Venice painter and filmmaker Juri Koll on hosting his artist father’s first gallery show a year after losing him
Over the past three decades, Juri Koll has become an institution among the artistic community in Venice.
His father — San Francisco beatnik artist George Koll, who fostered Juri’s early creative impulses — went a lifetime without any significant professional recognition, not even so much as a gallery show.
After George’s death in 2013 at age 71, Juri set out to share his father’s work with the world.
The result is “Book of the Dad,” a father-son art show that opened earlier this month at Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center. The exhibit features more than 100 paintings or drawings by both artists and closes on Saturday with Juri, 53, signing copies of a companion book that contains writings by both men.
Father and son were separated early in life by foster care but maintained a strong bond. George was often dismissive of his own work and, like Kilgore Trout in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Breakfast of Champions,” would have destroyed much of what survives if Juri had not rescued it from the trash can.
But Juri’s work apparently meant more to George. While sifting through his father’s possessions, Juri found a number of pieces he had created as a teen and given to his father.
Celebrating other artists, family members aside, is nothing new for Koll. The same year his father died, Koll founded the Venice Institute of Contemporary Art, a nonprofit that helps artists — particularly those struggling to remain in Venice despite escalating housing and workspace costs — show and sell their work. He also produces documentary films about artists whom he admires.
— Kathy Leonardo
When did you decide to produce an art show featuring your dad’s work?
I have been collecting my father’s work since before he died. He would often pretend not to care about it. I would sometimes have to salvage his work from a heap of papers that he was about to throw out. I made it a mission to collect and document his entire oeuvre.
What was your relationship with him like?
Some of my earliest memories are of when I was a real young kid, say around 3 to 5, right before being sent to a foster home. He allowed me to draw on the walls of my bedroom. I remember painting a mural all around my bedroom as high as I could reach. As I got older my relationship with him grew and deepened, but it was a lot of work!
Do you mind explaining why you were sent to a foster home?
My parents were ahead of their time. The offense my dad committed that put him in jail right after I was born was for a joint of pot. He never truly recovered from the trauma of losing my brother and me. But you move on, keep going, make art and find humor in the beauty and difficulty of everyday life.
How did that father-son dynamic impact you as an artist?
The relationship was tough after that because I did not see him again [as a child] except for once when I was 12, although we talked on the phone as much as possible.
What kind of similarities and differences do you see in your artistic styles?
My dad liked line. I like color. That being said, I create line with colors put next to each other. I’ve begun to use pencil more, which he used most often. We both like portraiture and characterization. We like a sense of place and time in our work. We both take risks every day, every piece — otherwise it’s no fun.
What inspired you to launch the Venice Institute of Contemporary Art, and what are your goals for the organization?
The long-term goal is to develop and build a contemporary art museum, theater, conservation and library facility in Venice. The short-term goal, as we’ve been proving since early 2013, is to provide a place for people to show their work in places offered to us. This could be a museum in Germany, such as the Trans Angeles show, which travels through 2017, or the Water Works show, which travels from the Loft at Liz’s next month to the Museum of Art and History out in Lancaster in early summer.
We’ve offered film screenings, panel discussions and we’ve begun research on the history of art in Venice, partly in order to help people be able to continue to live and work here despite gentrification. Venice has always been and should always be a community where artists can survive, can live and work, without the bullshit that comes from chain stores and boutique galleries. Witness what’s happened on Abbot Kinney — $9- to $12-per-square-foot rents for the past several years — and you’ll see what I mean. It’s shortsighted and oppressive, and we will help stop it in Venice wherever it rears its ugly head.
You have made films about painters Lisa Adams, Sarah Danays and Gloriane Harris. What’s the impetus behind those?
They are great artists. Gloriane Harris was a huge influence early in my career, and we’re still friends. Lisa Adams is a great painter. Sarah Danays makes wonderful objects. I’ve done lots of other docs about other artists, such as Bob Branaman, the Trans Angeles artists, artists from Europe, and my doc about Mark di Suvero is somehow in the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian. I’m doing one on Venice artist Fred Eversley and another one on my mentor Edmund Teske, who’s no longer with us.
I love artists who work hard every day and who don’t give a crap about what people think of them. They take risks. They do it because they have to. They do it just like the artists from Venice do — the ones who are worth a damn, anyway. Long live Venice, I say.
The closing party for “Book of the Dad” is from 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday in the Mike Kelley Gallery at Beyond Baroque, 681 Venice Blvd., Venice. Call (310) 822-3006 or visit beyondbaroque.org. To learn more about the Venice Institute of Contemporary Art, visit veniceica.org.