John Koga, for decades, has defied classification. Eluding any labels, the Hawaiian artist’s career has skipped from that of sculptor, painter, photographer, provocateur and back again, boldly dabbling in political themes and one unorthodox medium after another: avocado pits, tobacco and masking tape, among them. “I just never wanted to be put in a corner,” Koga says.
Now 51 and having come full circle to his roots as a sculptor, Koga’s latest body of work comprises affably corpulent sculptures of plaster and silver-plated bronze that embody a mélange of contradictions: familiar yet alien, monolithic and weightless. “A blend of Surrealism, a little bit of rock ‘n’ roll and a bit of the future,” says design dealer Ralph Pucci,, who is hosting an exhibition of Koga’s works in his Miami showroom in April. “They’re Miró-ish with a little Jetsons and a little Kenny Scharf,” says Pucci of Koga’s wondrous, anthropomorphized figures. “When you see something like this, it evokes something in the past, an old friend in a new way.”
Through Koga’s many phases and influences, nature has been the pervading theme throughout, drawn from the immense beauty of his native Hawaii. In his earlier days, Koga would carve into gourds and found driftwood, or compose installations of stacked stones, motivated by a desire to live with nature, “to carry it into my home and have it in my living room,” he says. Despite its alien appearance, Koga’s latest show at Pucci also borrows forms from very earthly beings. He began with the idea of walking stones and trees, and sculpted branches that became otherworldly arms and legs onto these foot-tall, bulbous plaster works. They later grew larger in scale, and eventually Pucci began commissioning them in silver-plated bronze. The resulting plump, call to mind the lyricism of mid-century abstract sculptors Henry Moore and Isamu Noguchi.