An Interview with Al Kogel

December 10, 2019
Design I Class
Students Participating:
Brian Glock II, Marie Brymer, Fernanda Estrada, Sara Shias, James Bond, Angie Garner, Emilee Simpson
Moderated and written up by Virginia Pfau Thompson

BG: “What made you want to become an artist?”
AK: “I was an architect, and I couldn’t pass the language requirement so I went to art school.
“So it was a last resort?”
AK: “I was interested in history also but fine arts had no language.
Student: “Do you believe that you were destined to become a painter?”
AK: “No, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I found art to be very challenging and I liked working hard to get good grades.
Student: “How long have you been here at Cochise College, Al?”
AK: “41 years. I taught at the U of A for three years and Pima College.
Student: “Did you start teaching art before you became an artist or was it the other way around?”
AK: “I had seven years of training in art before I started teaching. I never felt comfortable with calling myself an artist…I don’t tell people I’m an artist. Lots of people say they are an artist it doesn’t have any meaning. And I don’t call myself an artist, but I do sell paintings.”
Student: “What’s the most you’ve ever sold a painting for”
AK: “About $5,000.”
SS: “You said that you like working with majors that aren’t Art. Why is that?”
AK: “Because most of my students are not art majors. I studied is Art Therapy, because I’m working with students who aren’t as motivated as Art students at the university level are.
SS: “Would you rather just work with Art Majors?”
AK :“No, I like what I am doing.
Student: “Do you hide all this knowledge that you have of Art, like every possible, like the welding, the business, the architecture, the things in the way you word it to us on purpose, meaning you can make it seem like you are asking someone to do something for the first time, like you want them to go explore but you might not have any experience of it, but you actually do have all the experience and you’re like a complete master of it?”
AK: “It’s like working with kids. If you’re working with children I try to do drawings or imagery that is around their level. I don’t show them hand skills they have no way of doing. I try to relate to people where they’re at, rather than have an idea in my head about what they should be doing. Everyone is creative you just have to figure out how to access it.”
AG: “What is something that you have never tried that you would like to try?”
AK: “Well, don’t know (laughs).”
AG: “If you knew you’d be doing it.”
AK: “ In the summer I am always taking classes in things I don’t know about and travelling.”
Student: “What about making art in Virtual Reality- would you prefer that to doing it on a computer?”
AK: “No, I prefer to do it with my physical body. I like the
resistance of the materials. And it really is in my body. I have all sorts of shoulder issues from working and carving in wood and things like that, which I probably could have avoided.”
Student: “So, what do you plan on doing when you retire?”
AK: “I am getting involved with something called Tucson Children’s Project, which works with Head Start. Head Start is for underprivileged kids. “
VT: “What is it about Cochise College that kept you here for so long?”
AK:“I think the people are really nice- the faculty, the students. When I was in my 30’s, I thought I was a complete failure, because I was teaching.”
ES: “What is your favorite thing about being an artist?”
AK: “Being alone in the studio. Having lots of time and open space.”
ES: “What is your biggest inspiration?”

AK: “It used to be my dog Sabi. I did dog paintings of her for about 5 years… But my inspiration? I am very driven to do something. So it is me- it is probably how I was raised.”
ES: “What artist do you admire the most, and why?”
AK: “Oh, there’s lots of artists with lots of different reasons. It changes- you know artists I liked 20 years ago, I’m not as interested in now. Generally I go and travel in Europe, or I go to California or New York.”
Student: “What’s your favorite museum in Europe?”
AK: “I don’t know. I don’t think like that. I mean, I could have gone to Paris again, and I decided to go to Vienna just to see what their museums are like. I spent a year in Germany, and I liked the museums there. I think it helps if I don’t know the language, so that if people are talking around me I don’t know what’s going on, and helps me focus, so I’d much rather be in a foreign country in a museum than in America, where you hear all these stupid comments. I generally wear earplugs here.”
Student: “What’s the stupidest comment about an art piece that you have ever heard?”
AK: “I don’t remember. I delete it. But like I say, I usually have headphones on or earplugs or something because I want to pretend I’m not myself when I look at art.”
AG: “If you had to pick a period of art that matches your art the most, which would it be?”
AK: “I think before 1950.”
AG: “So, anything before 1950? That’s a lot!”
AK: “Now, it’s probably modernism. Just the idea that art has meaning. I like that idea, that there is something meaningful, that not everybody maybe is an artist. I’m bringing the meaning. I say it’s meaningful, therefore it’s meaningful.”
AK: “I’m not that interested – if somebody wants to buy something, I’ll talk to them about what I am doing because it’s salesmanship, but, its really about my relationship to it. Other people… its like a scientist. If I had studied science for 30 years, studying ‘microparticles of particles’ you know most people couldn’t have a conversation with me. But
because its art, everybody thinks their opinion matters.”
Student: “What’s your favorite form of art?”
AK: “Form? I like music a lot. I come from a family of musicians.”

Student: “Where were you raised?”
AK: “Great Neck New York, on Long Island. I tried my best to lose my New York accent.”
AK: “I don’t know. It’s somewhere in the middle.”
VT: “What’s your favorite moment in art making?”
AK: “I mean, the beginning is the worst for me. Just when I feel like I have a handle on something.”
Student: “Was there a time in your life that you struggled for inspiration?”
AK: “Yeah, I mean even now I have feedback that says, ‘this is no good’. I have tapes running all the time, I just don’t listen to them. And switching medias is one ways. If you’re getting beat up because you’re painting, then you switch to Ceramics, or you go to colored pencils, or you go to collage. Switching mediums is a very useful way to not be self-critical.”
ES: “What is the best piece of advice for an aspiring artist?”
AK: “Hopefully you’re lucky. You need a lot of luck. I don’t have any advice. You need luck and you have to be persistent. ‘Better, better best, never let it rest ‘til your better’s better and your better is your best.’
Student: “Have you ever created something and then destroyed it because you didn’t like it?”
AK: “All the time. That is part of my process. I’ll cut it up and reconfigure it. I like making a final product, but I also just like the experience of being absorbed in something.”

Monkey Man

All art pictured above is by Al Kogel and is mixed media.

Holy Mackerel


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