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Artist Juri Koll: The Power of Authentic Communication

Watch "Southland Sessions | S1 E1: Change(Makers) - The Future of Arts and Culture" to get a taste of the L.A. art world today.

Employing his diplomacy and listening skills, Juri Koll spends hours each day dialoguing on the phone and on Zoom with people in the SoCal art world. He is counseling artists and art supporters — and receiving advice from them as well — as they collectively strive to move forward in their lives during our new normal. While the world has been upended due to the current pandemic, Koll and his friends are looking at opportunities for positive changes to our contemporary cultural models. As a connector extraordinaire, able to bridge like minds in the service of art, he inspires his cohorts to explore their own and others’ artwork more deeply in order to create these transformations.

Koll looks back at his childhood as a time of developing diplomacy skills. “I lived in the Bay Area with parents who participated in an alternative lifestyle,” he explains. “When I was five and a half in the mid-1960s, my grandfather tricked my mother into giving up my brother and me. We moved into a foster home and I’ve been searching for a family since then.” 

Throughout his youth, Koll strove to create “common ground," to maintain peace between both sets of parents. Along the way, he learned the finer points of diplomacy. He has used those skills throughout his life and career, especially since the onset of this pandemic, to inspire artists (he adds that he learned to love his foster parents as much as his birth parents).

As Koll grew into adulthood, he felt driven to create art because, he says, being an artist is like “breathing.” The Cal Arts graduate adds that the artists he dialogues and works with, the painters, photographers and filmmakers, have become like a surrogate family for him.

A piece from Juri Koll's "The Handshake Series," which he started when the lockdown began. |  Courtesy of Juri Koll
A piece from Juri Koll's "The Handshake Series," which he started when the lockdown began. | Courtesy of Juri Koll

He opened the Venice Institute of Contemporary Art (ViCA) in Los Angeles in 2011. The title references “Venice as a state of mind.” ViCA has exhibited art primarily by Southern California artists and has connected to the community, particularly to the L.A. City Council and the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks. Mayor Eric Garcetti has presented Koll with a Certificate of Recognition for his artistic contributions to the community, and he and the gallery have received several other acknowledgements. Koll has curated exhibitions at SoCal museums and galleries, including Lancaster’s Museum of Art & History (MOAH).

When California was shut down in March, Koll hunkered down at home. At first, he worked primarily on his own paintings, semi-abstract pieces representing handshakes. But soon, he began reaching out to people in the local art community to encourage them … and himself.

Koll's dialogues morphed into Zoom discussions with artists, gallery owners, museum directors and art writers. He held his first hour-long Zoom event, “Experiencing Art: Under Lockdown & Beyond,” in April, which was attended by major players in the Southern California art world. Hosting these sessions every other week, he and his panelists empower participants toward a more magnanimous world, one in which artists and supporters engage with virtual tools and with each other, while advancing their own creative work. One regular attendee at Koll’s Zoom sessions, and an exhibitor in his gallery, is photographic artist Osceola Refetoff. Through Juri’s mentorship and encouragement, he is exploring new aspects of projects he has been pursuing, and is finally printing several of his Hopper-redolent photos that have been in the queue for a while. Other art people who Koll dialogues with, including some of those listed below, are also moving forward on projects they started before the shutdown began.

Screenshot from Juri Koll's Zoom call titled "Experiencing Art Under Lockdown" | Courtesy of Juri Koll
Screenshot from Juri Koll's Zoom call,  "Experiencing Art: Under Lockdown & Beyond" | Courtesy of Juri Koll

People at Koll’s Zoom sessions include gallerists Jack Rutberg and Tarrah von Lintel; Torrance Art Museum Museum Director, Max Presneill; art writers Genie DavisPeter Frank and Shana Nys Dambrot; and Photo L.A. Director/Owner Claudia James Bartlett.

Topics at Zoom sessions and in personal conversations with Koll include:

  • The creative growth of artists with more time to explore their inner selves.
  • The resurgence of art movements, which were more prevalent toward the end of the last century.
  • Expanded and improved use of online presentations of artworks, both live and through websites. 
  • Online presentations of art lectures, seminars and interviews.
  • Development of hybrid presentations of art. These models include film interwoven with live performances and even visual art.
  • Contemporary artwork encompassing symbols and styles from modern art, including surrealism, created during a time of worldwide turmoil.
  • Artists reassessing the purpose of art today, especially art’s relationship to the world we are living in, then creating relevant work.
  • Galleries moving beyond displaying the next new thing, toward more traditional roles of exhibiting quality work.
  • The continued online gathering of art world people and the creation of virtual salons.

In addition, Koll’s Fine Arts Film Festival (FAFF), June 8 to 14, 2020, in its 7th year, is “the largest art film festival in the world,” he says. In past years, he has shown FAFF films in small local theaters and at the LA Art Show. This year he adapted the festival to the online Vimeo format and expanded the number of movies to 92 by filmmakers from 27 countries. With many museums and galleries still closed, he presented movies highlighting the lives of artists including Marcel DuchampSalvador Dali and assemblage artists Jesse Lott and Lonnie Holley. Other films “told stories of comedy, tragedy, famous and infamous art, music, dance and performance,” he says.   

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Responding to his personal muse, Koll paints his “Handshake” series on a daily basis. These watercolor and acrylic creations are inspired by a 2019 photograph of President Putin shaking hands with President Kersti Kaljulaid of Estonia (available online), the country his grandparents emigrated from to escape persecution. “That photo is meant to fool people,” he says, “especially as handshakes, which we should not do today, are used to build trust.” He constructs his “Handshake” series with interlocking shapes and complementary colors to appeal to viewers’ positive emotions, he explains. 

View some of Juri Koll's paintings from the "Handsake" series by clicking through below.

A piece from Juri Koll's "The Handshake Series," which he started when the lockdown began. |  Courtesy of Juri Koll
A piece from Juri Koll's  "Handshake" series, which he started when the lockdown began. | Courtesy of Juri Koll
A piece from Juri Koll's "The Handshake Series," which he started when the lockdown began. |  Courtesy of Juri Koll
A piece from Juri Koll's  "Handshake" series, which he started when the lockdown began. | Courtesy of Juri Koll
A piece from Juri Koll's "The Handshake Series," which he started when the lockdown began. |  Courtesy of Juri Koll
A piece from Juri Koll's  "Handshake" series, which he started when the lockdown began. | Courtesy of Juri Koll
A piece from Juri Koll's "The Handshake Series," which he started when the lockdown began. |  Courtesy of Juri Koll
A piece from Juri Koll's  "Handshake" series, which he started when the lockdown began. | Courtesy of Juri Koll

Juri Koll’s paintings’ underlying premise is the power and far-reaching effects of authentic communication — a theme he continues to explore in his several ongoing projects. 

Top Image: A piece from Juri Koll's  "Handshake" series, which he started when the lockdown began. | Courtesy of Juri Koll

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