In Search of Dreams, from a Converted Carriage House
When KK Kozik and her husband, Scott Stiffler, moved from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Sharon, Conn., 16 years ago, they bought an elegant house in the center of town, steps away from the historic town Green. The family had been traveling between Connecticut and New York for some time. Eventually, they found that it was easier to raise their young children from a permanent home in Sharon.
Once the main house was fixed up, the couple turned to the old carriage house on the property. The downstairs was cleaned up so that Stiffler could keep a classic car there; the upstairs became Kozik’s studio.
Once a dim loft space, the new studio is now a bright and open room, natural light flooding in through its large glass doors. Kozik said one of her favorite things about the studio is “the ability to work with the doors open, so you can hear the birds and feel the air moving around you.”
Sometimes Kozik does work that’s dreamy yet representational, starting with actual landscapes and, in the case of her bookscape series, beginning with actual piles of books.
She usually takes photos of her subjects and then studies them as she paints.
For other paintings, she doesn’t use a single photograph or even step outside her studio in search of one of the country landscapes that are all around her.
For those visuals, she said, “I just make it up — but, I don’t make up the ideas. I take the ideas from someplace else.”
As an example, Kozik talked about her fascination with the Northern Lights.
“Some people say that you paint what you want to see.”
Kozik understood she wanted to paint the natural phenomenon — and she wanted to paint it as the backdrop to a house. She needed to find just the right house to serve as her inspiration.
One day, she was driving in Vermont and came upon “a house you might feel a bit sorry for — and that was it.”
She took photos of the building, which appeared to be abandoned. And she used her research on the Northern Lights, and began work on a piece she titled “Call and Response,” a reference to a type of gospel singing where the lead singer calls out a phrase and the group sings back in response.
The partnership in the painting refers to a Lava Lamp that Kozik painted in the house’s window.
“The Northern Lights make you think there must be a God,” she said. “Imagine if you were a primitive person and you saw them.”
The kitschy glop of the Lava Lamp is the cheap commercial response to nature’s glory.
“The Lava Lamp is a cheap, crummy response to this sublime thing.”
The COVID-19 quarantine didn’t profoundly affect Kozik’s work. Moving to Connecticut had already taken her out of the more active world of art and artists in New York City.
“Artists may have been the least affected because they were already staying home and working alone,” she said.
What changed for her during COVID-19 was the constant presence of her husband and children in the house during the day.
“Personally, my whole family being home all the time was the most difficult; it’s hard for me to concentrate with conflicting energies.”
Because of it, she said, “I think I’ve been a little slow this year. But it’s getting better.”
Books that KK Kozik recommends
• “Landscape and Memory” by Simon Schama
“I wrote about this book in an article for The Journal of Cornwall Contemporary Art. It helped me understand how some artists are very inspired by the places they live. Schama said that a landscape doesn’t name itself, it takes someone looking at it and thinking about it before it becomes a place otherwise.”
• “It all Turns on Affection” by Wendell Berry
“This was another book I wrote about in that article. Berry focuses on what people feel about where they live. He believes that if people are in touch with their affection for a place, then they will take care of it. If you love the landscape, you do all that you can to take care of the life that’s in it.”
• “Set this House on Fire” by William Styron
“I think this is my favorite fiction book. Styron’s use of language is amazing, but also his stories are just really good — they are unexpected and interesting. There is a young man, who is American, living on the coast of Italy right after World War II.
“ It starts as a comic tragedy, but then he observes the characters around him. I like how he’s observing. When I was growing up, I always watched everything that was going on around me with a great deal of skepticism.”