To hear him describe it, looking at one of Kevin Hogan’s prints or paintings today is akin to being privy to an overheard discussion, one that started long ago and will continue well into the future. The subject matter is modern art, from the time painting abandoned narrative up through minimalism and beyond. The discussion has changed tenor along the way —sometimes it has been a passionate debate and other times a more subtle and reasoned argument. The words are chosen carefully — innovate rather than create, work rather than art. “My work is the vocabulary in an ongoing conversation with myself,” Hogan says, and to take part in that conversation, viewers need to do some active listening (metaphorically speaking). “I depend on the willingness of the viewer to engage,” he adds.
While Hogan’s artistic conversation may be internalized, he’s long placed in the public sphere as open for discussion. He and his wife Jo moved to Asheville in 1979, and in 1985 he co-founded Square Zero, the first art studio space in downtown Asheville, located in what’s now Blue Spiral Gallery. During that period, his work was “aggressive” and political, he says, ranging from stylized, figurative charcoal-on-paper works to performance pieces. Later, he scaled up to large installations such as the one he created for the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh in 2000.
While Asheville remains his family’s home, Hogan’s main gallery representation is in Charlotte (Lyons Fine Art Consulting/Center of the Earth Gallery). He also has a long-standing relationship with the McColl Center for Visual Art, where he has served as consultant for the Center’s Innovation Institute, a kind of think tank that pairs business leaders with artists to help them think about their work more broadly. Through the years, Hogan has also taught at Penland School of Craft, Kent State University in Ohio (his alma mater) and the Cleveland Institute of Art, among institutions. But while reflection and study are part of the picture, Hogan identifies more strongly as a working artist.
Moving through what he calls expansive to reductive modes, the nature and scale of Hogan’s work (as well as the media with which he creates it) is continually in flux, and that fluctuation itself became the impetus for one of his most influential works in recent years, Flux Mix (2007), a web-based piece.
A collaboration with Asheville illustrator and web innovator Robert Zimmerman, Flux Mix (which can be experienced at www.fluxmix.com) includes over 200 of Hogan’s prints that were loaded into an online data bank. Different elements of each piece are chosen randomly by program code and continually recombined on the screen. “It’s an endless animation of the work. An art machine,” says Hogan. The images shuffle and rearrange themselves without any intervention by artist or programmer and the features on display on any two computers at the same moment will differ so that each experience is unique.
Although no one’s controlling it, the process happening in Flux Mix isn’t unlike the way prints are made, says Hogan, with layers of transparent colors being built up and manipulated. Last spring, Flux Mix was projected on wall in the East Wing of the
Asheville Art Museum during the Art works PRIMED exhibit, which introduced the public to the museum’s expanded space. A member of the museum’s board, Hogan says the expanded space opens up new possibilities. “It’s an exciting time to be involved there.”
In part as a response to Flux Mix, Hogan says, his recent prints and paintings have evolved to the point where they are almost purely minimalist. Images that are just ellipses or “vessels,” as he calls them, are layered and rendered in bright transparent colors and generally random patterns. Perhaps it’s the minimalism in imagery that has recently encouraged him to scale up the size of his paintings and consider abandoning the confines of canvas and working directly on walls.
But looking at individual works in and of themselves isn’t the point, Hogan says. His work is a conversation, not a monologue.
“Each piece should stand on its own, but it’s more important to me to build a substantial body of work that makes sense over a significant period of time,” says Hogan.
Kevin Hogan’s FluxMix can be seen at www.fluxmix.com.