Three the hard way: Triple interview with Kofie, Joker and Derek Bruno

Augustine Kofie's studio. Photo courtesy of Breeze Block Gallery.
Augustine Kofie’s studio. Photo courtesy of Breeze Block Gallery.

A note from RJ: Augustine Kofie, Jerry ‘Joker’ Inscoe and Christopher Derek Bruno will be showing together this month at Breeze Block Gallery in Portland, Oregon in the show Three The Hard Way, curated by Sven Davis. I saw that lineup and was curious and excited for the show, but I knew there was someone out there with much more knowledge about these artists than I’ve got, so I asked my friend Remi Rough to write something about the importance of this show. He kindly obliged and offered to interview all three of the artists involved. Three The Hard Way opens on Thursday and through the end of November. Do check it out if you’re in Portland, and keep an eye on all four of these artists careers as they continue to take what they learned in graffiti and push beyond its boundaries. Here’s Remi…

Three artists, three very differing aesthetics and three extremely good friends of mine…

Two of these three artists also happen to be fellow Agents Of Change… I have shown work and painted alongside all of them at one point or another and I have work by all three hanging proudly in my home. This show is an important step for them all.

The work these three artists make is important! They are artists in the mid strides of their careers, producing work that signifies an intense shift from the street art or graffiti style that so many people seem to connect with.

It’s not simply abstract as some seem to call it. Their work is constructivist, minimalist and, in Derek Bruno’s case, verging on the sculptural.

Jerry 'Joker' Inscoe in his studio. Photo courtesy of Breeze Block Gallery.
Jerry ‘Joker’ Inscoe in his studio. Photo courtesy of Breeze Block Gallery.

Work like this is not mainstream. It swims against that with every fibre of it’s being. It struggles for a lager acceptance because people opt for the safety and reassurance of the obvious. This isn’t only the case with the viewers and art fans, it’s largely the case within the whole graffiti movement itself… But the fact that these 3 have managed to command the respect they so rightly deserve from the more traditional fraternity only goes to secure their places in the future of the art world.

I asked all three a set of tailored questions and asked them all to supply one image taken by Android phone. My thoughts were that in modern society we all have at least 3 points to make everyday and all use our phones as visual reference on a daily basis.

Christopher Derek Bruno's studio. Photo courtesy of Breeze Block Gallery.
Christopher Derek Bruno’s studio. Photo courtesy of Breeze Block Gallery.

Augustine Kofie:

Photo by Augustine Kofie.
Artwork and photo by Augustine Kofie.

1. I’ve seen your work gradually fragment and break down into more subdued colours and simpler forms. Was this always your plan or did the work just find it’s own path?

Kofie: It goes back and fourth. I feel like I’m getting better with my transparencies and light wash language. I’ve always been finding ways to emphasize these lines and shapes, so subduing the color selection tends to settle down the mood of the works, which I like. Still heavy, but with a lighter voice. When I work with found papers in my collage works, I tend to let the colors of the paper lead the way. Usually yellowed, sun washed mauves and soft pinks take precedence. When you back those colors against layers of hard edge lines and clustered forms it really speaks to that juxtaposed, vintage futurist balance I’m striving for.

2. How does painting walls reference your studio work?

Kofie: I’ve found that whatever direction my studio work is going through at the time, my mural work will follow. Colors, structural interactions, angular play, it all has a foundation in my notebook sketches, my studio work. Outside works are the triple extra large releases that can’t be comparable to any studio work I could make. It’s a whole other beast that requires a great sense of proportion. The ability to create smaller works inside as well as transition into large scale and still keep that understanding of balance is a challenge on both ends.

Presently I’m creating more work in a studio then outside due to this schedule I have, so when I do get the chance to paint a wall, I paint it like it’s my last mural.

3. You’ve really worked on your European profile over the past couple of years, especially in London with the Megaro Project. How does working in Europe differ from working in the United States if at all?

Kofie: I try my best to connect with like minded heads with good attitudes, no matter their placement or art affiliation on this earth. I get love in the States but there has definitely been much love coming from my European folks. My induction into Agents Of Change and the Megaro mural was an obvious marker that my European expansion was a solid one as well as my involvement in all of the Graffuturism based showing.

I have found that I don’t have to explain my creative direction as much in Europe. They get it. The merging of contemporary art movements and graffiti have a well placed history in the EU. As for the States, that’s a bit of a new movement to some that are just becoming familiar and embracing it.

Jerry ‘Joker’ Inscoe:

Artwork and photo by Jerry 'Joker'
Artwork and photo by Jerry ‘Joker’ Inscoe

1. Your colour use and depth of field have really become strong points in your work, especially in what I’ve seen from your new pieces, can you tell me how you reached this current point in your painting?

