Chile. They moved to Los Angeles around the same time that I moved here and we met in art school. We shared a studio after we graduated. Eventually, Phil became a tattoo artist and started traveling around the world to tattoo and I moved into my own studio. Phil has this amazing Korean tiger tattoo on his belly and as I found myself missing his presence, the image of that tiger stuck with me.
I started the “Tiger” series in 2017. I researched tiger images from around Asia and learned about cultural exchange between countries like China, Korea, Japan, India, all the way to Russia. The various depictions of tigers within the series follow these cultural exchanges. That's something I'm really interested in, in the bigger picture of my practice: how these objects come to be and how those exchanges follow the history of people's movement through different regions. And then you have the facial expressions on each tiger, the varying characters. From very cute and silly to very aggressive.
My idea is basically to break it down and say “we know these as Korean tigers, but actually the Chinese are making these images hundreds of years before” or “Persian miniatures are a combination of Eastern and Western painting styles.” That's probably important to me because I want to question these simple notions of where things are from and how they are made because I am from a mixed-race family; I understand what it means to not be categorized as one thing. When I was younger, I would be asked, “where are you from?” and “tell me about your background.” I probably started asking that same question about the things around me.
MK: What is an example of one of these histories? Is there one embedded in Peacock Tiger?
KP: Peacock Tiger is based on a Korean image, and it's quite stylized, whereas a Chinese tiger would be painted in a more naturalistic way, where you have the fur lines. Then there are different expressions within the tigers that hint at their origins. You even have tigers made in Japan, and the Japanese didn't have tigers on the island. They based their paintings off of Korean and Chinese paintings and then added their own elements.
Peacock Tiger also has these big blocks of color in the background, almost like color field paintings. I have several tiger paintings in my studio right now and one looks almost like a Warhol pop tiger. One looks more like I'm painting a Monet, where there's a lot of brushwork. I mix these different art histories together. I guess I am reintroducing the tigers into more modernist or Western forms to show that some of these images have been extracted, or appropriated, from non-Western cultures where the origins in so-called craft or folk art have been erased. Part of my work is to put that back into the conversation.
MK: You just became a U.S. citizen, has that affected your art-making? I imagine it has in a logistical, legal way, which is just as important to making art as anything else.
KP: It's just so funny because my whole art experience has happened in the U.S. I went to art school here. I learned that there was a thing called being an artist while living here. In many ways, I would have considered myself an American artist, but I’ve always been British-Iranian in artist bios. That is where language fails. What the art world likes to do is to put artists into categories and then demand very specific things from them. This happened to me when I started showing my Persian carpet paintings, it was, “oh, this is an Iranian artist, making Iranian art.” While that is a part of my experience and my culture, the real interest for me was the cultural exchanges that were happening. These carpets from the 17th century depicted Portuguese sailors and Chinese mythical creatures. I quickly decided that I needed to step out of making that body of work for a while and create things that weren't attached to my personal identity, in order for people to expand their thinking.
MK: There is this conflict between the possibilities of what art can do and the rigidity of language. You are citing images that, in their DNA, are cross-cultural, but then they enter this categorically-minded space of a museum or a gallery and this mistranslation happens. It seems like your awareness of this paradox has led you to work in a certain way.
KP: Yeah, definitely.
MK: Why did you decide that Peacock Tiger would be a good work for a puzzle?
KP: Rami (Rami Metal, founder of Kinstler) sent me a message saying he was particularly drawn to that one, which was exciting for me because it was one that I potentially wanted to keep for myself. I had made the painting with my girlfriend and we got into a paint fight and I have this white pair of jeans that have blue handprints on them now. So, it was really a personal favorite, And my girlfriend loves puzzles.
I'm actually very interested in working on projects that are outside of traditional art spaces. I've done ‘zines and fashion collaborations. I want my work to be accessible to people like myself who don't have a particular upbringing or education that leads to the art world. The fact that this puzzle is another way to share the work, and that this tiger is a folk image and a print, all make sense to me.
MK: Definitely. Last question: what is puzzling you today?
KP: What isn’t puzzling me today! I’m calling this the “stardust phase” because there are so many things in the world right now that are up in the air that haven't settled. It feels like things have been blown open and the dust is still circling. We're all anticipating what forms it will take. So, what is puzzling is this sense of anticipation for how the world reshapes, and how we will move forward.
MK: When you say “stardust” it brings to mind this image of a constellation. And I think with someone like you, who takes influences from so many different sources, this stardust state can be a fruitful thing, right? Because it allows for things to fall into place in ways that you didn't at first expect.
KP: It has to. That's where the excitement lies. It's uncomfortable being in the unknown, but it's what keeps me moving. I can’t just stay still.