Kori Newkirk has a way of retrieving ordinary materials from the clutches of their banal functions – wheels, curtain beads, work clothes, hair pomade, midday naps – and deploying them in sculptures, installations, photographs, and works on paper organized by a strict formalist abstraction. For example, his accumulative obsession with circular forms from bicycle tires to discarded CDs speaks to sacred geometry, the 20th century art history of the avant-garde, arte povera, and his own studio practice habit of collecting and keeping everything. By not so much transforming as recontextualizing such materials, he brings both personal contemplation and larger socio-economic critique into direct conversation with the pleasures of commonplace by-products, and by extension the more dire consequences, of our cultural systems. On October 3, he’ll be honored as part of OCMA’s NewNowNext virtual gala in celebration of their imminent expanded re-opening.

Kori Newkirk, Hutch, 2004; artificial hair, beads, and metal bracket; 74 1⁄2 x 96 inches (Courtesy of Orange County Museum of Art)

IRVINE WEEKLY: When did you first know you were an artist?  

KORI NEWKIRK: This morning.

What is your short answer to people who ask what your work is about?  

I’m not sure there is a short answer, but I will say that it can go many ways with many answers. It just depends on if you get the generous me or the answer that implies you didn’t do your homework. I always have to think about who is asking.

What would you be doing if you weren’t an artist?  

Well my resume lists bagging groceries, folding sweaters, slinger of 1950’s Americana in England, Lesbian house-sitter, Direct Care Professional, college radio music director, and figure skating coach (among others) so probably some combination of those things.

Did you go to art school? Why/Why not?  

I sure did. I went to a few, got kicked out of one, transferred a bunch. Did a foreign exchange. I went because I could.

Why do you live and work in L.A., and not elsewhere?  

I was never interested in going back to New York, or Chicago … or anywhere else after I finished school. I felt I had an opportunity here that I didn’t in those places, and it just felt right here. Plus, no snow and dry heat. (I gotta say though that was like the mid to late 90’s, obviously a whole different time and landscape, but right now is something else entirely.)

When was your first show?  

I’m an old(er) man, you might have to get a little more specific. Do you mean the first group show in a gallery? Solo show in a gallery? Nonprofit? Artist Run Space? Cultural Organization … I got lots of firsts like that. Sadly most of the spaces that housed my “firsts” no longer exist.

Kori Newkirk, installation view at Roberts Projects 2016

What’s going on with you right now in the studio and larger art world?  

Well I’m doing the best I can given the circumstances, messing around in the studio and stuff but things keep moving forward. I just found out I’m in a few group shows with older work, on the east coast and in Athens, Greece. So that’s nice. I’m super excited too to be the artist honoree at the OCMA gala this year. Quite an honor and it came as such a surprise. Museums as problematic as they can sometimes be, still can serve an important function to the community and beyond. But that conversation is for another  time perhaps.

What artist living or dead would you most like to show with?  

Dead is easier, and safer. Me and a room full of Whistler nocturne paintings would be a dream. I do love the work of Bill Traylor and Horace Pippin, they both make the rare work that actually can make me cry. Seriously. Gushing. Somehow through the tears I bet I could make some fantastic things for that show.

Do you listen to music while you work? If so what?  

During the day it’s National Public Radio and then when the sun goes down the music starts. Weekends are a mixed bag.

Website and social media handles, please!  

IG: @kori.newkirk

Kori Newkirk, Mayday, 2010, installation view at Buck House, Los Angeles