Interview with Toco-Oco for “The World Within”

Thinkspace is honored to introduce the work of Brazilian husband and wife duo Toco-Oco (aka Lara Alcântara and Guilherme Neumann) for “The World Within”.

Toco-Oco sculptures carry Lara and Guilherme’s profound thoughts and gigantic questions about human existence in their clay frames. Under this playful name, they dream up fantastical creatures which they turn into curious doll-sized sculptures. Figures that live on the border between heaven and earth, between the human and the divine. They’re both animalistic and supernatural. “It is a world very similar to ours,” they say, “full of injustices, but full of hope.”

Our interview with Toco-Oco in anticipation of “The World Within“, explores their creative process, strengths as artists, and a philosophical approach to life and art day by day.

Can you share a little bit about your individual upbringing and where your studio is currently set up? How did you begin to collaborate together?

We are a couple, both graduated in visual arts from Fine arts university of São Paulo, our small studio is located in São José dos Campos, in the countryside of the State of São Paulo, Brazil where we live. We met in college and around 2006 we started working together, in 2012 we started the Toco-Oco project and a few years later we decided that we would pursue an independent career.

What was the inspiration behind this latest body of work? What themes were you exploring?

From the beginning, we followed the same poetics, which is what moves us and makes us continue to produce, although we express ourselves through very different media, the themes are the same. The relationship between life and death, human interrelationships, ancestral symbologies, and the relationship between human beings and nature.

What was the most challenging piece of this exhibition? How did that help you to grow as an artist?

All the pieces are challenging, and our growth as artists happens day by day in practice inside the studio, understanding what will be the material for each piece, which processes will be more relevant and being able to deal with the limitations of each medium, are challenges to be considered every day.

What is a day in the studio like for you? How do you structure your days?

We work every day, with the exception of Sunday, and we usually arrive at 7 am. Our work dynamics is organized by a daily worksheet, a weekly worksheet and several other production worksheets for each series of works. And we understand that this is the best way to ensure that everything goes as expected. As we are a small business, we have to deal with issues not only of creating and developing works, but also with suppliers, customers, and distribution of our work.

Do you have any rituals that help you explore a creative flow?

Some things help the creative flow, especially leisure, but as we don’t have much time to guarantee this, we are all the time connected and exploring references, we talk all day and this exchange is very important to keep the ideas flowing.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of the creative process? What are the qualities of your employee that you admire?

Our favorite part is when the idea comes to fruition, when it becomes real. And from there we have the whole production path to go. I, Lara, admire Guilherme’s ability to focus completely on a new idea, and as this is vital for him, while he researches everything so that the idea becomes real,  it’s as if it wasn’t possible to do anything else, super focus!

I, Guilherme, admire Lara’s ability to gather the whole idea and form it creates a critical thought about it, as well as how she reads each work creating poetry and texts about them in a masterful way.

If you could have any skill or topic downloaded into your brain, what would you like to be able to do/expert?

Guilherme would like to be able to speak every language on the planet. I would like to have access to different cultural experiences, I think it would be a good pair of skills.

What was the biggest challenge of 2020 for you?

In addition to the practical issues of the pandemic, dealing with the psychological issues that an extreme situation causes, I think was the most complicated. The feeling of fear and insecurity about everything, not just the global health situation.

What is your proudest accomplishment of 2021? Life so far? (may be art related or not)

Being able as a third-world artist to finance our own home — we think was the biggest accomplishment, besides being able to provide a quality education for our son.

What big projects do you have in 2022 and 2023 that you would like to share more about?

Our focus is not on big projects but on careful day-to-day, to stay relevant as artists, keep communicating with each other, and being able to keep the work going. We try to keep dreams possible and feed them daily.

Interview with Brian ‘Dovie’ Golden for ‘Parking Lot Carnival’

Thinkspace Projects is pleased to present Brian ‘Dovie’ Golden’s latest body of work for “Parking Lot Carnival.”

Parking Lot Carnival” explores the nostalgic connections of our past through the contemporary imagery of Dovie Golden. Using his “fiends” as a signature to connote an emotional presence in the subjects, we see them take shape in familiar human forms. In the context of Parking Lot Carnivals, the works explore pivotal moments of youth that brought joy and optimism in a depressing time.

In our interview with Brian ‘Dovie’ Golden, he shares how he pushed himself this exhibition, the lessons he’s learned from his children, and the power of vulnerability.  

What was the inspiration behind this latest body of work? What themes were you exploring?

