Andrey Kozakov first studied art with his father, a classically-trained artist in the Ukrainian city of Kiev. He began his own career as a professional artist soon after emigrating to the United States. Whilst living in Miami, Florida, Kozakov learned new skills from master craftsmen that he applied to his sculptures and paintings. He immersed himself in the images and techniques of the Surrealists, and the groundbreaking Constructivism of the early 20th Century Soviet artists such as Malevich, El Lissitsky and Kandinsky.
Kozakov’s work draws on the aforementioned styles in order to explore aspects of time, space and memory. His architectural paintings portray real or imagined scenes and he often plays with skies, cloud covers and proportions, to throw the viewer off balance and challenge them to look deeper into their described scenes His cabinets are life-sized, interactive sculptures that explore the idea of discovery and contains opportunities for adults or children to play, explore and imagine. In contrast to the architectural austerity of his paintings, his sculptures have a warmth inspired by their playfulness, and their design origins in the folk myths of Eastern Europe.
Five-Dots: How long have you been in this studio?
Andrey Kosokov: About 3 years. Before that I was working out of a studio in Northside, [Cincinnati], it was a smaller place. Since then I've gotten more into the cabinets and expanding my ideas [in terms of size] I just need a bigger space. That's what I like about this place; it gives you the ability to work on basically anything. I'm trying to get involved in engineering and mechanics.
F-D: Do you do a lot of planning? I’m assuming you need a fair amount of knowledge in regards to mathematics and engineering?
AK: Most of it is in my head, I get [a structural idea] and then I do it. I have enough experience in [construction] that I can kind of just get started once I have a bit of an idea, structurally speaking. Most of the time, about 90% of the time, it works. That's what I love about it, it's unknown and you just go for it. It creates more fun.
F-D: When you moved in here, did you have an idea for how you wanted to lay it out or did it develop organically?
AK: I have an area for each medium. I like to paint over by the window and if I keep [woodworking] stuff by the front door. It makes it better because if the studio gets messy it makes it hard to find things, so I just keep certain tools in certain areas. Everything is prepared in its specific place.
F-D: Has the location of the studio (i.e the neighborhood, city, building etc) influenced your work in any way?
AK: In a way. I like the Midwest of the [United States] because it's more open and sometimes you need more open spaces. There's a beautiful park with plain fields and tons of open space nearby. Sometimes you need that when you're very busy and in an over-packed city. You need to have the ability to escape a little bit.
F-D: Can you describe a typical day for yourself, inside the studio and out? Do you have another form of employment?
AK: I do sometimes. I'm remodeling some homes for some friends of mine [that have a contracting business], helping them out. It gives me extra income sometimes for when I want to travel. I'm going to Iceland in December for a residency for two and a half months. I'm actually going in a new direction, I'm building costumes all set around mystical parts of childhood. In Slavic mythology, there's a creature called a domovoy who lives in the house basically as a housekeeper. If you treat him right then he'll treat you right, if not. . . well then he creates a living hell for you [laughs]. That’s an interesting experiment for me; growing up the old ladies in the villages always told spooky stories and as a child you use your imagination to picture what it would look like. As a child you always try to visualize those stories. I want to experiment and create something I've never done before. Something more theatrical. I don't like to stick to one thing. Being an artist means you want to experience everything.
I never try and push [myself to be creative]. I like to come in here as early as possible and just hang out. Go through my stuff, and then get into the creative mood. That's what I love about this place: it triggers ideas. [I typically come here everyday], sometimes I stay here over night if I really get into something. What I experienced, before with a regular job, is sometimes you have an amazing idea but you can't leave until your shift is done. [Now], as soon as I get an idea I can come here and spend the whole day and just create.
F-D: How would you describe your subject matter or the content of your work?
AK: It's about a story. It's presenting a story and using that story to create [art]. I love to create stuff that's pleasant to the eye. I want to make work that is inspirational as well as interactive, so when you look at my painting, it sparks ideas for your own work. A lot of people, when they see art, want to touch it. That's actually a cool thing. When you have sculpture it's nice to give the audience the ability to be interactive with the work.
F-D: What mediums do you work with?
AK: Most of it is wood, oils, lacquers, a little bit of metal. It's nice to learn about new materials and experiment with them. I've worked with fiberglass recently, but I try to keep the materials natural in origin. Paint, of course.
