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Artist at work

Kojo Griffin takes over Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia


Kojo Griffin is a member of a small, elite group of Atlanta-based artists who have achieved national art world prominence. He is currently exercising fame's prerogative by momentarily putting down the paintbrush for a distinctly uncommercial installation project at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia.

Like Cornel Rubino's recent "Cockfight" mural at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, Kojo Griffin: At Work offers an established artist the chance to do two things that success often affords little time for: experimentation and the ability to make art strictly for pleasure.Griffin's installation features several familiar strains, including his usual humanimal creatures engaged in traumatic scenarios of grief and violence, rendered in larger-than-life size charcoal sketches on the museum walls. He has painted another room from floor to ceiling with an array of cogs, pulleys and gears, which suggest creativity's boiler room: the hidden, internal, off-site workings of the artist's mind.

But Griffin has also brought a new sculptural element to this work at MOCA-GA. He's been in residence at the museum since Feb. 18, sketching and building his environment, which will include a large wooden room-like structure, an interactive component, foot-high clay figures taken from his illustrations and paths made of stone and grass. The only possible impediment to those plans will be a bad back, which has slowed down his progress, and limited budget. All the money for the project, says Griffin, is coming out of his own pocket.

"Filling up that whole space is going to cost me a lot," admits Griffin. "It's been a matter of combining together what my ideas were and then trying to shape those into something I could actually afford to do."

At Work is in some ways an ironic title. One component of the show is that museum visitors can drop by and watch Griffin produce the installation. But the artist confesses he's not altogether pleased with that notion. He is thus, during museum hours, often nowhere to be seen, recalling those crushing visits to the zoo in childhood when "The lions are napping" signs were encountered more often than the animals themselves. Griffin's circular saw, wooden pallets and jug of water are mere trace elements of the reticent artist somewhere in the wings.

"That was really Annette's idea," says Griffin of MOCA-GA Director Annette Cone-Skelton's desire to have Griffin publicly create the work. "I'm pretty much a private person. I can't lie, I'm not totally comfortable with having people come around and watch me."

Though Griffin anticipates completion by the show's opening March 14, there are now only enticing fragments of the installation, like the as-yet uncompleted wooden room that dominates the gallery's first room. Near the museum's entrance in that same room, Griffin has adorned the bare walls with large vignettes of his trademark human-animal menagerie. There's a scene of a worker with down-turned head holding what is undoubtedly a pink slip while his boss goes nonchalantly about his work. Another image features a bear-man seated near a window, a shotgun and box of ammo at his feet -- a scenario suggesting either imminent suicide or mass murder.

Creating At Work on walls for no immediate commercial gain has allowed Griffin to get back in touch with the ephemeral pleasures of the artform he honed his skills in: graffiti.

"That was the part I enjoyed, the freedom of it," says Griffin, "the fact that it's not something that's going to last forever."

This installation allows Griffin to return to the pleasure of art before it became a commodity while also offering the chance for something of an Atlanta swan song. At Work, says Griffin, is his adieu to the threat of local overexposure.

"I've had three solos here and countless group shows, and I don't feel there's much need for that." He laughs conspiratorially. "Personally I'd be sick of seeing me."

Fortunately for Atlanta, Griffin is undeniably rooted in the area, having recently purchased a house where he lives with his wife and two children, ages 10 and 6. His new East Point digs allow easy access to the airport that can take him to all the anticipated stops on his extra-Atlanta art career, including a March 5-29 group show at New York's Mitchell-Innes & Nash Gallery.

But Griffin is fairly blunt about how much more he can do professionally here.

"I don't see myself doing too many shows in Atlanta after this ... there's just not a huge need for it. So I look at it kind of like this is me giving myself over to people for a few weeks and then after this, I don't know how many more times people will get to see my work down here."


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