Thursday, July 19, 2012

An Interview with Artist Greg Folken

Me: Can you tell me a little about the various mediums you work in? What are they, how did you get started with each, and do you have a favorite?

Greg Folken: I work in oil painting and printmaking. I drew when I was a kid and continued to draw through high school. Drawing classes are great because they train your eye to see. You analyze and dissect what you are seeing, allowing your eyes to see relationships between all of the elements of the visual field. I didn't learn how to paint with oil or make prints until college. My drawing experience carried over into painting and printmaking. Each discipline has its own unique challenges, so I like them all.

Me: How long have you been painting/printmaking/etc.?

GF: I've been making art for about 10 years.

Me: Tell me a little bit about process. How do you get started with a work of art? How do you know it’s finished?

GF: I like to look through photographs that I've taken, old and new, to generate ideas for work. Most of the time as I'm out in the world or within my own, I'm studying my view. Often I'll see something in a way I hadn't seen it before--in a way that gives the scene and its participants new meaning. I'll grab my camera and capture the scene. Other times I'll get an image in my head, perhaps from a dream. I will recreate it, using myself or willing friends as the models in the scene, and photograph it. Once I've got a shot I can work with, I'll make adjustments using Photoshop and then print the photo out to work from.

If I'm making a monotype, I roll out an even layer of etching ink onto a sheet of thin plexiglass--my printing plate, covering the entire surface except for the very edges. I hold the photo in one hand while manipulating the ink with the other, looking back and forth between the inked plate and the photo. Using paper towels, toothpicks, q-tips, and my fingers, I wipe away the ink and draw into it, recreating the photo in the ink. The ink will start to dry after about 3 hours. Once I'm satisfied with the image, I soak a sheet of printmaking paper in water and blot it. I then lay this dampened paper on top of the plate and run it through a printing press.

 If I'm making a painting, I plot a few key points from the photo and transfer them to the canvas. I then draw the image on the canvas. Once the underdrawing is complete, I start painting. One of the great things about oil painting is that I can spend more time on the piece. I can make it look exactly how I want it to look. If I'm not satisfied with something in the painting, I can wipe it away or paint over it. I recently heard a painter say that they never finish a painting, they just stop working on it. I try to get to a point in the painting where I feel that I can live with it.

Me: What draws you to art? What do you get from it?

GF: Early on I found that art was a way for me to make sense of the world. A lot of things that I had passively accepted in my life -- religion, values, people -- were not making much sense to me. I felt that I had some level of control, some grasp on reality, if I could represent on paper a group of objects or a figure.

Art is a great way to examine and explore consciousness--to see how fascinating the mind is. I can look at a work of art to study the artist's technique and also to study the mind. Every aspect of a work--from the size, to the style, to every single brush stroke--represents a choice.

As much as I plan out a work, it gets to a point where my mind, my gut instinct, or my self takes over and just creates. I know what I need to do and how to do it. All of my acquired knowledge and ability is right there up front. Distraction, doubt, hesitation--all that is still there, but it doesn't matter anymore. I know that I have everything I need right here within me to take on the challenges that come up. The whole process allows me to learn about myself. And the more I know myself, the more it seems that I know the universe.

Me: If history will remember you for one piece/project, what is it, or have you created it yet?

GF: Withdrawn seems to resonate with people. And it's part of the permanent collection of The Art Museum of South Texas.

Me: Whose work do you admire?

GF: I like the detail and style of Wyeth; his subject matter is depressing. I enjoy Raymond Pettibon's style and power. Alex Grey--I admire his goal of transcendence. James Turrell does beautiful things with light. Nan Goldin's photos are an influence. Krystle Cole's fractal art is amazing to stand in front of--the infiniteness and depth is striking. I'm grateful for getting to view it often. Andy Goldsworthy takes nature to another level. I admire Banksy for the risks he takes to get his message out. Lately I've been studying methods artists use to market and sell their work. I admire the ability of some artists to make a living from their art.

Me: Where can I find your art?

GF: Half my work is in Above and Beyond Corporate Gifts and the other half is in Mead Street Gallery, both in Wichita, KS. They will be there through July 23. All of my work can be viewed online at

Me: I see you make some funny videos called Getting High With Greg on Youtube about ‘natural highs’; how did you get started with these?

GF: A lot of them are natural, but my main objective is to keep it legal. It started one night when I was wanting to explore my consciousness but didn't want to risk losing my freedom. So I looked into legal ways to get high. I found out that theobromine can create an effect similar to MDMA--ecstasy--and is commonly found in chocolate. Did a little more digging online and found that dark chocolate, and in particular Hershey's Special Dark, contains the highest amounts of theobromine. So I went to Dollar General and picked up a large bar of it and ate it. The state and federal governments don't forbid its citizens to explore their consciousness, just the chemicals that make it safe and productive. I thought it was a bit ridiculous and pathetic, but it was fun. I recorded the experience along with a few more and decided to share them. I created a YouTube Channel called Getting High With Greg.

Me: This is a controversial subject in a country that seems to be going more and more towards a conservative extreme. Have you had any negative backlash about these videos?

GF: A little, but most of the negativity has come in the form of criticism of the amount I take or the methods I use to ingest the substances. Due to the subjective nature of the experience, I would not have guessed that there are drug snobs. Despite this, I have received a lot of support, encouragement, and, um, advice and tips.

Me: What are you working on now?

GF: I'm working on a series of paintings of my fiancee Krystle Cole, the founder of NeuroSoup. I'm also painting a portrait of her cat Karma that will be featured in L'Image, an art printing and framing store at the Towne East Square Mall in Wichita. Next month I begin the Master of Fine Art program at Wichita State.

Oh, and I'm shooting footage for new GHWG videos...

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