Every summer a carnival would come to Chicago near my home on the Southside and I would count down the days until I could attend. The rides, games, lights, popcorn, cotton candy, shrieks of joy from carnival goers, balloon animals were part of a limited-time party rooted in freedom and chance. I wanted to pay homage to that touchstone memory and capture the feeling I got when I attended each year. While “Parking lot carnival” is inspired by a physical place, it is more about the unique and emotional insight stirred up by places we deem special. I invite the viewer to recall their own “parking lot carnival” moments and things that gave them joy, even when the world around them did not bring them joy.

Since your last exhibition, ‘Warning Signs’, how have you challenged yourself as an artist? Is there a specific piece in this body of work that really pushed you?

When I create a body of work, I try to keep in mind that I want the work and its interpretation to change as much as we do as people. Our perspective shifts as we evolve, so I try to keep that in mind. Since my last show, I have challenged myself to integrate a fuller scope of story in my pieces. In “Warning Signs” I demonstrated how the subject can get lost or found by external factors. In “Small Wins” I wanted to portray a theme around individual accomplishments. As part of this body of work, I explored placing the subjects in familiar yet unfamiliar settings so as to focus as much on the background as the subject. I challenged myself to strike a clearer balance between foreground and background as both shape perspective. The piece that I feel shows this equilibrium is “Lift off”. 

Do you have any rituals that help you tap into a creative flow?

My practice of doing rough sketches of ideas is constantly on the go. This series is from a collection of sketches I did a few years ago that I was finally able to connect and create a body of work around. I always carry a sketchbook with me. The only ritual I would say I have is that I pray before painting every piece. Well…that and a great playlist and a good cup of coffee…or bourbon. So maybe I do have more than one ritual.

What is your favorite carnival game?

I always enjoyed balloon darts, mainly because my success rate was high (lol).

What are a few lessons and/or teachings your children have given to you that has influenced your creative/artistic voice?

My sons regularly remind me that I have so much to learn and their love for me endures. We make space for love. These words get me every time. They teach me that patience, love, and understanding will solve any quarrel or misunderstanding, and to remember we’re all human. They can be seen throughout my work, whether I use their likeness or not. Because of them, I’m a better person.

If you were to write an ad campaign for Chicago on why it’s the best city for creative inspiration, what would be your pitch, and what symbols would you use to represent Chicago? What qualities and values must visitors have in order to visit?

Since we’re located a little east of center in the US, I would have to base the campaign idea around Chicago being the heart of the nation. That heartbeat is the source of so much creativity across our country and abroad. From Archibald Motley to Kerry James Marshall, this city has influenced and inspired every form of art and I’m grateful to have been born here. If I had to choose a symbol, I’d choose the #3 CTA bus since it runs through the corridors that most inspired me: Southside and Downtown.

How do you unwind when outside of the studio?

In order to recharge, I try to drain my mind of all creative thoughts and set my mind at rest. It’s not easy but I’m practicing.

If you could collaborate with any artists in any medium (i.e. movies, music, painting), who would you collaborate with, and what would you be making?

I have a ton of people I’d love to collaborate with. But top of mind, I’d love to collaborate with Ava Duvernay and Big K.R.I.T in some way. I admire people who create from their heart and soul, and to me it’s evident in what they do creatively.

What is your proudest accomplishment of 2021? Life thus far? (can be art-related or not)

The past few years have required introspection—whether we wanted it or not. We have had to take stock of what’s important, how are we affecting others, what boundaries are we setting for ourselves (good and bad). My journey thus far has been riddled with challenges, but I choose to remind myself of the wins and the opportunities I had to learn something new about myself. I learned the importance of celebrating yourself—particularly as a Black Man. I am most proud of how vulnerable and powerful I have become. I love that my work has opened more discussion around mental health and blackness. I am beyond grateful that despite dealing with bouts of depression and being taken to a very dark place by it, I’m glad to still be here.

What big projects do you have coming up in 2022 and 2023 that you’d like to share more about?

Following this show, I will participate in a few group shows this summer. After that, I plan to keep working. I have a bunch of sketches I want to complete, and I’m eager to see where that takes me.

Interview with Jamiah Calvin (aka Miah the Creator) for “Brown Sugar” | Exhibition on view March 5 – March 26 at Thinkspace Projects

Thinkspace Projects is pleased to present ‘Brown Sugar,’ a series of drawings from artist Jamiah Calvin, marking the artist’s debut with gallery.

