Photographer John Klukas was born in St. Paul, Minnesota. After receiving his B.A. in Psychology from the University of Minnesota, his interest in pursuing photography brought him first to Bangkok, Thailand and then to New York City, where he works primarily in fashion photography. His work has appeared in a wide range of art and editorial publications. For the last few years, John has also created album covers for Ghostly International Records. His solo show, opening at Edgar Varela Fine Arts in L.A. this spring, is also part of MOPLA (Month of Photography Los Angeles). John Klukas candidly shared some of his insights about Surrealism and its influence upon his practice.
From the beginning I have been heavily influenced by surrealism. In fact, the name of my website, 45houses, comes from André Breton’s surrealist manifesto (1924). During a discussion of Surrealist language, and, in the broadest sense, an illustration regarding the disconnect between language and meaning, he brings up the case of a man with Ganser Syndrome, while speaking with his doctor. The doctor asks the man, “What is your name?” to which the patient replies, “Forty-five houses.”
I remember being enthralled by this elegantly simple example, and further, excited by this notion of an elevated role for the subconscious or unconscious mind that Surrealism proposes. While much has changed for me since those formative years, I am still fascinated by what lurks below the surface of our conscious minds.
In the Surrealist tradition, I draw upon dreams for much of my work, which usually deliver powerful images to me, that I then use as a basis to build a story that fits into a broader context. Many of my images are of powerful, aggressive female figures that defy our culture’s contemporary archetypes. Two perfect examples of this in my work would be the series “The Phantom Queen” and “Echo in Three Phases.”
The idea for “The Phantom Queen” came seemingly out of nowhere and it started as this notion of a hyper-aggressive shape shifter who often chose to present herself as a raven. So I started with this idea, began doing some visual research and came across the Celtic Goddess Morrigan, a tripartite, shape-shifting Goddess of prophecy and death, sex and bloodlust. To me, she seemed to be the violent embodiment of the potency of female power. I folded in parts of mythology of this phantom queen and started to work in the symbology associated with her as a means to add depth to both the character and images.
With “Echo in Three Phases,” I started more with an idea for a technique of shooting through a pane of glass or plastic and then using different types of liquids on the pane in order to warp and distort the image; achieving an effect reminiscent of some of Francis Bacon’s paintings. At some point, the model requested reference images, which forced me to start pulling together images that conveyed what I was thinking. At that point, all I had really thought about was the way in which I was planning to distort the images. So I began delving through my cache of inspiration images that I collect for references and through the process of successive rounds of selecting and then editing down images that I feel are relevant, without actually knowing the story yet, a story actually started to emerge. Like a derivative of some type of Surrealist free association exercise except with images, in this instance, what emerged was a visceral and dynamic character that comes apart as the story progresses. She decays from a dark and mysterious figure, to an ephemeral apparition and finally to a violent rejection of corporeal form.
Despite the frightening nature of the transformation, there is an essential beauty that permeates all three phases. This, I think, is an essential component of much of my most personal work. A deep tension between beauty and terror; sex and death.
A selection of John’s work appears on the following pages.
“The Phantom Queen” opens at Edgar Varela Fine Arts on Saturday, April 28th and runs through May 19th.
Edgar Varela Fine Arts
727 S. Spring Street, Los Angeles 90014