In preparation for the opening of Kosta Kulundzic’s solo exhibition Hawai’i Epiphany (which opens August 1 at Hawaii Theatre), we asked the longtime HoMA teaching artist questions about his practice, his international background, and his role as an artist and educator. Originally from Paris, France, Kulundzic relocated to Oahu with his family in 2016. Since his arrival, he has become a familiar face at Art School, at the Department of Art at the University of Hawai’i Mānoa, and in the local Honolulu art scene. We are lucky to work with him in so many different capacities at the museum and are grateful for his creativity, generosity, and artistic passion!
Arminda Gandara: Kosta, can you describe your art practice?
Kosta Kulundzic: I am a figurative painter who uses the classical medium of oil painting with a real classical technique to produce contemporary images. Even though my paintings look like some of the street pop culture of today, it is really important to me to use all the traditional techniques like the glazing to create new types of images that are unique and reflect all my influences. I deeply think that the way an artist paints or draws should be unique, almost like a voice. Like a singer can work on his voice to improve it, at the end it should be unique in order to truly reach the audience.
My paintings could sometimes be considered as Hyper Realistic but there is also the influence of comic books, video games and action movies. I want my work to express all these influences. Due to my classical studies and background at the Beaux Arts (Fine Arts) School of Paris, I’m really influenced by Old Masters but I also want to show my love for today’s graphics novels. I have a huge passion for the Italian painters from the Quattrocento and Cinquecento, for also the Flemish primitive paintings. I love Rogier van der Weyden, Titian and Carravagio but I can not say that Scooby-Doo wasn’t also a huge influence on my art work. Robert Crumb, the American underground comic drawer is as equally important for me as Albrecht Durer, the German drawer and printmaker of the 15th century. All these artists shaped my work and my artistic identity.
AG: How do you use your art practice to engage with the local community?
KK: Another big part of my artistic practice is the fact that I’m teaching. I was an instructor at the Beaux Arts School of Paris for 11 years, and in Hawai’i I teach in many different places. I teach oil painting and contemporary drawing at the Museum, drawing and illustration at U.H., and finally intro to visual arts and drawing at The University Hawaii Tokai International.
I counted before the Covid appeared that I was teaching more than 70 people per week.. And I’m pretty proud of that because my goal is never to impose a point of view or technique to the students but to simply improve their skills and to help them to grow artistically.
AG: You have a very international background! What have been some of your best experiences working and creating abroad?
KK: Most of my career was made in Paris. And Paris, like London or New York, is a huge washing machine that can drain you. But also it is such an important hub for the Arts that doesn’t give you any choice—if you want to be an artist, you have to work night and day and compete with tons of very talented artists as well. Then you have any other option to jump into the arena, fight the hardest you can to expect to be noticed. If Paris doesn’t break you it gets the best from you and working in this very competitive atmosphere forces you to organize and strategize your career; this gives you a working structure that artists often lack.
Although it is difficult, in Paris the opportunities to succeed really exist.
AG: You have collaborated and worked with HoMA in a number of different capacities. Recently, you were a teaching artist during live music sessions. What was that experience like for you?
KK: HoMA is such a unique place. The first time I visited the museum I was amazed by this warm feeling and atmosphere that the museum provided.
The museum has an incredible collection for an institution located in the middle of the Pacific, but also there is such a feeling of entering a benevolent place that you immediately want to participate as an artist in the life of that place.
And teaching during the live music session only reinforced this unique feeling—these are rare moments where you can express your creativity with the students in other ways and in a very gentle way…these events reflect the museum well.
AG: What do you most look forward to when you revisit the museum?
KK: As I said previously, the museum exudes this benevolent and warm atmosphere. And even if I teach at the museum, I like to take the time very often to come and walk in all the galleries of the museum. Because often art by artists is considered as a means of expressing revolt; And currently my work is opposed to this way of thinking…I only want to express the beauty and grace that surrounds me now. I think the HoMA museum also reflects this philosophy.
AG: Can you tell us a little about your upcoming exhibition?
KK: The exhibition Hawaii Epiphany is a turning point in my artistic work; I used to paint violent images linked to the war in my country of origin: ex-Yugoslavia. But since 2016, when I moved to Oʻahu, something changed in my artwork. It seems that the beauty of Hawaiʻi and its inhabitants overwhelmed me. That feeling changed the colors of my palette and since then I decided to paint the youth of Hawaiʻi to extract the magic and beauty impalpable that emerge from them.
In a way, Hawai’i made me understand that I don’t want to be an accountant of the misfortunes of the world, I only want to devote myself to beauty from now on.
Almost in the manner of Christian icons, I want to create paintings that place humans at the center of a strong spirituality, but this time it seems to be the result of man’s immersion in a unique and breathtaking nature.
And even if the world is actually going down the hill, I really want to celebrate beauty and grace…I want to be like the musicians from the Titanic and play happy music till we drown.
We are grateful to Mr. Kulundzic and his contributions to enriching the unique museum experiences at HoMA. You can learn more about the artist’s practice at his website: https://www.kulundzic.com/ and get a special look at the artist in his studio in his previous Artist’s Spotlight on our #museumfromhome page.