Inspired by D’Angelo’s debut studio album, Brown Sugar, Calvin reminisces on his nostalgic life experiences during the mid- 90’s––living as a young Black man on Chicago’s West Side. Having heard nothing like this album before, Jamiah recalls being intuited by its one-of-a-kind musical sounds while drawing with his headphones on at his first creative job, Gallery 37.

In our interview with Jamiah Calvin, he shares his creative process, his earliest memory of using art to express himself, and words of wisdom for his past self.

Can you share with us a little bit about your upbringing and where you are currently creating?

I was born and raised on the west side of Chicago. We moved around a lot in the 90’s when I was growing up but we mainly resided in the Austin community to be closer to other family members. I go back and forth between my home and studio in Chicago to create.

What was the inspiration behind this latest body of work? What themes have you been exploring in your work?

Well, a lot of my inspiration comes from things I experienced growing up in the 80’s and 90’s and of course the music I listened to. And one day I decided to actually create a body of work based on 90’s r&b and of course my favorite album….Brown Sugar. That album was like the soundtrack of my life from 1995-to 1997. The first time I heard it was when I was an art apprentice at Gallery 37 and it blew my fucking mind!. I would draw with that album playing in my headphones all damn day. I would listen to it on my way home, while I cleaned up, when I did my homework, and of course when I would be on the phone with my girlfriend. So of course doing a body of work dedicated to that album was a no-brainer.

Could you share what your day-to-day looks like when working in your studio?

Actually, it’s quite weird and sporadic. I write a bunch of notes and concepts. I stare at my panel or canvas for 30-minutes to an hour while talking to myself about random shit, then I draw an outline or quick sketch and if I don’t like it I usually get frustrated, and then I find the perfect playlist or album to help me zone out. Sometimes I listen to Earl Nightingale’s strangest secret while I create.  

What’s in your “artistic toolbox”? Are you particular about brands that you use?

Well because I have been on a two-year sabbatical from oil painting I’m mainly creating works on paper with indigo and sanguine conte and pastel. I also keep charcoal sticks for different value tones ranging from HB to 8B.

How do you like to unwind outside of the studio?

I watch anime with my sons, or take long drives with my phone either off or on do not disturb while listening to great music. Every now and then I may smoke a joint to help ease some anxiety. I’m pretty chill especially since the pandemic occurred.

Do you have a process for sourcing and/or keeping track of your inspiration?

Yes, I have tons of concepts and ideas that I annotated over the last 4 years. Some I still have not begun to work on. I also take random photos when I’m out and about for references.

What was on your playlist while creating this new body of work?

D’Angelo, Lee Morgan, The Roots (Illadelph Halflife), O.C (Jewelz), Skyzoo, Jamiroquai Mary J Blige (My Life album), Usher (Think of You)…Mainly R&B from 93-97.

Most artists express themselves creatively as a child, but there is a moment when a shift occurs from just being creatively inclined to being more artistically minded – do you know when that moment was for you?

Honestly, I can’t recall. I was always a bit weird as a kid and created art as far back as 1st grade. I remember making my own comic books when I didn’t have money to buy any. Oh, I remember when I was six years old I drew a pic of my uncle Larry (r.i.p) being arrested. It was a shitty kid drawing but looking back now I wonder if that was my way of coping with witnessing my uncle being woken up by the police in our home as a child.

Have you ever worked outside creating public murals? If not, would you be interested in pursuing one day? 

Yes and I still do create public murals.

What words of wisdom would you share with your past self when you were just starting to create art? Is there anything in your artistic journey that you wish you may have done differently?

 I would tell my younger self to not get discouraged or compare my journey or growth with anyone else. As far as doing something different on my artistic journey… I would not have taken that 13-year gap from creating from 2000 to 2013 and I would not have taken that 19-year hiatus from spray painting and graffiti because I had to play catch up. It felt like being the new guy and proving myself all over again.

What did you find to be the biggest challenge of 2020 for you?

Healing. 2020 was a year of grieving for me. I was dealing with the unsolved murder of my youngest brother while going through a divorce. I was grieving my brother’s death as well as my perception of what I thought my life was to be. It was the pain of having my life drastically changing without my damn permission. So in the midst of that, I still had to be a father and example to my sons even on days when life felt unbearable and that alone was a challenge within itself.  

What is your proudest accomplishment of 2021? Life thus far? (can be art-related or not)

My proudest accomplishment of 2021 was my sold-out solo exhibition in Chicago and just seeing that body of work displayed in the gallery for the first time.

