Josef Kote paintings are symphonies of light and color. They are lyrically stunning and romantic, edgy and current. Kote achieves this delicate balance of seemingly contradictory qualities through his complete mastery in technique, and through years of experimenting to find his own unique style.
With the lightness of a true master’s hand he combines classic academic and abstract elements, fusing these, literally letting them run into each other with dripping rivulets of riveting colors and light. : by using his signature drip effect along the bottom. His official website: JKConceptualArt.com
”Art to me is so special. It’s a passion and purpose; it is the essence of my being” ─ Josef Kote
Kote’s trade marks are his bold brush work and sweeping strokes of vibrant colors applied – more often than not – with a pallet knife, while other areas of the canvas are left monochromatic and devoid of detail creating a negative space that lets the eye drift to infinity.
The results are paintings that tremble in stillness with energy and light.
Influenced by many places where he lived, Albanian born artist J.Kote began his journey towards artistic self-discovery in his youth and never looked back. From very young age he was endlessly drawing and had the innate urge to create.
By the age of 13 he had made up his mind to become an artist and devote his life to the arts.
Education and Career
He focused on getting accepted into the finest art high school of his native Albania. Ultimately, after competing locally and nationally, he was awarded a coveted spot at ‘’National Lyceum of Arts’’ in Tirana.
In 1984 Kote followed this amazing feat by being accepted into the ‘’Academy of Fine Arts’’ of Tirana, where J.K was educated in the traditional approach of the old masters.
Yet even as a student he wanted to brake loose of the limitations, he wanted to experiment and grow, sometimes leave paintings seemingly unfinished, shatter the boundaries of classic realism. While still in school Kote also worked at a movie studio, and made a small but well received animation film Lisi.
In 1988 Kote graduated with a diploma in painting and scenography. The years of practice and his 8 year solid art education had prepared the young artist well to pursue his life’s quest of living and breathing art.
CHASING A VISION
Written by; Emma Laramie
Works at Christie’s
Unsurprisingly, it was these eight years of training that gave Kote the basis for everything he has done throughout his career, whether he is embracing it fully or attempting to subvert it. At the Academy of Fine Arts, a curriculum based in the traditions of the Old Masters got him thinking of the many ways painting’s reach could extend even further. Pure realism, as his oeuvre makes abundantly clear, was never wholly satisfactory for Kote.
Instead, it appears his desire was, and remains, to update classical realism for his modern viewers, incorporating the artistic innovations of the past century, namely abstraction. In doing so, Kote arrived at his signature blend of these two dominant themes in painting, taking the parts of each that serve him best and discarding the rest. As such, he challenges not only himself, but the very limits of painting, an experiment that has been at the forefront of artistic innovation for centuries.
Upon graduating, Kote’s career as an artist began with almost lightning speed. He began working as a scenographer for the Petro Marko Theatre in Vlore, a theatre as well known for its scenography as it is known for its performances. After a time of working at the theatre, Kote grew restless, and in the late 1990s, at twenty-six years old, he moved to Greece. This move would begin an almost nomadic pattern in his life, as Kote would travel from Albania to Greece to Toronto, finally resting in New York.
If the evolution of Kote’s art could be defined by one thing, it would undoubtedly be this concept of place. A restless spirit, his life has taken him all around the world, not only to various cities, but to different countries and regions. Each time his location shifts, so too does his style.
A landscape painter at heart, although drawn to many other facets of life itself that undoubtedly appear in his work, it is as if his changes of scenery perfectly coincide with this artistic practice. As soon as he begins to feel he has taken all he can from one location, it is on to another place, another source of inspiration.
In fact, one of his primary goals as an artist is, “the need to push the boundaries of [his] previous work, explore new areas, and experiment with colors and concepts by looking beyond the ordinary paths. It’s really about taking a risk while painting so that [he] can create something that [he] hadn’t fathomed before.” In each location, during each day, colors and light shift and dance in their own unique ways, defining these spaces, and subsequently, Kote’s paintings.
