Milwaukee artist Nykoli Koslow is challenging mankind to explore and come to terms with their place in our vast universe. She’s a kid from the suburbs of Chicago, who grew up with a continuous craving to create. Coming up with friends of many different ethnic backgrounds gave Koslow an immersive experience into some very diverse cultural traditions and ways of life.
Nykoli continued to expand her creative world when she decided to attend the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to study art education. Eventually her attention turned more specifically towards creating art. While in college, she valued most the opportunity to work in a studio atmosphere that allowed her to connect with her peers in a rich way. She could share ideas with them and be critiqued, or gain inspiration from works and or ideas of her contemporaries.
After graduation Koslow continued her search for a voice in the Milwaukee art scene, a visual expression that evoked contemplation and inspired the viewers. Now, in her studio at Var Gallery in the lively 5th ward, she works to convey an idea of universal perspective. It’s this idea that plays with the concept of relativity, a human’s size compared to that of a cup, a cup’s to that of an atom, and so on and so forth. Koslow believes that with a greater understanding of this concept that mankind will better understand their place in the world and find a state of zen that can only be obtained through one’s knowledge of self. Don’t miss Nykoli’s new work in the 30 X 30 show coming up April 15th! The Milwaukee Art Shore predicts great things from the bright star, Nykoli Koslow and wishes much success and growth to the team over at Var’s Gallery!
Do you want your viewers to consider your process?
Definitely, yeah I do. I think the process is super super important, but I still think of it as a body, as an organism, you know? It doesn’t look human but it’s still absolutely bodies within bodies. It has to be like a living and breathing thing. But yeah - the layering, and the more I'm making and building up, I’d like them to see that because that’s how I feel like reality builds up and layers up, we just don't see all those layers to it, you know?
While you were in college were there any resources you often used? Any social clubs that you were a part of?
I started the Organization of Painting Students for a tiny bit - well I didn’t start it but we started it up again and I was the president of that for a very little bit, tiny tiny bit because there was so much paperwork and then I just kind of - it just kind of fell apart. So we still kept the meetings and groups, we just didn't do it through the school, but otherwise I also got into, like, the video process a little bit? Editing video - and, like, [I’m] not a film maker at all - but just like making those videos as abstract and weird with all those filters was really inspiring for the aesthetic, the other-worldly kind of thing.
What places did you go to hang out while you were in school? Or even now - did you ever get down to Bayview, Riverwest?
Riverwest a little bit more while I was in college, but mostly house showings and a lot of the little shows - whats that called when it’s done in a day and taken down in a day? (laughs) But now in the fifth ward there’s a lot happening there, and then Var gallery studios I’m a part of - and that’s the coolest things ever, I mean Josh and Renee have just completely built this working system, this working building, and the community there is phenomenal. It’s a lot of MIAD kids, so it’s cool that I’m getting to know the other students, the other art students that were so separate for so long. But they’re all active, they’re all making, they’re all showing, and it’s really cool to be a part of that.
Have you ever taken part in any show?
Yeah, through the Var Gallery and then through friends' shows, so we have a show coming up - the 30 x 30 show - where you create a piece every single day, it's a 6 x 6 piece, and that's really cool. It starts in January and it kind of sets you up for the year, you know? Cause it's like you're creating all these studies and then you can keep referring back to those studies, so I'm excited for that.
Inspirations - I heard you say you’re inspired by kind of, like, the universe more so than, you know being put in boxes - is there any specific things that inspire you, or any people?
Yeah, for what I’m into now, because I needed to put myself in a different perspective, I needed to broaden my view of how I fit into things, but I learned somewhere that - and this, like, blew my mind, so this kind of inspired everything - that if you took our galaxy, the Milky Way. which is just one of billions of galaxies, but if you made that the size of the United States, our solar system would fit inside of this coffee cup, and then the earth would be the size of a coffee grain or whatever, and then there would be us. So we’re like this very small, insignificant, invisible unit to this much larger system. By the same scale you take the coffee cup - reduce it down to the atoms, electrons, protons, quarks - you get the smallest measurable unit which is these tiny filaments, these like vibrating strings and that’s so small that if you took the atom and made it the size of the earth, it’d be the size of a measly tree. So, like, those filaments - those tiny vibrating strings that make up everything - that’s what we are to this much larger system. And so seeing it with that scale and, like, these systems within systems within systems - that’s like what I wanna - I mean I can’t emulate it because it’s so crazy, it’s so beyond me - but like to try to figure out and comprehend it, cause it’s unbelievable. So if I can make that more believable to myself, through my work that I'm working on now, that’s the goal. That inspires me to just see how I fit in to this system, to see these smaller scales that are beneath the surface, and these cosmic scales, and then you can kind of see how you fit in to your relationships with humanity, society, you know? You're kind of all a part of this network.
