Andrew Kuo’s Chart World



This weekend, The Standard Hotel in Miami hosts an event for What Me Worry, the first publication from New York artist Andrew Kuo. Fans of print will already be familiar with Kuo from his work for The New York Times, where his obsessively (and whimsically) analytical charts have become a regular feature of the newspaper’s music coverage. In contrast, What Me Worry presents Kuo’s personal work, a vividly colored cataloguing of intimate obsessions (for pizza in particular) that has previously been exhibited at Taxter and Spengemann Gallery.

With titles such as “All The Things I Think Are ‘Bad Luck’ Are Actually Fully Created and Cultivated”, the book is as morosely confessional as a good rock record. Starting today, the book can be purchased online exclusively through The Standard’s website, and it will be distributed by DAP beginning on February 1, 2011. We chatted about whiskey and Vitamin Water.

KEN MILLER: Is there any emotion that’s too abstract or confusing to represent in a chart?

ANDREW KUO: Yes! All of them? If someone makes 25 charts in 25 days to describe how happy they are, each one would be different, because who is ever happy the same way twice? That’s why I like to put a date on some of these things: I could drop an ice cream cone one day and feel something, and I could drop an ice cream cone on another day and feel something else entirely. It’s the ‘too abstract or confusing’ part that I think is exciting about most things.

MILLER: How do you select the color palette for a piece? It’s not as simple as a sad emotion gets a dark color—sometimes something that’s a total bummer is a really happy color.

KUO: My grade school art teacher was really concerned that I was colorblind for a while. I wasn’t. I was lazy. These days I am not as lazy and I try to make the colors make sense with each other. I guess sometimes a happy emotion is black. I usually start with one color and go from there. I would say I’m batting .270.

MILLER: A lot of the pieces in the book seem to chart a very difficult time in your life. Is that accurate? Is it at all uncomfortable to share this with an audience?

KUO: Yes, it is uncomfortable. Maybe scary is the better word. I think mostly, I like to talk about things that I am scared to talk about. I feel lucky for so many things, but I also find life difficult in general. So I generally don’t think these works are time-sensitive.

MILLER: Are you a tortured artist?

KUO: I consider myself a sandwich artist and yes, the Knicks are torturing me.

MILLER: Yeah, you love the Knicks. Do you still love Formula 50 and pizza?

KUO: No and yes. I’ve switched to the ‘Focus’ flavor, which is strawberry and kiwi. I know that may sound gross to most people, but it reminds me of the old Snapple flavor I used to drink as a kid. So I likey. Pizza is unbelievable.

MILLER: Your early art involved cutting paper and was quite time consuming to produce. Do you mostly work digitally now?

KUO: Don’t let my glasses fool you—I work mostly not digitally. I paint the forms for the charts on the surface of the piece and they keep changing as I work on them. One color could expand and another could be erased and brought back through the process. My studio is a disaster of paint tubes and crumpled paper.

MILLER: The paintings that accompany the charts… What’s their relationship to the charts? Are they complementary or independent?

KUO: I started making them a few years ago. They complement the charts in the way that they are about the same thing, but I would hope they stand alone, too. I like to think about reduction and expansion. Tell less of a story and tell more of a story. I don’t know if these paintings are doing that, but that’s what I’m thinking.

MILLER: You chart about music for The New York Times. Is there anything you’d rather do than go to a rock show?

KUO: I am cursed with energy. Maybe I sleep too much. Maybe I should start doing drugs. Maybe I like to chase things. Like when I saw Fugazi at Maxwell’s and they played “Margin Walker” and the pit cleared a space on the floor and I got to go up right to the front and it was amazing. Or maybe when I saw Bright Eyes and in my mind I thought: “I would really love nothing more but to hear ‘Gold Mine Gutted,'” and then he played it really loud. But yes, I have turned down many a show for good food or a nap.