1xRUN: What materials was this piece made with?
Augustine Kofie: The original piece was a smooth masonite panel that was primed with three coats of gesso and then sanded down super smooth. It doesn’t have that dither of a canvas, it’s just a lovely flat piece. Super smooth, gorgeous, great surface to work off of.
It’s all acrylic paint. I used straight edges for that pin pointing precision. It’s all water-based and because of the finish of that gesso prime I can do washes and other techniques quite easily.
I don’t really know how I’m going to paint the piece initially, and with the tape I can control things in the post-production sort of way.
Also, I want gun through these works quickly, like case studys. I need to see something, almost immediately. I need that immediate satisfaction. You can see that one thing is working out and then go back in and cut away, then let it set it for a minute, and then dissect and cut away the piece where it needs to be taken out. Sometimes, it’s just the act and the gesture of applying paint for the pure enjoyment of it.
It’s reasonable making this a print solely because I get to see it again and get to share it with the public. It really a great series which I still do experiment with. I think it’s in its 30s now.
1xRUN: Let’s talk a bit about your background, how did you get started creating artwork?
Augustine Kofie: My mother was the artist in the family. It always pretty much goes back to that. Before I was born, she was attending UCLA for fine art. After I was born, she had stopped (taking classes) and her dream of being an artist kinda got put on the back burner.
But she had to go back and handle her businesses. She was still drawing and sketching when I was kid. She just didn’t do it professionally. So there were always art supplies in the house. There was always those little art store box of pens, Deco markers, Pantone markers, all that classic supplies, everything was in it. She was always sketching and I would always draw too. I just did whatever every kid would do, comic books, war, battles and stuff, all that kind of shit.
Maybe in junior high I realize I was really good at tracing stuff and redrawing things from other books and from my head. That was sort of a light training. I took graphic design class in the 80s in junior high. Then in high school, I took a drafting class and a photography class. There was a teacher at my high school, Ms. Vanous who was very supportive of the arts, and also supportive of graffiti. You would go in her class on the ceilings — and that cork board shit — there were like sketches from writers. They were all over, even on the ceiling and that was super cool.
This was also about the time I got into graffiti just because of skateboarding. Every kid I skated with had a tag name. They weren’t well-known, but they all had deco markers and used to design the graphics on their grip tape. Those were the slow things I start getting into. But then I was raised around a spot called The Motor Yard which was in West Los Angeles, which is pretty much in between LA. If you’re from the 213 East Side and you would go to the West Side to paint, you would stop by Motor, to either look or go paint. Motor was nice because it brought a bunch of folks in. It was like the epicenter of the city in a way.
You’d see all kind of styles and I gravitated towards characters. That’s all I used to do in the beginning, because I used to draw cartoon characters. I wasn’t very good at lettering. I tried, but I wasn’t very good in the beginning. But after I started learning the characters, I learned how to use the cans. I learned how to paint from doing that, and eventually I was trying to do the lettering. I was trying to do that classic East Coast stuff. The crews that I was in, I was trying to paint their letter styles too and it just wasn’t working. But I kept at it and then kept dissecting it and kept chopping up the letters. I gravitated more toward the sharper line, rather than the rounded bubble line. I gravitated more towards the 2D rather then 3D. I didn’t do colors on my 2Ds and I made shapes overlap and float. This is before the Internet, so everything I was inspired by was maybe some of the European magazines and the guys I was in crews with. But I gravitated more toward the structural kind of graffiti and the abstract kind of stuff.
When I was a kid, I was really good at absorbing information and taking it in. I knew I had an artistic tendency before, and getting into graff sort of made sense because it was such an independent art form. There was such a mystery to it and these spray cans are so unique and weird, and all the shit you can do with them was so funky. I just got interested in that. Then you choose a name and you don’t think about the future. You don’t think you’re going to be known as that name for the rest of your life. It’s whatever you put into it. But the work that that name has produced since 1993 has changed a lot. I mean, I’ve changed a lot. It was right after high school that I chose that name the K-O-F-I-E specifically.
That was going to be my art life, whatever happens under this name, and what I learn, this is what’s going to be and what I’ve gotten through. I think because I did so many styles that I’m realizing I just wanted to be a style master. I wanted to do burners, and I wanted to do master pieces and shit. Those words sounded dope. I want to be all encompassing.
I had some instance when I was a kid and I was just doing characters. I remember some well-known writer was doing a mural around the corner from us. He’s someone who I’m cool with now, we’re friends, but I told him this story and he bugged. But, yea I told him “I draw characters.” and he’s like, “You can’t be a graffiti writer if you only do characters.” And the kind of person I am, I was like “Fuck you. Watch this.” So that’s how I just focused on my characters. That’s what I just wanted to do. With that, I learned how to use those cans and learned cuts and weird tricks and techniques.Eventually, I want to do letters because all my boys were doing letters. “I’m going fucking do letters.”
