By Hank Putnam
When Ella Kogan talks about her “people,” she is referring to her sculpture. It’s an appropriate use of the word. Each of her figurative pieces seem to have their own strong, distinct personalities. As Kogan speaks about her art, she talks the way she works, with passion and enthusiasm. She grew up in an artistic family, in Russia, where her father was a famous painter. Her grandfather was a well-known artist, too. Originally trained as a classical musician, Kogan happened to be helping her son with a homework assignment, and suddenly discovered an instant love for working with clay, a relationship that continues to produce powerful, provocative results. The finished pieces are then cast in bronze, and glazed with rich patinas, employing a traditional firing method she calls “the old style.”
Bellus Magazine (BM): You have said that some gallery visitors are scared of your work.
Ella Kogan (EK): Well, it’s not scary to me. Yes, I always notice who picks what from my collections. Some go to the ‘easy’ pieces. The people in my work are confrontational. They are alive! It is a conversation. The pieces are complicated, and it may take you your whole life to have the understanding, I cannot say. Honesty comes from the gut. The meaning? What do they mean to you? They can be startling at first, but I’m sure once the viewer interprets the piece for themselves, they will find comfort.
BM: Your pieces are not usually based on one single person?
EK: No, my art is not about one person. It’s about the whole world. A world that is beautiful and ugly. This is about truth. Like the patina process, there are layers you see first. It’s about the psychology, the flesh, the human soul. Each one tells a story, it is a narrative. I feel that I was invited to do this work, to bring them to life, and tell their stories. I know they are complete when they seem to be alive, like living, breathing people, with blood in their veins, when they speak to me. When I smell the soul.
BM: Smell the soul?
EK: When I begin with a block of clay, it’s not just clay. For me, it’s already alive. First, I find the eyes. They lead me to the soul of the piece. Working this way, you become that soul. You must be attuned to them. You know what he or she feels, what he would say. I have to feel it. All my pieces come from love. And when they are done, they are balanced, in this way- intellectually, emotionally, spiritually. It’s not clay. It’s human.
BM: What you describe almost sounds like birth.
EK: Like my own children, I cannot control everything about the people in my work. Some artists say, ‘I did this, I did that, I did, I did.’ Not me. When I go a gallery, I am just one of the crowd. I have no insecurity, because these pieces do not come from the head. They are life itself.
BM: You have spoken in other interviews about the great responsibility that artists must honor.
EK: I feel I was chosen to do these pieces, to do this work. I believe we all come into this world with a purpose. The way we all live now, it’s so fast…the fast movies, the fast words. They take you away from what is really important. We stop questioning. You have to get past the garbage in your head to see the big questions, the truth: What is the meaning? The true meaning? Why are we here? Great art must be aggressive.
Ella Kogan’s work has been featured in leading art publications and the Huffington Post. In 2016, April 14th through the 20th, her art will be featured at Rogue Space gallery in Chelsea, NY. For more on Kogan’s controversial sculpture pieces and the stories behind them, visit her website at koganart.com.