Stoicism and Survival: Interview with Yashua Klos

First Ever Seen 'Two Crown' Meteor 2010 Woodblock print on paper © Yashua Klos

First Ever Seen ‘Two Crown’ Meteor
Woodblock print on paper
© Yashua Klos

Chicago-born artist Yashua Klos’s works explore identity in contemporary African-American society. Although usually on a large scale, the works are intimate in their investigation of themes close to Klos’s own personal experiences growing up on the south side of Chicago. Klos’s works fracture, explode and sprawl like the urban surroundings that inspire him.

The artist revives the techniques of wood cutting and etching, that for the most part have been abandoned by contemporary art in favour of less historic and more synthetic media. What Klos achieves with these media is simultaneously delicate and bold: he takes images of young men he knows, friends and fellow artists, and scratches them onto the wood and plates in erratic, irregular lines. Klos uses this frame of personal experience to ask the questions that interest him about identity and masculinity.

Klos was trained at the Northern Illinois University and then went on to study at L`Atelier Neo Medici in Monflanquin France and Hunter College, New York. He has exhibited extensively in the US and was recently featured at 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London. He now lives and works in New York.

I asked him more about his art and the techniques he uses:

Could you describe the process of creating your collages?

I carve, ink, and hand press woodblock prints to make a library of source material for my collages.
These pieces are the fragments that I cut and arrange to ‘build’ the planes in my images.
Usually, I’m layering them on top of a pencil drawing which acts as a blueprint, but this collaging deviates from my initial blueprint and takes on a life of it’s own.

When did you start using wood block printing? What attracted you to it and what is it about the medium that suits your ideas?

I started with woodblock printing in 2008. My initial attraction to it was it’s scale. I could do very small gestures and marks and very large ones to create tone and form. Also, I could print multiples which allowed me to be less precious about carving a perfect block!

© Yashua Klos

Body on Table with Deep Black Space 81″x66″ Collage with woodblock prints on archival paper 2015 © Yashua Klos

Wood block printing was used by some African American activists during the mid twentieth-century, was this a big source of inspiration?

In 2004 I saw my first Charles White woodblock print at the SouthSide Community Art Center, in Chicago where I’m from. I was enamored with his use of gesture! He rendered a humanity that had presence and durability.
Elizabeth Catlett and Emory Douglas were huge inspirations as well.

You also etch, a medium which is very neglected nowadays, why do you find these neglected, ‘old-fashioned’ mediums an effective way to show contemporary themes?

It’s back to my interest in how those great artists rendered ‘humanity’.  The marks are like recordings of a kinetic  devotion to the image making.

The Mountain Of Crystal and Concrete/ Meteor Mountain 2009 © Yashua Klos

The Mountain Of Crystal and Concrete/ Meteor Mountain
© Yashua Klos

Are there any artists that particularly influence you?

Well… I just made my first sculpture so I’m still looking at monuments and statues, but now with material interest.I look at Barbara Chase-Riboud, and I can’t get enough Richard Deacon!

How did your childhood on the south side of Chicago influence your work?

My work is really all about a certain stoicism I witnessed in Black folks in Chicago.

It’s also about a beauty that comes from adapting and thriving in that fractured relationship to America AND African-ness. But that stoicism is a kind-of survival thing.
Richard Majors wrote about it in Cool Pose.

Hank 2008 Woodblock Print 8'x4' © Yashua Kloss

Woodblock Print
© Yashua Klos

Has New York brought something different to your work?

New York has brought an academic study to my work. I came here because I knew that the discussions around my work would help me evolve new layers of meaning and broader contexts to study from.

What interests you about the male figure and masculinity?

Again, that Richard Majors book Cool Pose: The Dilemas On Black Manhood In America presents a good outline for what I saw growing up in Chicago. Masculinity is certainly a proposition for social reward but it costs.

It can cost suppression, denial, and pain but I find all that interesting too!

 Worktable 2014 Ink and Woodblock prints collaged on archival paper 120” x 71” © Yashua Klos

Ink and Woodblock prints collaged on archival paper
120” x 71”
© Yashua Klos

What does 2015 hold for you?

I had an encouraging start to 2015 by being awarded both NYFA and Joan Mitchell awards!
I just did the Volta fair with Galerie Anne De Villepoix, and I’ll have my second solo with Tilton Gallery here in NY in the fall! I’m beyond excited to be this busy!

Face Plane © Yashua Klos

Pass Through This collage of woodblock prints on archival paper 34″ x 51″ 2014 © Yashua Klos

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