Sculptor Ella Kogan's Provocative Work Captures the Flawed Magnificence of Being Human
By Graham McLean
Russian born, New Jersey living sculptor Ella Kogan, challenges what it means to be an artist in the contemporary art world. Vehemently opposed to the absence of meaning and lack of honesty she sees in the world around her, Ella creates works that are startling in their aesthetics, character, and emotional resonance. Ella is a passionate artist who draws from a higher power in creating pieces that she hopes will have a social impact, or at the very least, start a conversation about important issues.
In her career, Ella has developed a distinctive style that is deeply expressive with a purpose to communicate the shared experiences of humanity. I had the pleasure of talking with Ella about her extraordinary work and her views on the role of artists in society.
Where does your passion emanate from?
Every relationship I have ever had, the people, the love, the sicknesses, all have shaped my life. Everything has had a purpose and I've come to bring all of my experiences into my work. Each layer represents a multitude of life. When I create my pieces I cannot do it by myself. I do as much as I can, but it is a marriage of God and me that gives life to my work and gives me the impression that I was 'chosen.' They are not just pieces of clay or bronze; they are human.
How did your journey as a sculptor begin?
When I was young, I was a pianist and a singer. My father was a well-known artist and exposed me to the masters at a young age, but it never stuck with me. Then one day, I was helping my son with an art project for school and when I took the clay in my hands that was it. A dance had begun. It was like the movie "The Red Shoes." Once the ballerina puts on the shoes, she cannot stop dancing.
How do you choose a subject for a new piece?
Each piece I create is mysterious. With Monk I had the experience of going back through centuries to medieval times. I had a smell, a feeling of what was going on during that time, and I put that feeling into the piece. But you cannot be intellectual about how you are going to do each piece. They will just come to you. With Jew, it is not about one old Jewish man, but it is about the Jewish community, and everything good and bad that they experienced. Same with Gay Story. It is about all gay people, their lives, their message "this is our place, this is our world."
Do you consider your work to have a political message?
Absolutely. I want people to wake up! I don't like anything superficial or politically correct. There are lies everywhere, especially in entertainment and the media. I can't stand it. I do what I can, but it has to be authentic. I want people to think about real things. Woman From New Orleans, is about the whole black history, and not only the suffering. When I look at her face I see everything. The music, the food, the slavery, I see the relationships, the honesty, the calmness. I see something natural. Authentic.
How do you know when a work is finished?
With each piece, I'm looking for a friend. I hug my pieces. I have a conversation with them. We understand each other. But I would never finish a piece without the presence of that god because that's what breathes life into the piece. When the piece is done you can see the blood going through the veins. There is a smell and skin. The piece is alive. I think there is a real human in front of me and even reflect on what they think of me. I'll say, "I'm just going to change my hair. Sorry I have dust on me." When it is a live person looking at me, the piece is done.
How do you create such powerful emotion in your work?
People want something safe and there is no safety in my work. That scares many people. Many people are scared of feeling, of thinking, of opening up. When I create my pieces they must be very intelligent. Intelligence is crucial. You have emotions, like when you rush to the studio, the moment you feel the piece in your hands, emotions are there. But you have to control your emotions. You have to put them on a leash and have a clear head. Otherwise, you won't hear the piece. It's a partnership and a union, like marriage. There is no place for your ego. It's all about the work, all about the piece. You have to hear the piece. It will dictate what it wants.
Do you experience the same healing aspect from your work as your viewers?
Absolutely. When I finish a piece, it calms me down. I especially always took to my work Bald Woman. I admire her. That woman is about freedom. It's about not really being free of all this stuff that we think we need, material stuff. She's so above that. I look at her and I am jealous. Will I be at your level someday? Will I be like you? I hug my works when I am at a difficult place. They are the best listeners come with the best advice.
Are there any artists who have inspired you?
Camille Claudel. Rembrandt. The Classical School. I love poetry in pieces. I love music in pieces. I do not understand abstract but I understand energy, and that is what touches me. I don't like or keep up with many modern day artists. As artists, we have a responsibility for humanity; to shape the young souls, shape their minds. It is such an important role. We are teachers.
How do you separate your life as an artist and as a person?
Me, the artist and myself, the person are not the same. As a person I am like everybody else. I like all the same stuff. I am nothing extraordinary. In my life as a person, I can be very judgmental. As an artist you can't be. It has to come from love and understanding. You really feel the pieces. When I make my pieces, I don't even consider them mine. At my shows, people ask my opinion and I'm trying to express as Ella, as the person, not as a sculptor, because as a sculptor, you don't have the answers. You are a small person. You have the privilege and the honor to do these pieces but they are not for you. They have much more value and meaning than you can explain.
Find out more about Ella and view her work, visit www.KoganArt.com.
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