For the Record

  • March 4, 1990

For the record (pun intended), below is a re-re-post of earlier musings — not theory, but experiential — from daze of yore. Pre-web ideas behind the remix/sample/collage/recombinant art. (Later posted on my first clunky website, mid 1990’s):

An arrangement of works on panels, begun 1996. This iteration exhibited 2002:

Ev Ex - paintings intermixed for finale

Example of early sliced collages with a visual A/B/A/B/CC rhyme scheme (made and exhibited in Tokyo 1988-93):

The Kiss


“I paint information. This is ‘stored’ within a unifying shape–for example, mathematical equations contained inside the form of an African shield.”

1997 arrangement of a single work:



K.I.A is very interested in having the viewer participate in his work–to not only think about the particular placement of words or pictorial elements and how they relate to the overall form–but to be creatively involved in the piece. His works are made on panels that can be moved, enabling the painting to be rearranged into an infinite variety of forms. The panels of a painting are like bits or bytes of information as stored on a hard-drive; in a non-linear fashion they can be accessed and moved anywhere.

The original image–a geisha, a sun mask, a geometric shape–can be seen as a departure point to new paintings. A work could be personalized by someone such as the owner, curator, or artist shifting the panels physically (or mentally) from their base rectangular arrangement into the shape of a “T”, an “L”, a pinwheel… The panels can be placed in different positions, turned upside down, sideways, backwards, or left out; they can be grouped into sections to form separate paintings, or hung at angles to the wall, or off the wall–the panels can even be arranged to make the work a sculpture. Or not. But the transformed images add new layers of meaning:

“…the cross inside a Christ-like torso, when rearranged, became a swastika…”


Because K.I.A. uses a standard size of panel, different paintings can be mixed together. Works from a decade ago or ten years in the future can be combined to create entirely new paintings. This enables the artist to ‘plan’ the unpredictable. Two or more completely different pieces made at separate times with unrelated themes can be recombined into a third painting to create an unforeseen image and theme. This has led to the artist holding exhibits that were rearranged daily. “Because of the built-in change the paintings (and the shows) are never ‘finished’–they’re in a state of stillness, but never completion.” Some paintings sold after they’d been intermixed with other works. “I like the idea of the owners years or continents later tracking-down the original panels, as they appear in other paintings, in order to bring a work back to it’s original form.” The small panel-size means even a large painting can be taken apart and easily transported. One of the artist’s patrons even takes his favorite painting with him on business trips. “He breaks it down, puts it in his briefcase and reassembles it in his hotel room. He told me so far he’s brought it with him to Singapore and France.”

“My paintings can be ‘scratched’ and remixed like a d.j. does a mix…”

The paintings are songs. Like musical compositions, K.I.A.’s works can be interpreted by someone else, with the new arrangements taking on a completely different feel. Or in terms of contemporary music, “…it’s like having a song remixed. The paintings and panels can be ‘scratched’ the way a d.j. would when spinning records, cutting them up, mixing, manipulating and mutating them.” In the same way musicians are currently collaging bits together from many songs to make something original, K.I.A. ‘samples’ small parts of the visual images surrounding us to create his art. The portions of words and phrases that appear amidst the imagery in the pieces lend an auditory element to the works. The grids which structure his paintings function the way rhythm does in a song. His paintings, like a record, even have ‘b-sides’: “Because the fronts are so carefully composed, when I’m done I’ll flip the painting over, give myself a finite time to work–say whatever I can draw in the time it takes for three cd’s to play on the stereo–and work free hand, in one color, no correcting, completely improv. It’s my jazz.” For one of the works he was inspired to draw the b-side as a very long image–one panel wide by sixty-four panels long. (That’s one foot by ninety-six feet.) Having these ‘hidden’ paintings on the back of the works is also another way of involving the viewer, enticing them to imagine what might exist behind what they are seeing. “Even I’m curious about that long b-side; I don’t have nine-story high ceilings and I had to compose it in sections, so I’ve never seen what it looks like all together.

“The media is my media…”


“I tend to mix up cultural references and times–a Polynesian mask painted on metal, composed of drawings and text from the Victorian era; the outline of a Pharaoh made from paint, sand and charcoal on canvas, containing industrial and computer imagery. Tribal references, from Australian aborigines to the Inuit, get mixed in with my love of pop culture–and of the future.” Newspapers and magazines from around the world provide source material. “When I’m reading or looking at something, a Russian fashion magazine, Japanese manga, a Peruvian travel brochure, whatever, I’m literally reading my paint.” Words from other languages often appear, some chosen purely for their graphic shape, (the artist is also interested in words as pictures as words,) others for their meaning. Chinese characters, hieroglyphs, calligraphy, contemporary graffiti and prehistoric cave-drawings, themselves all ‘picture words’, show up in his work. He even includes his own original poems and stories in the work. In short, you can read, look at, listen to, or participate in his paintings.

“We’re barraged daily with all types of information, from ads to stock prices to the weather in Indonesia. I want to transform that visual noise, collage it into something musical.” 


All the elements of K.I.A.’s paintings–the outer form, and the words and pictures contained within–are very carefully chosen and meticulously placed. But happy accidents always occur. In one case, for instance, the basic idea was to juxtapose something tribal with something technological. “I dreamt of a shield, so the first step was to do research. I looked into the Masai, and found out that they have shields with beautiful abstract designs on them. The patterns are there to convey information about the warrior–his status in the tribe, his age, that sort of thing. Great, I had my outer shape. I’d decided to use equations for the interior (this might have come from another dream I’d had years earlier of numbers segueing into a sine wave,) so I went to math and physics textbooks and sourced my content, and then went about making the painting. When the work was finished what struck me, and this was totally unplanned, was how the graphical representation of the formulas, showing as waveforms and other complex shapes, were the same as the arcs and lines the tribesman had made on their shields. Two different sets of information, from different cultures centuries apart, contained within the same shapes.”

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