Then I got to a point where I got some pretty decent letters, but I just think … I didn’t think that was enough. A lot changed, especially after 2000. I changed my focus. I started my own little clothing project and that evolved around the doodles and the more technical drawing stuff I was doing. On the strength of that and just being independent and then trying to transition my own stuff and feeling that I didn’t want to focus on my name anymore, I just want to focus on all the act of creating all those shapes but not really have spell anything. It’s been this evolution from 2000 and on of me just evolving those shapes and figuring them out. Just trying to have my own thing going on, trying not to look like anybody, but still try to look like it’s from LA and have that attitude and feeling, which is a challenge. It’s always interesting thinking about it because I just turned 40 and it’s been my 20 year anniversary writing Kofie.
1xRUN: Do you remember the first actual piece that you did?
Augustine Kofie: Yeah. The first illegal I ever did was in ’90 in some little sewer viaduct. We didn’t take photos of it. I wish I did. We never took photos. Went through many names through those three years. I went tough a tagging phase, but it just is what it was, experimenting in the early 90s.
I was painting before 1993, but I wanted to get into this crew called TPS. The Private Sector. It was my first true piecing crew. I wanted to be down and my writing partner GACHAS had got in a few months earlier. He’s like, “You’re going to be getting in…but you should maybe get a solid name.” I went through it, and figured it out what was going to be my name and then from that point on that’s was it for me.
1xRUN: How did the name Kofie itself come about?
Augustine Kofie: I wanted to write a color. I’m a mixed kid, I’m a brown kid. I want to write something that was reflective of that. I was going through a couple of names that aren’t worth bringing up, the letters weren’t together, it just sounded corny.
My friend said, “Coffee” and I thought that was terrible too. But then I did the phonetic version, the K-O-F-I-E version of it, those letters were just it. No one had that letter combo, at least in LA at the time. Then I could write Kof for short. Kof one up. Kof medicine. All that weird shit. But yea, that’s what that was based on. It was just a color, coffee/brown kind of a thing. That’s where it came from. My writing partner’s little brother gave it to me. They’re first generation Cuban, so there was always Cuban coffee and food at that house. I flipped the phonetic spelling and that was it.
Augustine is derivative of my family name. I’m writing Kofie all this time, but I want my real name associated with it. Augustine Kofie sort of made sense because it puts two together. It’s like two first names in a way.
1xRUN: Do you want to talk about the evolution of the name and your styles? Are there any landmark moments you point to?
Augustine Kofie: I’ve stuck to the name, I just didn’t want to respell the name. Some folks remember me for just doing characters. If you know me from the 90s, from that beginning point, that’s what was what it was. But inspirations change and I got burnt out on it, so I was done with that. But it wasn’t a drastic transition, it’s been slow. You saw all those things starting to come in. I transitioned very well.
But being someone who is interested in craft, and tools, and just expressing themselves, I broke a few rules personally by transitioning out. There’s certain things I was doing going against the rulebook. You’re not supposed to be dripping. You’re not supposed to be using brushes and shit like that. Tape and all these things. But I learned how to use the cans. I could do something with just cans in my hand, fuck it, I’ve learned can control. Some people just jump in and start doing stuff with tools. I don’t care much about it. If they learned how to use all the tools and went through the whole process, then you can experiment. That’s how I feel, and I went through it all because I wanted to.
There’s different styles but it’s all still one in the same. It’s still all me and it’s nothing that’s too drastic of a transition. It’s become all encompassing. All the work I was doing always dealt with me having this interest in balance and form, and push and pull. This drafting kind of thing was always like this underlying connector through it all.
1xRUN: Give us an example, what was one of the last shows with the title in it?
Augustine Kofie: Structurally Sound. That was with White Walls San Francisco. That was a little bit easier to find dialogue regarding engineering and structural engineering films. There’s other random programs I’ve found and they’ll something relating to the show. I’ll rewind, record it and then put it my recording archives.
I like obscure sci-fi films, and I keep finding ones I’ve never heard of. I watched one about this computer that ends up having its own conscious and fucks everything up. They’re talking about structural subject matter, so i scoop the dialogue. I got a really heavy archive of just sound, digital ephemera, but I also collect paper ephemera as well. It’s kind of the same thing. I’m making this little audio collage, I think it’s important and it’s also part of the aesthetic I’m trying to keep. It’s this thing I’m trying to do. I’ll make this visual art and I’ll have this audio that accompanies it. It helps the viewer/ listener possibly realize where I’m at. I won’t be able to make a catalog, but here’s an audio catalog and it’s free.