Joker: A lot of my paintings up to this point have been fairly colorful, taking bits and pieces of many colors and incorporating them into one piece. Over the last year I’ve really tried to approach my work with a clearer vision using less colors. I’ve always enjoyed saying a lot with a little, and in my current work I’m sticking to just one or two colors from the same yellow-green hue, for example, and backing that up with a series of greys and black. I’ve also been slowly adding texture and transparency to the pieces to elevate my process and add some depth. My paintings themselves are simple structures that have been tilted/shifted/sheared and cut into letters and I wanted my colors and depth to reflect that. It’s all been a slow process of progression and something I’ve been wanting to do for a while but, until now, I hadn’t found the right method. It’s just been a lot of trial and error on smaller works or ‘test’ pieces that never see the light of day. What I’ve begun to do lately is spend more time working out colors, what is opaque and what is transparent and how the colors relate to one another. Whereas previously I used to go to the block of wood and let the colors happen naturally, and for the most part that process worked but I felt it was time to sharpen my process.

2. Do you think exhibiting with other artists makes things easier or harder? I know you don’t have the best perspective of the gallery world and wondered if this affects your choices?

Joker: I believe showing with other artists (like Augustine Kofie and yourself, for example) is a great way for me to reach a larger audience. I’m still a complete unknown in the art world and showing with my peers can only benefit me in the future. I’ve enjoyed the mediocre successes so far, and been incredibly grateful for the support of folks who like my work, but I’m hungry for the next step. That hunger clouds my vision at times, especially when it comes to choosing what to do with my career. As I grow as a gallery artist and show with artists bigger than myself, I learn more and more the right way to do things and how to make those better choices.

3. Can you tell me about the key influences that have made your work what it is today?

Joker: I’ve always said architects like Zaha Hadid and Daniel Libeskind are a huge inspiration to me, and that still holds true to this day. Their line and structure is incredibly thought-out and meticulous, and the flow in Hadid’s work is unbelievable. These were people I was looking to for inspiration back before I started to create work on canvas, back when I was painting walls a ton. As I was coming up as a traditional Graffiti artist, following the unwritten rules of writing, I reached a point where I really wanted to push the envelope and try something non-traditional. I’ve had a big interest in architecture since I was a kid so I started looking to designs and sketches by architects for inspiration in creating letters, lines, shapes and working with color. Those early years were a bit touch and go with regards to the reception I received from other writers/artists but I kept to true to my heart and eventually prevailed. I think what is unique about my work today compared to the work I was doing twenty years ago is that I’ve really simplified the structures but made the overall more abstract and graphic.

Christopher Derek Bruno:

Artwork and photo by Christopher Derek Bruno
Artwork and photo by Christopher Derek Bruno

1. Your approach to making art is a lot more sculptural than Augustine or Jerry, so will the work you’re making for this show stand out or do you think commonality will tie it all together? The reason I ask is that your piece in the Futurism 2.0 show stood out to me because of it’s tangibility…

Derek Bruno: One of my favorite parts of this particular line-up is its potential to demonstrate the specific differences in the conceptual paths the three of us are following while still maintaining a set of control points that illustrate a common base or foundation. I am always really stoked to see how and where Jerry and Augie are pushing in their new works, especially when it comes to spacial depth in their two dimensional picture planes. The variety in approaches and techniques (from sculptural, to rendered, to hard edge) present in this November show should present a mass of work that stands off the wall and engages a pretty diverse set of viewers…

2. Do you like that people often want to touch your work as opposed to just stare at it?

Derek Bruno: Honestly, it’s a pretty neat thing to evoke any kind of interaction. One of the guiding principles of making things has been to ‘form a 4-dimensional relationship with someone else’. So if that means they want to physically investigate ‘the how’ and ‘the what’ they are looking at, I will take it.

3. How will this group show differ from other shows and what do you think a magic ingredient is to making good art?

Derek Bruno: This show in particular seems to resemble a controlled visual experiment. Unlike shows that are curated based on color, subject, or technique, ‘Three the Hard Way’ was curated based on the artists themselves.

So we are all friends. We all paint/painted graffiti and are in a collective together; the range of palettes, formats, techniques, concepts and therefor outcomes vary pretty heavily. It will be cool to see how the works interact with each other on the wall. As for magic ingredients and good art….. I don’t know man. I am trying as hard as I can to make objects that satisfy a concept statement and remain visually interesting. If anything I have made can be called ‘art’ at all, that’s really not up to me. I’m a big believer in the master and apprentice paradigm…. and I am no master. In truth, I just keep making studies that address specific questions or ideals… try to stay scientific and as objective as possible. Have two jobs, or three. I do my best to be present at all times…after that it’s just about honesty and intent… Thanks for the interview and making me put my thoughts down Rem.


Photos courtesy of Breeze Block Gallery and by Augustine Kofie, Jerry ‘Joker’ Inscoe and Christopher Derek Bruno