Augustine Kofie talks ‘Rotationships,’ building unity through pieces of the past

Illustration of street and graffiti artist Augustine Kofie and their most recent mural.
Angela Bi/File

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Desaturated yellows and dusty pinks geometrically coalesce with monochromatic package labels on a 300-pound oblong-shaped installation piece, rising up to the offbeat sound of hammered nails as artist Augustine Kofie tilts the wooden structure onto its side. The hollowed-out center acts as a giant window, temporarily enveloping the back wall of Heron Arts in an elliptical frame as it waits to be hung for the opening night of Kofie’s solo exhibition “Rotationships.”

“(‘Rotationships’) is not a drastic jump from what I’ve been doing for all these years, but it is narrowed in and very specific — different from what I’ve done before,” Kofie said in an interview with The Daily Californian. 

With roots in Los Angeles, Kofie has long portrayed his relationship with rounded shapes through paintings, murals and collages, uniting soft curves with angular linework. From steno notepads to filing folders, “Rotationships” — on display through April 9 — draws on Kofie’s 15-17 year collection of found materials to continue his exploration of circular forms. 

“Kof is my name for short,” the artist explained. “So structurally, it’s a hard K, a round O, a hard F. So I have to think of this balance of how I can incorporate these linear and rounded forms. Over time, as I was doing that in my paintings, I realized the rounded form was more of the feminine to the masculine hard edge line work.”

In “Rotationships,” each sharp line and gentle curve cannot exist without the other. Collaging together similar colored pieces, Kofie preserved the salvaged aesthetic of each found item, putting his paint aside to invite the unaltered shades of past narratives into his work. 

“I’m very into ‘Vintage Futurism’ and taking from the past,” Kofie said. “Usually the futurism is the present in a way. I’m not a futurist per se, but I like taking the past and remixing it into something that can stand the test of time and still look good down the line, if I can manage that.” 

Though Kofie began his art career in graffiti lettering, over time his letterforms unfolded into abstract shapes until they disappeared altogether. With partial logos from industrial labels and fragmented song titles from forgotten album covers, Kofie is coming full circle, reintegrating words into his work — only this time he’s recontextualizing buried texts of the past. 

When asked about graffiti lettering within ‘Rotationships,’ Kofie said, “The only connection to that, other than the type that’s incorporated, is the way that I approach my lettering and how I am much more architectural and linear about it. These hidden structures in the background are the hints toward the way I build letter form, but they’re secondary. The oblongs and the shapes are what I’m trying to put the attention to.”

Hung side by side, two of Kofie’s later oblong pieces pop out of their black backgrounds, a color used mindfully due to its rare appearance in old packaging materials. In one piece, the familiar rotations begin to merge, forming different color combinations and pattern arrangements where they overlap. 

“I didn’t even know they were going to get hung together, which is great seeing it now,” Kofie expressed as he ran his fingers down one of the collage’s mosaic textures. “At this point, I was getting much more experimental with transparency and crisscrossing because generally (the oblongs are) just bumped up against each other. I was getting a lot more comfortable with them interacting and all of these unique transitions that can happen in between.”

Kofie utilized serigraph printing to create meditative background pieces reminiscent of security envelope patterns, adding a sense of consistency amongst the limited supply of certain found material colors. When assembling each component, Kofie lets his materials guide their placement, aligning trust falls with architectural precision.

“When I’m working on them flat, there’s no set orientation,” Kofie said, referring to each piece. “I’m just building out based around the shapes and I place them where they’re going to go, whatever feels right. But I also try to give myself some kind of groundwork: I build off of certain lines, I place all the paper within those lines and see how it comes out. It’s still kinetic, but it’s also taking chances.” 

To provide a beat for his rotations, Kofie constructed a soundtrack for “Rotationships,” extending his collage work to sound by intermixing dialogue and music samples that influenced him during his three-year creation process. As the pound of the hammer softens, Kofie stands encircled by oblong forms, filling the center of his cohesive work while the final pieces make their way to a wall for the first time. 

“(‘Rotationships’) is something I needed to do, to let out and express,” Kofie intimated. “And maybe it’s about me feeling like I’m a whole artist now. All these years, maybe I felt like I was just a creative person doing it. But this really feels like a step forward in my art career.”

Amanda Ayano Hayami covers visual art. Contact her at [email protected].