While each painting is decidedly different from the next, they each begin in much the same way. Kote has a daily practice, working long hours every day. Gathering inspiration from nature and the things around him, he will often make sketches en plein air to quickly capture what around him has taken hold of his imagination.
It is therefore logical that place would be so important to a painter like Kote, for each minute element of the surrounding world can provide bountiful arrays of inspiration. That is not to say that each painting happens quickly. While undoubtedly an incredibly prolific artist, he will sometimes think on a subject for months at a time before finally understanding the direction he wants to move his subject towards. As he says:
”A good subject matter for me is anything that haunts my mind and lingers from the moment that I see it. When something stays with me despite the distractions of ordinary life, I know that it is powerful. This can be a range of subjects. Over the years, I’ve painted landscapes, portraits, cityscapes, and marine art. As I’ve grown, different things have inspired me and caught my attention.”
Most paintings will begin with some sort of sketch, with the degree of compositional exactitude dependent upon each subject at hand. After working through this initial design, and determining the proper size and layout, Kote will utilize a few quick strokes to begin to bring the composition to life.
It is at this stage that values and colors begin to take hold, grounding the rest of the painting. At this point, the painting process becomes “exciting and unpredictable,” for no matter how thought out it may be, the painting is at the mercy of Kote’s emotions as he works through the canvas.
Once this initial groundwork is completed, Kote likes to start with a singular focal point, usually the primary subject of his work. This is, naturally, often the most “finished” part of the work, the part that is most established in realism. The composition is then built outwards from this focal point, and finally tied together with expressive flourishes of brushstrokes and more exacting details.
These portions blend effortlessly together, in part through his signature “dripping effect,” in which he lets rivulets of color drip on to the canvas and freely flow into each other, creating a chance dance between two colors, blending two elements together.
Beyond this, Kote is well known for his implementation of both brush and palette knife, which allows for a range of different textures, and lends itself well to his desire to create something both expressive and impressionistic. The palette knife is most commonly used in his paintings to create the sweeping strokes of bold, pulsating color that moves throughout each and every one of his canvases. Yet equally important are the areas of the composition Kote chooses not to paint, or at least, to not paint so heavily.
These monochromatic areas are simple, almost devoid of detail, and in their sparseness, remind their viewers of the world beyond the scene at hand. By creating this moment of simplicity, Kote invokes a quiet stillness that echoes throughout the entirety of his painting. As a result, each of his works, but especially his landscapes, feel strangely familiar, like a memory you can’t quite place drifting in and out of focus. It is as if time is irrelevant in these scenes, existing simultaneously in the past and future.
Those more unfamiliar with art may largely think of its styles as distinctly broken up – realism versus abstraction, modernism versus classicalism, and so on ad infinitum. While this is never wholly true, Kote is uniquely adept at blending each of these seemingly disparate elements into one singular painting, allowing the strengths of each to complement one another.
Indeed, his time at school in Albania may largely be to thank for this ability. With a training rooted in the classical tradition of the Old Masters, Kote was keen to break free from their rigidity, adding his own personal flourishes to his paintings that bring them in to the modern world.
Upon moving to Greece at the age of twenty-six, Kote’s work embraced his lush Mediterranean surroundings. The soft glow of the sun, and the slower tempo of life there were echoed in the warmth and calmness of his paintings. These natural surroundings would have been a perfect outlet for Kote to hone and perfect his now signature techniques.
Yet it was also the period in his career in which Kote produced his most structured works of art, as he was granted the opportunity to paint two modern moments of Greece’s rich and long history. The first, done in 1998, is known as The Meeting of the Leaders. Commissioned for the Hellenic Cultural Union in Thessaloniki, it depicts the assembly of the founders of modern Greece. A more traditional painting than what Kote is known for, likely drawn largely from his classical training in school, it holds much of the gravitas of a conventional state painting.
After a fruitful ten years in Greece, Kote again grew restless. Kote made his way to Canada, where he stayed for almost a decade. Once again, Kote’s daily surroundings provided countless sources of inspiration. Known for its harsh and intense winters, this period of his oeuvre reflects the snowy landscapes of the Great White North.
