When Paul Komada returned to the city where he was born, Seattle, from the city where he was raised, Yokohama, Japan, he entered the eighth grade as an ESL student. He heard plenty, but only partly knew what he was hearing. As a result, "Anything abstract is my tendency," he explained to me. In a letter to a young artist seeking advice, the abstract painter Thomas Nozkowski wrote in 2006, "Recognition, when it comes, sometimes can seem like a misunderstanding." Abstraction is the acceptance of misunderstanding; it's when, only partly knowing what you're looking at, you keep looking, searching. A friend of mine had a six-foot-wide abstract painting on the wall above her dinner table for 20 years without realizing it was a huge nude. Art's right in front of you. Or is it?
Komada has two knit pieces and six painting-knitting hybrids at Prole Drift this month (amid a few scattered orchids and a tacked-up printout of the Lou Reed/John Cale song "Trouble with Classicists," too), and he's transformed the gallery's back room into a high-tech open studio where he works during certain gallery hours.
In the painting-knitting hybrids, knit panels are delicately stretched across precisely cut openings in stretched and painted canvases. Simple colored shapes continue across the yarn onto the canvas. In the past, Komada has used harder geometry in contrast to the soft yarn (sometimes quoting Malevich or Mondrian directly), but here the common form is a pair of smoky or watery trails that relate to each other in various ways: interlocking, crossing, diverging. After the pieces are finished, Komada adds titles like Classic Tempest or Vision After the Sermon, often based on the news he overheard on the radio while he was working; it's all related. How does a news story curve a line? Komada's not telling. He's asking.
In the back room, you can watch the process yourself. At the entrance, there's a video broadcast of Komada, who's painting on a canvas at the other end of the room. I found myself switching back and forth between watching the artist and watching the video of the artist, who's also looking at the video on his laptop. He's using green-screen technology, a square mounted canvas, and a laptop feed of his own Instagram photographs. As he works, he looks like a TV weatherman with a paintbrush. What appears on the laptop is different from what appears on the canvas on the wall. Applying paint uncovers parts of the photograph on the laptop; he's painting erasures or holes, a psychologically unusual experience. He's also working in the manner of still life, observing and painting, back and forth, but the result will look like abstraction.
Because the freeware he's using allows him to change paint colors, green-screen can become red-screen, et cetera, meaning he is able to use different colors of paint on the canvas. Each final painting will be a multicolored, multilayered recording of his responses to the photographs, which themselves are responses to Seattle's buildings and streets, as well as to the demands of Instagram.
The existence of Instagram in Komada's life—he joined recently—only adds more questions about what humans want from pictures. Some things are predictable: A picture of anything that incorporates a strong vanishing point gets the quickest torrent of "likes," for instance. But take the unpredictable fact that Komada's Instagram feed is most popular with followers in Poland and Turkey. All of his pictures seem to be encrypted with their own itineraries for travel. He's in pursuit.
The hours for Formalist's Agony's Open Studio are Fri June 13, 1–2 pm; Sat June 14, 5–6 pm; Fri June 27, 1–2 pm; and Sat June 28, 4–6 pm.