F-D: Can you tell us about your process and how it has evolved?
AK: It's pretty basic. I get the idea first and then visualize it, map it out. Once I come up with the final shape [in my head] I just go and do it.
F-D: Do you work with narratives, plot, or a general progressive idea?
AK: When you create a piece of art you're telling a story, [I’m showing] my experience of the city that I went to, or this is what I remember, or a feeling I had. One of my early paintings I had done was really abstract It was about the first time I went to Cincinnati. The way I remember it and the way I present it to people is shown in the specific colors and specific shades from what I remember [of the event]. Every piece I've done is a story, or a place I've been, or a childhood memory. Sometimes the works are more polished, and sometimes they are more ornamental or detailed. Different stories bring about different ways of presenting it.
In the Soviet regime there was an artists union. To join the artist union you had to be academically trained, and even if you wanted to paint something you had to submit your idea to this judge. If you're accepted they allowed you to buy canvas, oils, and paints; but hen you had to give it back. You never got to keep your work. It became property of the state. If you had experimental work they would have never allowed you to show your work in a public place. Most of the experimental artists would just show each other. You couldn't do an underground show either because it had risks. The structure itself was so brutal.
Some artists who were famous and lucky enough, they were sent out from the [Soviet Union]; but most artists were sent to mental institutions if they experimented outside of the rules for Soviet art. They told you what to do, what to think. They tell you to live a life based on what they believed was good for you. Here, in the United States, you breathe in a fresh air of being able to experiment.
F-D: What influences outside the visual arts inspire and impact your approach to making work?
AK: The places I visit are pretty much the biggest influence. The more I travel, the more it opens the mind to seeing different architecture and art. Seeing as much as you can of different countries and cultures helps you grow as an artist and person.
F-D: What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
AK: This space gives the ability to make the things I want. Once I have an idea I can just come in here and make it. I already have the idea of what I want to do, once the mind puts it together all you have to do is put it together in physical form.
F-D: Do you have a studio assistant or anyone helping?
AK: If I collaborate with someone then [there are studio assistants]. Usually I love to work by myself because I know what I want to do and I can make it precisely. It also depends on the commission. If I get asked to do something I've never done before, then of course I have to get professional help. Most of the time I’m by myself.
F-D: Do you see your work as relating to any current movement or direction in visual art or culture?
AK: Architectural constructivism is very geometrical. I see it a lot in graffiti. There are a few amazing artists out there, and we share similarities but mine is heavily influenced by my experience growing up in Eastern Europe.
F-D: Do you have a motto or creed that as an artist you live by?
AK: I had a joke with a friend of mine when we worked together about creating a magical experience. You see that when people react to certain things that you've created. That experience of magic. Another would be to just keep creating. It's the process itself that gives me pure joy.
F-D: When asked, what do you tell people you do for a living?
AK: I say I'm an artist. It's as simple as that. I don't consider myself a painter, or a sculptor; it’s too limiting.
F-D: What risks have you taken in your work, or for your work?
AK: That's what I love about that whole process [of experimentation with art]: you never know how it's going to turn out. I don't really think about it and there's no guarantee. I know with myself if I start working on something there's no guarantee that it'll come out the way I want it, but you don't think about that and you just do it. You don't feel afraid, like something's going to stop you. You just go for it. I don't think about it not happening, one way or another I'll make it.
When you are an immigrant, risk is different. I just do things because even if you fail, you’re still here. It’s ok.
F-D: Words of wisdom?
AK: Don't think so much, just do it. I think if people overthink [their work] they can get scared. I say, “fuck it, do it”. [laughs] If it doesn't work out you can just come back to it. [The creative process] doesn't have to be a frustration, it has to be a joy. It's all mental barriers and as soon as you pass them, the sky's the limit.
F-D: Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about? Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when?
AK: I'm doing an artistic representation of immigrants; it's going to be a bunch of clothes made from bags. A lot of people use them as laundry bags, but in my country when the Soviet Union fell apart (we had Perestroika, economic restructuring), all the 15 countries split and there was an economic crisis. What they did was go to other countries and buy things they didn't have, and brought them back. Tons of people were moving [their belongings] in these bags. You would see kids sleeping on these bags because the whole family had to move and transport their items in them. [The bags] have become an iconic item for people from the Eastern block. They recognize the bags and it [evokes] a nostalgia. The whole show is going to be about that, that part of the culture.