I met Kohshin Finley one afternoon at his studio on Hollywood Boulevard. I had never seen his work and I wasn’t sure what to expect. We headed up the elevator of The Cherokee Building, a historic Hollywood landmark built in 1927, and arrived in a hallway filled with what seemed like tiny offices. It reminded me of the SPRING/BREAK Art Show space – think James A. Farley Post Offices meets Spanish Colonial Revival. Finley led us to his studio and upon entering the space, I was astonished and moved by two large, black and white paintings. Again, I had no idea what to expect and left that day genuinely impressed and lucky to have had the opportunity to visit Finley’s studio.
Finley’s candidness and ability to combine his experiences with those of his subjects, make him not just a painter but a storyteller. I chatted with Finley about his biggest inspirations, the diversity of Los Angeles and why he’s chosen to paint in black and white.
Katya Khazei: How did you get started?
Kohshin Finley: Both of my parents were fashion designers as I was growing up, so I was always embraced and supported creatively. When I was young, I would figure out ways to tell my own stories, whether that be through paper cutouts on popsicle sticks or making my own comic books. All throughout high school and college, I tried many different ways of artistic storytelling, but it wasn’t until late in college that I really fell in love with painting.
KK: Tell us about your work. What is the process like? What inspires you?
KF: My latest work is really about investigating what it is to be a person of color thriving and living in America today. For this series, I collaborated with friends of mine and tell their story as a way to spark conversations about how we view people. Before starting a painting, I have fluid conversations with my collaborators and photograph them in the midst of conversation. From there, I begin to paint and write poems based on our conversations which then are written in various ways into the canvas. My biggest inspirations are my family and friends, hearing their stories of empowerment and perseverance inspire me so much. Being given the opportunity to translate an aspect of their lives into a visual form is a truly honored position that I find myself in.
KK: Did growing up in LA have an influence?
KF: It definitely has. Growing up in a few diverse communities in Los Angeles has taught me a lot about different cultures, people, and the similarities we all share. Living here has made me aware of the fact that everyone has a story. Illuminating some of these stories in my work has become increasingly important to me as it gives me a unique way to have a deeper connection with the people around me, as well as the viewer.
KK: Your most recent paintings are in black and white. What led you to make this change?
KF: The subject matter that I’m painting about drove me to make this change. Removing color from my paintings gives me the opportunity to show the viewer who my subjects really are. Without showcasing color in my paintings, the viewer can see them as simply “a person,” without putting “brown” or “black” in front.
KK: What artists do you admire?
KF: My brother Delfin Finley, Shawn Theodore, John Edmonds, Lauren Halsey, Patrick Martinez, just to name a few.
Follow Kohshin Finley on instagram
all images // courtesy of the artist