What big projects do you have coming up in 2022 and 2023 that you’d like to share more about?

I have a solo exhibition with Thinkspace that I’m looking forward to in California, a mural project in Mexico in the works, a print release, and a group show that I will be part of at Vertical gallery in April. And there are a couple of other big projects that I have to be tight-lipped about that I’m very excited about.

Interview with Willem Jacques Hoeffnagel for “Mixed Emotions” | Exhibition on view March 5 – March 26 at Thinkspace Projects

Thinkspace Projects is pleased to present Willem Jacques Hoeffnagel’s debut mini solo exhibition Mixed Emotions” which is a prelude to a larger exhibition with the artist set for Spring 2023.

The recognizable figures that have often been featured in Willem’s work have been close to him for more than a decade. Using the figures as a placeholder for a person, whether himself or someone else, it allows him to portray a scene or part of a small story to the viewer without putting too much attention to who it’s meant to be.

In our interview with Willem Jacques Hoeffnagel, he shares the journey he’s been on the past few years and the artists that have inspired his creative development.  

Can you share with us a little bit about your upbringing, and where you are currently working on your art?

My upbringing was great! I can’t say it any other way. It was a family that was open to art, music, and general creativity. My mom is a fashion designer with her own label and store that has been a staple in my city for 40 years now, my dad was a landscape architect when I was a kid. Very different but both definitely creative jobs. It was always encouraged to be creative. Whether that meant drawing, painting, playing guitar or making some clay sculptures there was always room to try things. 

I wasn’t planning, basically ever, to be an artist but looking back it’s not a huge shock as I was always drawing and semi-regularly painting – and also very bad at anything school-related – so I guess it was kind of obvious that I wouldn’t end up doing something very technical anyways. 

Currently working on my art from my home where I live with my girlfriend, which isn’t ideal as I create a classic painter’s mess in the house so I applied for a studio. Fingers crossed!

What was the inspiration behind this latest body of work? What themes have you been exploring in your work?

For some previous shows, I explored the mundane, ordinary scenarios in life without putting too much meaning behind them but rather enjoying the exploration of how I can put emotion or character in the figure even though there are limited facial features.

I do think there will be some other figures with actual faces (I have been drawing those for years and years but haven’t put them into paintings recently) but for “Mixed Emotions” I liked the challenge of conveying a feeling or emotion with just the eyes.

Which pieces in this body of work was most challenging? 

Probably “Blank stare”. It’s this woman wearing sunglasses and of course, sunglasses are usually used to help hide your emotions so the blank stare is something that came quite naturally.

Could you share what your day-to-day looks like when working in your studio? Do you have any rituals that help you tap into a creative flow?

Honestly, it’s quite random. Like I said, for now, I work from home so it’s a mix of doing chores around the house and painting. Which now that I think about it, probably is the reason why I keep painting ordinary things, it’s because that’s what it’s like for me!

What is your favorite part of the creative process? What is the most difficult part? 
The favorite is actually finishing the piece! Closely followed by painting the textures, shading etc. The first is satisfying because you get to hang the painting and that is always an exciting feeling. The most difficult usually is starting the piece, unless I have a seriously solid plan beforehand but that’s almost never the case.

Who inspires you as an artist?
Different artists inspire me for different reasons but the two that jump to mind right away are Klaas Gubbels and KAWS. Gubbels is a painter originally from Rotterdam but has been active and famous in my home city Arnhem for decades. I love his paintings but I can’t figure out why. He’s been painting coffee cans and tables for literally fifty years now but there’s just something so iconic and monumental about them which is very addicting. 

I did realize that that’s probably a reason why my paintings tend to be full, simple compositions and not very detailed or precise. 

When I first saw a picture of a KAWS painting I was blown away. At that time I wasn’t at all planning to pursue my drawing and painting hobby any further because I just subconsciously knew it couldn’t be a thing for me. I saw a chum painting by him on the shaped canvas and I was shocked. You can paint…cartoony figures? And it’s actual art? It blew my mind for some reason and a few days after that I painted my first ‘real’ piece based on the character that I only drew on corners of notebooks for all my school years. 

What’s in your “artistic toolbox”? Are you particular about brands that you use?

I use Winsor & Newton oil paints mostly, nothing too crazy. It’s what I started using some years ago and I’m hesitant to switch to anything else since I genuinely just like the paint. 