My music project (4x4Tracktor) is about sampling and pulling sounds, and I only sample old stuff, pre 1989. I don’t sample new things, I try not to. Here’s something I’ve never heard before and finding this little section, taking that and manipulating it. I like to manipulate, re-purpose and re-distribute.
1xRUN: You’re in a few collectives, do you want to talk about Agents of Change and some of your other crews you’re a part of?
Augustine Kofie: I paint for Under The Influence, The Private Sektor, Rapid Fire and West Coast Art. I also represent TRANSCEND and Agents of Change, those I consider collectives. Each of us in AOC have our own history creatively and we can stand alone on our own. When we work together for a sight-specific project, whether it’s an exhibition or doing some manipulation to a space..we get together, it’s great. It’s well-organized. All dudes in their 40s and up, grown ass men just doing what they do best. So it’s fun being a part of that side of a collective.
1xRUN: Do you remember the first piece of art that you bought? Do you still have it?
Augustine Kofie: I bought some odd 60’s stuff from an estate sale whenever I get a chance or when something intrigues me. I have two of these modern, really random funky little paintings. I did purchase a Mary Iverson piece from White Walls form her last show with them. It’s probably the most expensive piece I bought and it’s tiny, but I wanted it. I’ve got a few El Mac pieces. A lil Stay High 149 on canvas & 3 Jaybo Monk’s that were gifted to me. I bought one of Joker’s screen prints. He was mad that I did. I got a cool little collection of stuff. I didn’t come from a lot of money. My mom recycled as well. We’re always very frugal. So to spend a lot on art is now something that I feel much more comfortable with as I understand the joy it brings as well as the investment.
1xRUN: So you’re heading to Mexico pretty soon here?
Augustine Kofie: Yeah, the first three weeks of December I’m going out for a project curated by All City Canvas. They’ve been doing a lot of mural projects out in the city. This is my first time working with them. I will be producing a mural as well as a studio residency for an upcoming solo in the Spring.
1xRUN: Do you want to talk about your time here in Detroit and the murals that you recently did here?
Kofie: Sure, I was out here with Library Street Collective. They invited myself and many other artists to paint identical walls in a parking structure called The Z. Retail space will eventually take up the ground floor of the building. It’s all within the same block as the gallery, Library Street Collective itself.
It just so happen that everybody else came around the same time which is cool. Some guys I have known from previous projects,so it’s nice to see folks out I hadn’t seen a while. Yeah, it’s been great.
I did a hundred foot by eight foot mural and then another additional mural at the elevator and stairs. It was cool. I knew what I was getting in to size and weather wise, and it had its challenges. I’m a California kid. Our winters are not true winters. It’s an experience.
1xRUN: Do you want to talk about any preconceived notions about Detroit or what your thoughts were for doing this?
Augustine Kofie: I had some particular things I had on my head, but nothing really negative, just about a place that had a rich history in the industrial age of America. Then for its own reasons — which I don’t want to get too deep into — were basically about problems integrating. That’s one of the core elements of the issue. There’s an issue of people integrating and accepting folks that want to come here and just bust their ass and work, and that segregation aspect had its repercussions. Other things, economics and folks in politics just being greedy, taking advantage of folks that are just trying to do their thing.
But now, what you have now is a city that it’s in a renaissance in essence. It’s not a failed city. It was failed by people in government, but in and of itself it’s a place that it’s just trying to do its thing and survive. But now what’s going to happen, is the culture is going to come back up. People here just want what anybody else wants. There’s an opportunity here… I hate getting into politics.
My art doesn’t represent politics, it represents shapes and forms and trying to twist and turn things. It’s inspired by the past, it’s inspired by the future, it’s an amalgam of multiple things. I try to never bring politics into it. When it comes to a place like this, you can’t escape that conversation, because it’s in a place that’s in transition.
I only see that it can’t get any worse. That’s all I think. It’s at a place where it’s like.. that’s it, but there’s such a rich history. There’s things happening here that I wish was happening in my own city. The energy of it. It’s probably been happening but it may just have been taken for granted. If you’re coming in positive, only good things can come out of that.
Augustine Kofie was interviewed in Detroit at the 1xRUN studios in November 2013 by 1xRUN editor Pietro C. Truba. Among many others Pietro has interviewed Revok for RUN #00415 “1313 Milwaukee” and Mars-1 for RUN #00359 “Rotation“.