LAUNCH Gallery is proud to present The Sweet Song of a Fire, a new solo exhibition by Jeff Koegel. Jeff Koegel’s latest paintings are versatile and deeply distinctive – each brought to fruition with the precision of a draftsman and the imagination and unfettered creativity of an artist.
The almost taxonomic diversity present in this exhibition can be partially accounted for by the freedom that Koegel gives himself in choosing references for his works. When he isn’t painting, he catalogues material that could inspire some element of future paintings – from rough sketches, photographs of objects and scenes snapped by his digital camera, to his archive of images drawn from newspaper clippings or bookmarks on his browser. Non-visual cues make their way into his notebooks too – things overheard in public or on the radio, often transcribed imperfectly to preserve misheard or jumbled parts. To Koegel, “Everything is open for appropriation,” insofar as lending equal legitimacy to any source imagery as materials for constructing his works. Anything commonly believed to possess a fixed meaning or identity however is especially tantalizing, to have its meaning drained, to be morphed or dissected for component parts, whether these be structural elements, geometrical arrangements, tactile properties or emotional contexts.
The show’s title piece The Sweet Song of a Fire is stark – an irregularly shaped grey canvas, faded and stained like a chunk of a factory floor. Alighting on this surface is an arrangement of pale blue triangles, immaculate and whole, their texture as smooth as plastic; a juxtaposition of the battered vessel and the vital visual information it may contain – a sort of abstract Rosetta stone.
A number of the other paintings betray Koegel’s early studies in architecture, featuring pyramidal constructions with one side peeled away to reveal different layers of their framework, meticulous and systematic, yet always broken or unfinished. The inferred identity of these pyramids varies from work to work, at times appearing monumental, like a tribute to a long forgotten god abandoned before its completion, while in ‘the Day of my Death,’ the pyramid reappears as the top of a tent, its flaps tied back to reveal a black and horrible void within. These works are unsettling at times, intentionally disjointed, the shadows of familiar objects and symbols emerging from the discord either to comfort us or haunt us.
Koegel is equally open-minded when it comes to choosing his materials – as with previous works, his surfaces range from linen to canvases made from woven plant fibres. The manner in which he applies each successive layer of paint however is most telling of the relish with which Koegel approaches the act of creation: paint his not just applied by brush but often squeegeed on, or allowed to seep through from stains on the back of the canvas, then scraped, ground down and spliced. “I’ve also ignited gunpowder on the surfaces of some works,” admits Koegel.
The Sweet Song of a Fire is a body of work free from prescribed interpretations and messages, its component parts forged by hours spent equally at toil and at play.
A native of Southern California, Koegel studied architecture and art at Cal Poly University, Pomona and Cal State Fullerton. From 1989 he worked with clients such as Apple, Bayer, Coca Cola, and Duracell out of his independent design office and since 2001 he has devoted himself solely to painting. His work has been featured in one-person exhibitions including ‘Jeff Koegel: Real Estate’ at the Pasadena Museum of California Art, ‘Slow Chemical Orchestra’ and ‘Carbon Rainbow’ at Merry Karnowsky Gallery and ‘Sparkle and Decay’ at La Sierra University’s Brandstater Gallery. His group exhibitions include ‘The OsCene: Contemporary Art and Culture in Orange County’ at the Laguna Art Museum, ‘American Gothic: New Talent for the Dark Ages’ at Gallery C and ‘Sister Cities: Los Angeles/Berlin’ at Merry Karnowsky Gallery in Berlin. His work can also be found in a number of private and public collections, including the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation, Los Angeles.