Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Viktor Koen Named Educator of the Year

Sit across from Viktor Koen at lunch and you’ll receive a whirlwind account of all the projects, assignments, classes he’s teaching, solo or group exhibits and TED talks he’s either done or is going to do. One might question when he has time to sleep. Is he a mixed-media artist, photographer or illustrator, educator, graphic designer or art director? The answer is all the above. Look on his site and you’ll see that he’s participated in well over 140 group exhibitions and more than 35 solo exhibits around the globe. Look at his client list and you’ll see a mix of editorial and book publishers that include Random House, Doubleday, Harper Collins, Rizzoli, Houghton Mifflin, Tor, Time, Newsweek, Esquire, National Geographic, Rolling Stone, Wired, ESPN, Men’s Journal, Bloomberg, Fortune, Money, Forbes, Nation, BusinessWeek, to name a few.

Tackling complicated scientific or financial concepts are his forte. His ability of incorporate several messages within a concept makes him the darling of art directors. For an assignment for the New York Times he combined a series of layered vintage photos and shattered glass to illustrate the fragmentation of biographer Michael Holroyd’s own eccentric family in his book Basil Street Blues. There is a surrealist bent to the work along with odd juxtapositions that make Viktor’s work truly unique. No one has copied his way of working, his work remains timeless.

Born in Thessaloniki, Greece, Viktor found he couldn’t get into an art school in Greece so he emigrated to Israel where he enrolled in the Bezalel Academy of Arts & Design in Jerusalem, received a bachelors of fine arts and then on to the School of Visual Arts in New York to receive a master of fine arts, graduating with honors. He’s now on the faculty teaching at both the graduate and undergraduate levels—at two art schools, and until recently a continuing education program, not to mention his leadership of the dual summer residency programs that attracts students from all over the world. Again, when does he sleep?

He’s noted as a mixed-media artist with an uncanny knack for blending the monstrous, playful and absurd, creating photorealistic composite illustrations of things that don’t exist. While his commercial assignments are toned-down a bit for a wider audience, he really lets loose with his personal projects.

Whether they end up as publications or gallery works he is never at a loss for new projects. He’ll tell you, “Ideas usually address a strong urge to produce images outside the commissioned project sphere. Longer, research-oriented bodies of work complete the need to externalize the ideas and visual obsessions of a workaholic personality. Coming up with ideas when living in an intense environment like New York City is not brain surgery. There is no lack of stimuli, high-brow, low-brow or uni-brow, bizarre or mind-numbingly common, museums or underground zines. Not to mention my brilliant students who never cease to surprise me with references to the obscure and magic.”

While the commercial assignments rely on computer manipulations, his personal work turns towards fine arts where an image may be etched on acetate and then colored with acrylics. “Whether it’s acrylic or the computer they are the tool, and the tool sometimes works with your hand in a way that your brain doesn’t know about until it's before your eyes,” he explains. “You then choose to keep [an element] or choose to discard it. I don’t believe the computer to be a cold, clinical tool, it’s whatever you make it to be.” Source material can range from visiting the halls of museums here and abroad with his trusty camera, or source material from the Library of Congress, to flea markets for copyright-free photos, images from old advertisements, to in rare cases, stock photography. Not to mention the chaos of his studio where his collections of toys, gas masks, antique weapons and tools that fill all four walls.

He is not a believer in inspiration, “Inspiration is for amateurs,” says Koen. “Professionals generate inspiration. You will never catch me sitting in front of a blank screen.” For every project always starts with research, which can lasts days or months. For his personal work, the next step is to decide on a title, then determines the number of drawings followed by pencil sketches, then he heads out to find the beginnings of his compositions. “Working with titles resolves that question of inspiration,” he says. “To me inspiration is something coming into your head and having to channel it out of your hands. I like being very methodical about my work, because I’m entering into it and allowing for these accidents to happen, for strange combinations. The only way I will to, to the machine is knowing what I’m going to do with it.”

Viewing the finished product you cannot see the massive amount of time and energy spent on their development. You can, however, observe the artist’s obsession with Greek mythology and vintage photographs and their juxtaposition. “The more serious an image is, the deeper the funny part is," says Koen. “Looking at a funny sketch is one thing, but making a serious joke has a certain beauty to it.”

Koen credits his graphic design education at the Bezalel Academy their three obligatory interdisciplinary art history classes per semester in their curriculum. “[It] allows for much subconscious art conditioning, building an aesthetic instinct and allows one occasionally showing off to their family on museum visits. Also develops a solid appreciation for older methods of photo reproduction and their timeless allure.” As painter Xenis Sachinis, his mentor and professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Thessaloniki says, “Fifty years later, maybe less, Viktor Koen’s daring prophecies may be the proof of a predicted present; the chronicle of predicted disorder, disharmony or even an abuse by science and government.” He adds, “Those prophecies are manifested through images. While his technique matured through technology—with noticeably worthwhile results—it goes back to a previous type of narrative painting.”

We are pleased to add Viktor Koen as our 2018 Illustrator/Educator of the Year. You’ll be able to find out even more about Viktor in our upcoming Annual. Just one more thing Viktor can add to his to-do list.