Amidst the expanse of snowy ground, thin tree trunks spring up, almost entirely bare the closer to the viewer they appear. Extending from the top to the bottom of the canvas, they anchor the composition, filling out as the viewer’s eyes move further into the landscape. In these sections, onlookers get a glimpse of Kote’s other signature techniques – his dripping effect and his expressionistic brushwork.
Then, in 2009, Kote moved again, this time to New York. Like so many artists before him, and so many that will follow after, he was inspired by the vibrancy and energy of the city, and this was channeled into the work that he has produced over the near decade he has lived there.
While Kote strives to create a definitively unique style that is undoubtedly his own, he is not without certain art historical precedents. Indeed, this is part of what makes Kote such an adept painter – by taking what has come before him and transforming it into a style that is inherently tied to him as an artist, he manages to fulfill his own unique needs while simultaneously driving the long and complex history of painting further into new realms.
Looking at Kote’s work, two distinct ideas in art history come to the fore: that of abstraction versus realism, and the notion of painting as representative of feeling or experiences. Much of the way we view these ideas in art now, and much of the way Kote works, can find their beginnings at the end of the nineteenth century with the Impressionists.
A result of multiple social, economic, and artistic factors, such as the Industrial Revolution and the invention of ready-to-purchase tubed oil paints, the Impressionists began to see and depict their ever-changing surroundings in increasingly new and inventive ways. Working en plein air as a result of these new innovations in paint production, as Kote himself so often does, artists such as Monet, Renoir, and Van Gogh began to focus less on the specifics of the landscape around them.
Instead, their interests lived in the in-between moments, in the states of flux that the world constantly exists in, as the name of the movement implies. In much the same way, Kote does not give his viewers exacting, clear details. Instead, he lets the general impression of the scene that has inspired him – whether a seascape, or a moment of his daughter – guide his brush.
By not relaying the minutiae of these moments, Kote, like the Impressionists, allows his viewers ample space to fill in the missing elements, to evoke their own feelings and to understand the fleeting nature of these moments that we can only attempt to keep forever in paint.
This radical departure from the tradition of art history that had pervaded painting for hundreds of years captured the minds of more than just the Impressionists or Kote, and it can also be plainly seen in Kote’s oeuvre the multitude of ways these further inventions in abstraction and emotive depictions have influenced him.
Wassily Kandinsky, perhaps the first true abstract painter, has a number of similarities and influences as Kote. Most notable of these is the influence music has on both artists. Kandinsky viewed music as the most transcendent form of art, and his life’s work was in large part an attempt to create a similar effect that sound produces in paint.
From titling his works in ways that hinted at music, such as his series of “Compositions” or “Improvisations,” to the very compositions themselves, springing forth with energetic lines that look almost like notes on a musical staff and colors that harmoniously flow together like chords, music was in everything Kandinsky did.
In much the same way, Kote is deeply inspired by music, which has played a key role in his life. Starting music lessons at age twelve, Kote toyed with the idea of becoming a musician, before discovering painting and shifting his career plans.
To this day, he spends much of his time in the studio listening to classical music as he paints, and he cites this as an instrumental part of his creative process.
Moving in to today’s artistic landscape, few artists work in a style quite like Kote’s, but one artist that continually comes to mind is the artist Peter Doig. Scottish-born and Trinidadian-based, Doig, like Kote, has constantly moved around the world, and these varying landscapes and the memories they provide continually influence his work.
A remarkable force of a painter, Kote’s singular artistic vision has managed to sustain him for his entire career, providing a deep, rich and prolific body of work. Forever inspired by the world around him, he has shown keen insight into the nature of existence and given viewer’s a unique opportunity to contemplate and appreciate their surroundings, seeing them in a new and fresh way. As with any artist, Kote will undoubtedly continue to grow and flourish, and it will be nothing short of exciting to see where this takes him.