Relentless Optimism with Chad Kouri

PapirmassINTERVIEWS

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Chad Kouri is a Chicago-based artist who effortlessly works across multiple mediums, including design, collage, sculpture, installation, print, and participatory experiences. The one unifying theme is his refreshing, relentlessly optimistic outlook on life.

Issue 67 is a risograph print featuring two of his collage works as well as pieces from his Art Advice series. Below, we talk with Chad about life advice, his work, and what’s next for him.


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It hardly seems possible, with the amount that you’re up to, but we’ll put you to the challenge: can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers? 

Yes, it is a bit of a challenge to nail down exactly what it is I do day to day, but I’ll do my best! In the most basic sense, I’m a working artist based in Chicago. I prefer “working artist” over the traditionally used “exhibiting artist” as I feel that  now-a-days just exhibiting work doesn’t generate enough income to make a living. A lot of living artists have a very broad practice, whether that includes writing, curatorial projects, other professional creative work such as design or architecture and more. This diversification helps inform the studio practice in different ways, and a lot of the time also helps fund it. Now, let me take a step back… I’ve been doing design work for clients since high school. I moved to Chicago in 2003 to study graphic design at Columbia College and knowing that I didn’t have enough money to finish a full four-year program, I took as many studio classes as I could while simultaneously working on various jobs including everything from design gigs to being a door-to-door coupon salesman to stay afloat. Two years into school I found a full time design position at a marketing firm, finished the last of the classes I could afford, and went off to work full time for nearly 3 years.
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While at this job I learned an immense amount about working with a team and managing client expectations. But I also learned that being on the computer for 16+ hours a day is not something I wanted to be doing for the rest of my life so I began doing some personal projects based around custom typography and collage to get me off the computer. This slowly turned into more serious work by way of editorial illustration and other hand drawn typography work. After a few years of working the day shift at the marketing office and the night shift on personal and freelance projects, I was making just enough money to quit my day job and focus on my freelance work, alongside a few part time restaurant and retail stints here and their to fill the gaps. Shortly before leaving the full time job I found a great group of friends to share a studio with and we started The Post Family— an art and design incubator of sorts that is still around today. That gave me more room to explore printmaking and collage work and that studio practice—along with a design practice focused specifically on working with arts organizations and cultural institutions—is what pays the bills today.

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We love your positive energy! Tell us more about “relentless optimism” as the unifying force throughout your work.

Personally I feel like we have the choice to react to situations however we want. Of course some things are much harder than other, like losing a loved one unexpectedly or personal health and wellbeing, but we always have a choice to look at a situation from a glass half full position. For me, my mental health is a number-one—priority and keeping a positive outlook is part of that. I believe Edith Wharton—the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize—said it best, “If only we’d stop trying to be happy, we could have a pretty good time.” My hope is that with the playful language in my text works and the bright energy in my cut paper pieces, that I can instil happiness and positive energy in the viewer, even momentarily.

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It seems that you’re continually collecting both physical ephemera as well as bits of knowledge and fragments of conversation. What role does collage play in your practice? 

Collage is way more an active process than it is an art medium for me at this point. Pretty much everything I do has an element of collage in it, whether it’s collecting words and phrases I like in other people’s writing to help me better articulate my work, or it’s a bunch of research collected for a design project that is all chopped up and made anew, or even playing music and learning different scales and rhythms that can be pieced together in an infinite amount of arrangements. It’s all a collage. Or a collage of collages, if you will.

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We’ve published two pieces from your Art Advice series, a wonderful collection of snippets of wisdom collected over the years. What Life Advice have you learned over the years that you would like to pass along?

Well, I’m not one to be screaming advice from the mountain tops as I feel that everyone has their own path and a different way of getting there. For example, the Art Advice series is advice from other people so I don’t take any ownership over the text I share in that context. But personally I feel like the the most important thing in my practice is to make sure that any project I am doing is spiritually rewarding, for lack of a better term. If I don’t get satisfaction from the things I am doing, they better at least be indirectly facilitating something that does or else it’s not worth my time.

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What are you working on right now? What’s on your horizon? 

I’m currently working with the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago doing drawings during live jazz performances throughout the run of an exhibition called The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now. It’s great fun. You can read a bit about it here, and see some drawings here, here, and here. Otherwise I’m slowing chipping away at some larger art commissions for commercial spaces in Chicago which hope to see the light of day in the next 12-18 months, while looking for more opportunities to exhibition my work at a national and international level. Lastly, I’m hoping to focus more of my time on creating wearables, both accessories and garments, in the coming year or so which I am really looking forward to. We’ll see if I can find the time to make it happen!

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See more at chadkouri.com

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