What would you say is your most challenging feat as an artist, so far?
This is kind of weird but I used to feel really guilty for being - like it’s such a privilege to be an artist - it’s the most privileged people who have the ability to make art because they have either the time or the money or the resources. It’s a very privileged practice. And so I felt really guilty for that for so long, I felt like I wasn’t contributing, I wasn’t doing anything - I wasn’t doing any activism or anything, and I wasn’t, like, helping out at all - so I’m like whatever, fine, this is just for me. But then it’s just like, you don’t wanna do work that’s just for you, you know? As I struggled with that outside of school - especially with Ferguson and all the stuff in Syria, there’s just so much crazy shit going on in the world that I just feel like - am I really not helping any of that? So I went through this period of not making and feeling really guilty and awful but then - that thing where I just reduced myself down to that tiny element that was part of the whole - then I wanted to see my influence in it, you know? So that’s when I started making these really small drawings - the mark makings - what I'm doing now, and so it’s just to help understand that but I feel like I’m trying to understand that for myself and where I fit in and how I fit into things. I can kind of help out others because it’s like if they can understand it a little bit more - I mean it’s a small scale, it’s not to the point of activism or anything, but it’s like to kind of come to that different perspective, that broader perspective of how things are, I think is actually really good, and then I feel so much better about making. Because it’s like - no, this is really important, you know? I feel like this is something people already know, but to be able to see it in a way that’s more understandable or relatable is really good.
When is the best time to be in the studio for you? Is it after work, middle of the day, etc.?
So, I try to work doubles at my job so that I have all day in the studio, and I try to have 2 to 3 days off in a row so that if I need to stay overnight I can do whatever, So - any time I have pretty much to get in there, I try to get in there.
What are some of your favorite memories of being an artist in Milwaukee?
There was this summer where I was able to live so cheaply that I didn’t have a job, and I was in this attic for like - so I lived and made work in this attic and it was really hot, so I was nocturnal so that I could paint at night. So I would make work in this attic with these bats and all these creatures, and it was really ratchet but amazing - and then at 4:30 in the morning I would bike down to the lake and meditate, and go back to my little attic space. And I didn't have a computer, I didn't have a phone - I just kind of turned all that off. That was really precious for me, that serious alone time. I don't think I made anything very good, but it was still a really cool moment. It was a cool summer.
What is your dream project?
If I had all the money and time in the world? Oh god, um...so I'm working on plexi glass right now and also I've worked with video projections before - and I actually think this is totally doable so I hope that I'll do this - but I'm going to try to create these line drawings on this plexi glass and project onto it, like, the image, but kind of move it around so you'd have the plexi glass, and then the shadow the projection's creating on the wall behind you. And then I'd wanna use video so that these systems would kind of move and interact with one another, and I'd like to do that all over the space, in a way... I'd also like to work with silica which is just like this glass layering process. Julie Mariachi uses it to layer her paintings so... I wanted to do this thing where I have a dancer and then she would move a little and then I'd redraw it, then she'd move a little bit, then I'd redraw it. But that would become an abstract. My work would go into this space so that the body would just appear and then it would go back into the body. Then when I would install it you would have the shadow or the silhouette of the dancer, she would actually be there, and then you would also see the drawing juxtaposed onto the thin mylar. Then it would, I don't know, move like this. (Nykoli proceeds to demonstrate her vision.) It would like match up and then go away, then like match up and then go away a little bit. That would be fun.
Written by Jerrod Johnson
Edited by Bethany Price