This interview took almost ten years to complete and it was totally worth it. I hope you find this incredibly sincere and wonderful, because it’s one of my favorites.
kozyndan are husband-and-wife artists who work collaboratively to create highly detailed paintings and drawings for both illustration and fine art. They are obsessed with the ocean and being underwater and hope to someday come to rest at the bottom of the sea and be devoured by deep creatures over many years.
How did kozyndan come to be?
Kozy: Well I guess the first collaborating we did was in college. I was doing a long drawing of the inside of our apartment for an accordion book I was making for a class project. Dan liked the drawing and decided to scan it in and color it in Photoshop. I helped him finish the coloring and that printed piece became our first Panoramic.
Dan: We liked how it turned out and decided to do another. When we made a little print edition (we just printed it on our little home Epson printer) we signed it “kozyndan.” Friends referred to us so often as a unit anyway, that it made sense. We started signing all our work that way after that. Our first art shows had pieces we each made individually (as our exhibitions still do today) but we still sign everything under that moniker.
Tell me about your dynamic, what’s your creative process like?
D: We have no set process. We are together a lot. We have similar interests. We are having a lot of shared experiences. Our work tends to just be a filtering of the interests and experiences we are having at the time, so there is a natural overlap, but we usually are thinking individually to start with. We are both just in our own heads and reflecting on these mostly shared experiences and we each kind of peek into the other’s process casually and steal from each other and refine and offer suggestions. We are by no means organized in any sort of process though.
Sometimes one person feels strongly about an idea and will pursue on their own, sometimes we are mutually into an idea and work closely together, and other times one person takes on a production or support role to help the other if they are obviously very into an idea. Some work ends up to be even collaborations, while other works are conceived and executed entirely by just one of us.
K: In truth our approaches and styles of drawing and painting are quite different.
D: And some mediums interest just one of us a lot more than the other – I have not shown any of the weird ceramic pieces I have made, but kozy is very into working with clay lately and has been selling what she makes. I am more interested in photography than she is. The shared experiences that inform the content of those things is more important to us than the sharing the process of creating them (which can sometimes be smooth, but other times pretty contentious).
What’s your secret? Communication in ANY relationship can be a difficult thing, especially in creative teams. How do you make it work?
D: Yeaaahhh… we get asked about that a lot by friends, and by fans as well (who feel like they know us since we have in the past posted a lot about our life together) about how we “do it,” how we spend so much time together and work together. I don’t know if there is a secret to it all. It may just be that we are the right kind of personality to be in this type of relationship. It’s super tight, but at the same time we allow each other a lot of freedom. I think that balance, that freedom, is important to be in a long lasting relationship.
K: Also, I think we just don’t have huge egos in some way. That is probably what helps us make art together and share credit for everything, and also allows us to stay together for the long term. We don’t always have to be the center of the other person’s attention, we are not both determined to get our way all the time.
D: It’s not even about compromise in a way – it’s about loving the other person so much that you can just let them have their way sometimes, and understand deep down that they are doing the same for you at other times. We truly don’t cage one another in our marriage and that makes it possible for us to stay in love, and stay excited by one another and keeps things fresh. This dynamic in our marriage bleeds into our creative dynamic and directly affects it. When things are really going well between us it’s super easy to collaborate.
We have been together 15 years though, and understand that there are ebbs and flows in a relationship. We don’t get freaked out anymore if we get tired of one another or if things aren’t clicking. We back off and do our own thing and interact with people on our own until we begin to miss being together again. It’s cyclical, and this probably goes back to our lack of ego (at least in regards to each other) and we are really aware of ourselves and how we feel about each other. We are able to step back and objectively see how we treat each other. Who knows if this is something anyone can do though, but it’s something we have noticed about ourselves and it makes it easier to navigate a long time, perhaps lifelong, relationship. Haha – I think I got off topic…
What did you want to be when you were a kid?
D: I wanted to be a marine biologist or draw the X-Men.
K: I wanted to be a dentist when i was little!
D: What?? Hahahaha!
K: The dentist I went to as a little kid had all these cute figures made out of the same material they made the molds of your teeth from. I wanted to make those. I didn’t realize I had to stick my hand in people’s mouths! Once I did I figured I should just be an artist instead.
Best advice you could give to someone who wants to become an artist?
