An LA born artist who grew up in the skateboarding scene turned his love for graffiti art into his full time job.
Augustine Kofie aka KOFIE (b. 1973) is an American multimedia artist who was born and raised in Los Angeles and continues to live and create there. Since the mid-nineties, Kofie has been creating works from various mediums ranging from drawings on paper to large-scale outdoor murals. Kofie began his artistic journey with the discovery of graffiti art, which he began to participate in 1989, right after he graduated high school. Living next to a motor yard during this time exposed him to the world of graffiti with images splattered on the concrete walls and spray paint cans covering the ground. The idea of mastering the technique of using a can of spray paint, a tool that had not yet entered the mainstream art world, interested Kofie and sparked his desire to do more.
Kofie juxtaposes hard and soft elements throughout his work. Each piece of his is ingrained with an ambiance of Southern California - the man made colossus of the highways, the towering structures of DTLA, and the clouded air of the city are all synthesized within hard lines and subdued tones. Although his abstraction seems vague in subject matter, it doesn't come out of the blue, and is deeply connected to both he and his city. It’s evident that he pays attention to both structures and forms everywhere he goes. Kofie claims that his work does not have a political foundation, and does not like to consider his work as decorative.
The structured arrangement of the manmade and the subtlety of a smogged atmosphere mimic his own family dynamic growing up. KOFIE’s push and pull between soft and hard imagery reflects the contrasting identities between his father, a businessman, and his mother, a UCLA taught artist.
Growing Up in the Arts
Because of his mother’s artistic background, Kofie has always been involved in art and had access to the art tools that were used by her. He has always known that he would be a creative person but took some time to realize what his medium would be. Despite being considered a self taught artist, Kofie had a certain amount of training throughout his highschool career that influenced his technical approach to creative production. This and being introduced to constructivism by friends attending art school all fed into Kofie's highly structured style yielding hard lines and shapes.
Like any artist, KOFIE’s style is a result of artistic growth through experimentation. As he was determining his artistic direction in the early 90s, KOFIE began with character-based work inspired by both comic books and skate culture. Growing up in Southern California, KOFIE naturally fell into the skateboarding scene, which was always intertwined with both the music and arts.
Skate Culture in LA
As skateboarding became a larger influence in Kofie’s life, he began to gravitate towards graphics, and at one point he believed that he would end up creating skateboard graphics as his niche. Skateboarding was ingrained into his every day, until he got injured so he slowed down, and began to transition from skating to drawing and graffiti. Although Kofie did not end up designing skateboard graphics, he did land a few gigs early designing a logo for Santa Monica Airlines, T-shirt graphics for Eric Dresham’s brand that would eventually become World Industries, and also for Skip England’s brand SMA. As Kofie is such a technical, hands-on artist, his only regret about these projects was not being as participatory with the production process as he could be. It wasn't until 2001 that Kofie began designing his own T-Shirt project called “Draftsman” which was distributed throughout parts of Japan.
Staying True to his Roots in Graffiti
After his T-shirt projects came to an end, Kofie continued creating illegal murals, then commissioned murals. Commissioned mural paintings became a way for Kofie to be active on the street but producing something other than what he had been so long. He moved from the letter forms he made in graffiti and shaped them into abstracted constructions within his murals. Eventually Kofie felt that he needed to expand as a graffiti artist, which resulted in his decision to begin to move into gallery work. Although this decision meant moving on from his artistic beginnings, Kofie didn't want to abandon his past, he wanted to be both technically and creatively inspired by his graffiti work.
A Self-Taught Artist Inspired by Music and Art History
Stylistically, one could draw comparisons between KOFIE and the likes of Pablo Picasso or Georges Braque’s early cubist works. As he takes scenes of his home in Los Angeles and throughout the physical world, he deconstructs and reassembles the lines of the streets, buildings, highways, and homes. Although visibly similar to his cubist counterparts, KOFIE’s work differs drastically in both scale and technique.
Kofie’s history with the sharp lines in illustration drove him to be a master of the structured style seen throughout graffiti art. Not only has he been inspired by icons of the graffiti world such as Dondi white, Phase 2, and Futura, but he also cites Lee Bontecou’s charcoal images, Ed Moses, Lebbeus Woods, and futurist architect Antonio Sant'Elia as major inspirations in his work.
As Kofie continues to grow as an artist, he still pulls inspiration from various aspects of his life and never fails to leave behind his beginnings. He continues to change the perception of what graffiti culture artists can do. In his contemporary collage work created from found objects, Kofie is inspired by the sound sampling heard in Hip Hop. The idea of taking pre-existing objects and forming them into something new is a highlight of this genre of his work.
Gallery Exhibitions Around the World
Kofie held his first solo exhibition in 2009 at Zero One gallery titled “Vintage Futurism”. At this turning point in his career, the exhibition was a realization of how Kofie would dictate the dialogue in how he not only created, but presented his work. While he dictated the visual space, Kofie also created a music playlist to be played throughout the exhibition to synthesize an entire visitor experience.
Kofie has continued to exhibit his work in galleries throughout the years, most recently showing in early 2020 at Galerie Openspace in Paris. Despite gearing towards gallery work, Kofie remains true to his roots through technique, always having a spray bottle at hand when painting in order to create the gradient effect familiar with spray paint.
To learn more about Augustine Kofie and view images of his artwork and mural art, visit https://augustinekofie.info/.
Article written by: Savannah Morris