Interview: John Koos

Legacy Specialist David Bratton with CALL Artist John Koos

Can you share what you and your Legacy Artist were able to accomplish through the CALL program?

DB: John and I, along with the other Legacy Specialist, were able to document over two-thousand artworks, enter these into the database for reference, create a website for John’s work, set up a safe storage area for much of the artwork, clear out unwanted items from his work and storage areas, and implement a system of documenting and archiving that John will continue to use for past and future artwork.

Can you give us a sense of how the CALL experience may have influenced you and your work as an artist?

DB: I had the privilege of spending time every week with one of the most selfless, talented, and dedicated people I’ve ever met.  Experiencing John’s artwork opened up a new world to me; his ability to express the nature of human beings with sometimes a few pen lines or brushstrokes still mystifies me.  Going through his sketchbooks, it becomes apparent how comfortable John is with drawing the figure, an animal, an ambiguous blob, …and without fail I always ask myself, “How does he do that!?”

Probably the answer to that is that John is an inquisitive person.  It’s the greatest lesson I’ve learned from him.  He is, to use the cliché, a student of the world.  And when you’re curious about the world around you, it doesn’t leave much room for negativity.  John has such a passion for making, and his dedication and intellect are evident in his work.  Anytime I’m viewing his drawings or paintings, I’m making mental notes about his color choices, the way lines intersect, and the way he uses space in a composition.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of this work?

DB: From the beginning of this process, John and I were able to recognize his prolific history.  He was so prolific for so long that going through his work, as he describes it, was like seeing it for the first time.  John has mentioned how seeing all of his past work has positively influenced what he is painting recently.

Personally, it’s been an honor to see an artist’s life of work.  I’ve listened to stories of travel, teaching, parenting, and the joys and pains of living an artist’s life.  It’s been such an enriching experience with a unique person, that I wish John’s story could reach more of the world, whether through a biographical book, short documentary, etc.

What has been most difficult?

DB: The biggest obstacles have been the sheer number of works to document and creating a work environment conducive to our mission.  John and his family are collectors; their house is full of wonderful treasures and an unending collection of their artwork.  During the second year working in his home, it became necessary to assist John in sorting through his magazines, knick-knacks, supplies, etc to determine what was essential to keep.  By clearing out the unwanted items, we were able to create areas for storage, and more importantly, the ability to access certain areas of rooms that had been previously blockaded by those items.

Additionally, the ending of this process with John has been difficult.  There is so much more work to be documented and reorganized, and I wish my time with him could continue for another two years.

What recommendations might you make to a Legacy Specialist’s in training on how to prepare for the overall CALL experience?

DB: Never underestimate the benefits of studying the contents of an artist’s studio/storage areas to best determine the methods of documenting and archiving the work.  This might require multiple conversations and “permitted sleuthing” to fully understand the artist’s processes, evolution of style, current methods of storage, etc.  In one sense you are performing triage within their work environment – possibly handling crises first, and then down the line in rank of importance, – but you also don’t want to rush into the process, or else the work done in the beginning might prove to be inefficient or not the best method for what is discovered later.


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Video: John Koos Interview