What did you find to be the biggest challenge of 2020 for you?
2020 was challenging because that’s the year when my study at art school stopped because of an argument I got into with my teachers because they wanted to flunk me. Little did I know it would be a great opportunity for me!

What is your proudest accomplishment of 2021? Life thus far? (can be art-related or not)
Art-related; definitely my solo show at Padre in NYC in collaboration with LeagueOTO. 2021 was life-changing for me and I will never forget the opening night. It was unbelievable that such a thing could happen to me. Forever grateful.

And in life thus far it’s also connected to that year in art. I now sustain myself fully and live with my girlfriend, dog and cat in an amazing little rented house in the center of Arnhem and it just feels great that this art journey made that possible. 

What big projects do you have coming up in 2022 and 2023 that you’d like to share more about?
The first half of 2022 is pretty packed! Of course, the show at Thinkspace LA which I’m very excited about as well as some other shows coming up, including my first real group exhibition in The Netherlands at kunstRAI with Vroom&Varossieau! I can’t share it all for now but there will be quite some new work coming out for sure. 

Interview with Young-Ji Cha for “Seesaw” | Exhibition on view March 5 – March 26 at Thinkspace Projects

Thinkspace Projects is thrilled to present Young-Ji Cha’s debut solo show, “Seesaw.”

For “Seesaw”, Cha presents paintings that focus on various characters which often are juxtaposed against a thin line between reality and fantasy. Although the themes are seemingly whimsical in nature, they showcase underlying tropes of morality, life, and death. Cha takes her work to the next level, having often experimented with these creatures in the past, and taking this opportunity to unify them in a collection that deals in extremes.

In our interview with Young-Ji Cha she shares how mother’s cooking reflects a blending of cultures, creating a surreal environment to express familiar emotions, and who inspires her creativity.  

Can you share with us a little bit about your upbringing, and where you are currently working on your art?

I was born and raised in South Korea and had a very normal upbringing by working parents. I was usually the first one home after school and I remember often doodling and painting at home until my mom got off work.  Looking back now I think that’s what got me naturally liking art. Currently, I am working and making art in Los Angeles. 

What was the inspiration behind this latest body of work? What themes have you been exploring in your work?

I wanted to tell stories of ups and downs I experienced using characters and elements that are familiar to me. I experimented with low-key and high-key palettes as well as different mask designs to illustrate my ideas in a more surreal way. 

Which pieces in this body of work were most challenging? 

Each piece had its own challenging aspects, but the low-key paintings were the most challenging to finish off for this body of work. I think finding a good balance of charm with my characters along with setting them in a darker palette is always difficult to accomplish. 

Could you share what your day-to-day looks like when working in your studio? Do you have any rituals that help you tap into a creative flow? 

I start my day with a good cup of coffee. I’m a big coffee addict and can’t function properly without coffee in my system. In the morning I work in the animation field and in the evening I work on my paintings. 

How old were you when you moved from South Korea to the states? What are elements of your cultural identity or traditions that you think is really cool and interesting? 

I was 10 when my family and I moved to the states. My cultural identity and traditions are definitely mixed between Korean and American elements. One of the coolest things that I see in my family is how my mom’s traditional cooking has adapted utilizing US ingredients. I think her Korean food recipes are a perfect way to describe how culturally mixed my family is now and how I’m influenced by it. 

What is your favorite part of the creative process? What is the most difficult part? 

The brainstorming process is the best. Just doodling and coming up with ideas and then researching for references. I think the most difficult part is toward finishing up a painting. When it’s time to make the finishing touches and call it done is always tough for me.

Who inspires you as an artist?

My mom was a preschool teacher in Korea and watching her draw decorations and cartoons for her class was very inspiring. Not only was she very talented but she made it look really easy.

What did you find to be the biggest challenge of 2020 for you?

Off the top of my head, I can’t think of one, but it was definitely a trying year for everyone.

What is your proudest accomplishment of 2021? Life thus far? (can be art-related or not)

The proudest accomplishment of 2021 would be starting my first body of work. It was something I really wanted to do for a long time and I’m happy I can finally cross it off of my list and get things rolling.

What big projects do you have coming up in 2022 and 2023 that you’d like to share more about?

On March 5th, 2022, my first body of work “Seesaw” will debut through Thinkspace Gallery as well as an unannounced group show later this year. I’m so excited to show there and share new works with everyone

Young-Ji Cha
Seesaw (Gallery II)

Opening Reception with the Artist(s):
Saturday, March 5, 2022