D: I am someone who is always at odds with myself, so I tell people if they love making art, don’t become an artist! That is not really good advice, but there is a kernel of truth that should be gleaned from it – I think I made art so much more effortlessly and boldly when I didn’t make a living from it. Being an artist brings so many concerns with it – financial pressure to sell work, wondering about how your audience perceives you or your work, dealing with dealers that convolute the process of exploration and discovery. Some people have the strength of will, the self esteem, or the ignorance perhaps, to not let these things affect the process. It’s something I deal with daily, though. I don’t think Kozy is like this at all.
K: Nope – I am too ignorant – I make what I want to!
D: Hah! For me though – for instance I have been doing underwater photography for several years now on the side. I love being underwater. I wish I could breathe underwater. I love the look of things underwater – the way light looks different, the effect of caustics from water surfaces, I love this sense of freedom and of being a sort of “child of nature” that comes with swimming naked in the ocean. I love trying to capture images of huge animals, creatures most people never come into contact with. I have been paid for some images, I have been hired to do jobs shooting underwater, but I am super resistant to seriously doing it, even resistant to investing a lot into personal art shoots underwater because I don’t want any pressure at all associated with this thing that is pure enjoyment to me. I want it to stay a pure love in a way that producing prints and paintings isn’t. Hopefully that process will help me remember how I should approach painting and drawing.
If you weren’t artists what would you be?
D: Scuba guide for a dive shop on some tropical island paradise. I wish I could be in warm clear tropical waters everyday and far away from huge urban environs.
K: Oh so many things! I want to be anything hippie-ish: masseuse, yoga instructor, musician, chef, gardener, I want to be a stand-up comedian, too! Maybe do comedy massages – I think it would be a great combination. I also dream of opening this combination cafe/ laundromat/ bookstore/ burlesque club… My mind is general scattered.
What is something you had to learn the hard way?
D: How to not burn bridges.
K: You are still trying to learn that.
D: I am still trying to learn that the hard way. I have to learn everything the hard way. Kozy on the other hand knows inherently what is the right way to do everything!!
K: Haha – not true.
D: What is something you learned the hard way?
What makes great art?
D: Great art for me is some magic synthesis of technical prowess, originality, and cleverness, that produces some visceral reaction, a bit of “woof” in your chest when you first see it. Something that really overwhelms you with its virtuosity. I think in art today there is a lot of good stuff out there that I like that is technically inspiring, or very clever, or really comes from a left field perspective on life, but it’s rare to find artists that can combine all those things. I know I have experienced that kind of art, but I couldn’t even think of an example of an artist that really embodies that.
Who are some artists you admire?
D: I don’t know that I “admire” any artists per say. I am not super into artists. I avoid art openings like the plague and don’t really avidly follow any particular artists. Some artists that fit my mood lately though are Kelsey Brookes, Brendan Monroe, Michael Page, Jen Stark, Mars-1, Judith Ann Braun, Katie McGwire, Makoto Aida, David Jien, Travis Millard, and Kiel Johnson. I think I am into to different artists for different reasons – not sure if there some common thread running through this group or creators when I think about it.
What’s your favorite artistic tool?
D: My Pentel brush pen. I am terrible at using it, but I like the challenge of it and because I know I won’t be doing anything sellable with it, it lets me just not worry about the end result and play with ideas. I doodle a lot with it.
K: Mechanical pencil I guess? I like having a lot of control. I like rendering form and value precisely.
What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
D: Hmm – that is hard – I am pretty honest and open, to a fault probably. I guess maybe that I don’t really like modern Japanese culture much? Tokyo makes me physically sick. I don’t like the overriding Japanese mentality, I don’t like animé or ever read manga or anything like that and dislike “kawaii” culture. I don’t speak Japanese. This is something that seems to surprise people about me.
K: He hates my homeland! Haha!
How do you think we can make the world a better place?
D: Kozy and I obviously don’t have high hopes for humanity. It’s one area where we are very pessimistic. We sort of live by example – we won’t have kids. We don’t eat things that are close to extinction. We don’t follow certain rules of society that make no sense to us. But really what is the point – we won’t change anyone’s mind. I wouldn’t expect to be able to change the minds of the super rich, or of the billions that are living on the edge of survival. If there were about 1/3 the amount of humans on the planet though, it would be a better place. We could make a go of living sustainably.
K: Way to end this on a depressing note, kozyndan! Thanks a lot!
Featured photo by: Duane Fernandez
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