At the start of his career over 30 years ago, Jim Kociuba (@jimkociuba) was the only art teacher in New Hampshire’s Hopkinton school district. Each day, he’d bring his cart of art supplies from classroom to classroom, teaching kindergartners one moment and 12th graders the next. Now, Kociuba is retired and lives in Cambridge, making art that speaks to his love for the nature of New England. He didn’t have much time to work on his personal art when he was a teacher, but that didn’t matter to him. He says he grew more than he could imagine during his time teaching the craft.
Q. The most eye-catching aspect of your art is the attention to detail. Why is that such an important component of your creative process?
A. I like working in layers. I start very gesturally, so it’s initially actually very loose and relatively representational. For example, if I’m painting a tree, I’ll start with the bones of the branches and build on that. Or when I make a landscape, I’ll start with an initial painting, build on it, and then I began adding pixels on top of the landscape. Those are usually done with metallic page and pumice, so they’re very sparkly and textured. The addition of the pixilation is as if I’m staining the campus with a flat watercolor, creating a very distinct final addition. I thought of it after being constantly exposed to the dynamic shapes of static due to bad cable in New Hampshire. But it also comes from a frustration of seeing people hold up their phone to take pictures of art in museums, rather than experiencing it in the flesh. I thought I’d just add the pixels for them. [Laughs.]
Q. Your use of color is quite consistent as well. What initially drew you to the color palette that you use?
A. It stems from my avoidance of burnt sienna. It’s a discordant color, and if I were to ever make it part of my layering process, it would mute the entire thing, so my art just naturally follows this progression of color that avoids burnt sienna. I’ve had a tiny tube of burnt sienna in my studio that I haven’t touched in 20 years. Look at the Mona Lisa, the use of burnt sienna gives the painting an earthy tone that pulls everything together. At the same time, it doesn’t feel vibrant enough for what I’m trying to convey. Beyond that, color is very very personal. There are many theories, but to me the choice of a color palette is a very visceral reaction from the artist. To me, the colors I use are just second nature.
Q. Your art also deals a lot with nature. But they aren’t traditional landscapes. Why did you choose nature as your subject, and have you ever experimented with anything else?
A. I was actually a photographer at first, and then a figurative painter. I’d paint people and portraits and always had an eye for detail. But there’s just something so relaxing, and pleasing and settling about painting landscapes, especially with trees. As a child, when I looked up at trees and I’d see the light streaming through the branches, I was just entranced. I’ve been making landscapes since I first had my hands on a crayon. I was definitely the kid who would get in trouble for drawing on everything.
Jim Kociuba’s art will be featured at in “The Komorebi Series,” from Oct. 2-30, with an opening reception on Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. at the Newton Free Library, 330 Homer St., Newton.
Chris Triunfo can be reached at [email protected].