A Science to His Artwork

Thursday, January 22, 2015by Kayla Dalrymplegizzy herald pic

AN exhibition created using a fascinating medium, by seemingly contradictory artist American Sam Koss, has opened at Verve Cafe.

Koss is a science teacher who makes art, a Catholic atheist, he smokes meat next to his organic garden and he paints nature with a toxic medium, spray paint.

Even his artistic process seems nonsensical, until you see the fine-lined illustrations his spray paint musings create.

There is a method to the madness for the Port Oregon man. His work is thought-provoking and, if you consider how he constructs his images, amazing.

Hand-cut stencils and spray paint are hardly a new combination. Its origins are in street graffiti, where stencils allowed artists to mass-produce images quickly in order to avoid authorities.

Koss uses layers and layers of stencils for one body of work, often not glimpsing the finished product until all the stencils are peeled off. The process can take days.

This is his first showing in more than a year.

He moved here three months ago with his wife Ericka and youngest daughter Amelia, nine, having never set foot in the country before. Older daughter Zoe, 21, still lives in America.

“My garage was crashed into by a group of drunk boys in the States. We were inside and we just heard an earth-shattering explosion and I though ‘woah, this is the big one’.

“The car looked like it had dropped out of the sky and just landed in my garage. They took the car right through and ruined my studio.”

Shortly afterwards Ericka, an engineer, got a job offer in Gisborne.

“Between that and moving I have not really done a lot of art lately. But since I have been here I have been experimenting with other mediums, like pastels and water colour. My comfort zone is ink and illustration though.”

Legally he was not able to bring his spray paint collection over to New Zealand, leaving a couple of hundred cans lying dormant in America — quite a collection to rebuild.

“About three months ago a shipping container arrived with many of my stencil works, so I thought I would have a showing. If people like it I will use the proceeds to buy more spray paint and keep going.”

Koss’s works depict a range of different topics. His focus varies so much that — aside from his distinct spray and stencil style — one could be forgiven for thinking a different artist had created some pieces.

One such piece is a political expression in dark blue and navy tones. The pastel work depicts Barack Obama in the midst of the Ferguson protests, following the shooting of Michael Brown last year.

“That is the first political piece I have done in a really long time. I just thought he is so protected, what if he was just there in amongst it all.”

Another piece depicts a prehistoric creature pulling a gramophone into the ocean, with hints of Japanese woodblock wave and cloud prints.

“I was reading this science fiction novel at the time. It had to do with the distortion of time and taking different things, and then layering them into the same environment.

“It was a very visual experience for me and I do a lot of doodling, so I sort of just came up with the idea.”

Different works depict Trilobites, an extinct marine arthropod — not surprising considering Koss’s interesting work history and affinity with nature.

“Before I worked as a teacher I used to catalogue wildlife for the Mt. Hood National Forest service in my area.

“I mostly worked in ancient old growth forests. I would catalogue owls, rare rodents, bats and carnivores, but my favourite was insects.”

Koss got his start in the art world illustrating concert posters in college.

He is a teacher at heart, though, and after having his teaching qualifications approved by the Ministry of Education, he is excited to see what Gisborne has in store for him.

“I just really love art. It is about being able to move forward and know that any interpretation people might have of my work, it still had value.

“If my garage were to set on fire and all this work was lost, it would not have been wasted time. The entire artistic process is valuable. I am learning all the time and it feels good.




The Art Primo Blog

Thursday – April 21, 2011 03:08:41 PM
Stepping UP Public Art in Public Schools
Merlo_School_Mural_Art_Primo_05.jpgThe class was meeting only once per week for around 4 hours for a field trip related to observing art at galleries and such and then writing about it or making small pieces. We had put in a formal request to the district office to create a mural and were expecting to be denied (the district policy has always been no murals on the outsides of buildings). They granted us permission, mainly because the mural cannot be seen from the road. It is behind our school in an area that the horticulture department has been considering gussying up for a hang out spot during our lunch periods.


Given that the permission to paint was a complete surprise, we set aside our curriculum and immediately switched to discussing public art: murals, messages, script, graffiti, mediums and methods etc… I wanted the kids to be able to brainstorm potential meaning/message/content and subject. Uncertain whether that was a mistake or not.


It was difficult to find agreement and time was running short, so we did some really hard and fast democratic voting on the basics and used the chalkboard in the classroom to develop ideas. For example, we voted theme (urban vs. nature). They wanted nature. Realism vs. Surrealism. Focus on Social Message vs. Composition. Etc…


We had one tagger / character artist and one person into calligraphy and script. The rest of the kids were just into being part of a group project. I decided to ask the class to focus on stenciling with some limited freehand stuff. I think it helped to get everyone involved and helped us avoid domination by those with more experience with the medium (drawing, enlarging, cutting stencils, taping, spraying, etc…).Kids that had specific ideas they wanted to incorporate had to draw those up and present them to the group for voting. There were occasional hurt feelings, but in the end everybody was happy with the final piece.


Art Primo would love to say Thank you for raising the bar to the kids that contributed to the mural; Erik Rodriguez, Conrad Burge, Yasmine Babiker, Erika Cruz, Jessica Mil, Tanya Nemencio, and Carina Arroyo.
Also, to their teacher Sam Koss, we need more teachers like you in our school system!