b. 1981 in Lansing, MI; lives and works in San Francisco, CA

San Francisco-based artist Koak creates emotionally charged portraits that bridge figuration and abstraction. Originally from Michigan and raised in Santa Cruz, Koak made her way to San Francisco to pursue her studies at the California College of the Arts, ultimately earning an MFA in comics. Her practice which encompasses painting, drawing, and sculpture, maintains a strong graphic sensibility and an emphasis on figure-based narratives of the medium she was trained in. Much of the artist’s work revolves around female figures characterized by gracefully flowing lines that curve and taper. These figures are often depicted in various postures, from sitting and reclining to contorted positions, typically set within lushly colored environments. Koak’s approach to female subjects reflects a thoughtful and candid perspective. It is essential that her figures don’t remain static in a single emotional state, as this rarely reflects the complexity of real life.

For her first project with Tamarind Institute, Koak worked with a team of printers led by Tamarind Master Printer Valpuri Remling. This collaboration yielded two lithographs that underscore the artist’s ongoing exploration of the various facets of femininity, ranging from joyous to vulnerable. In the work titled High Noon, initially, the soft blue tones, the classical wallpaper, and the relaxed posture of the figure may convey a sense of calm to the viewer. However, upon closer examination of the interior space, a palpable tension and an ominous undertone begin to emerge. Limbs contorted into unnatural angles, a vacant gaze, a lit match, and a growing crack in a vase all contribute to an intensified atmosphere within the otherwise idyllic domestic space. The juxtaposition of the figure’s profound emotional state against the backdrop of the idealized domestic setting creates a compelling composition. With each twist of a limb and every unique facial feature, the artist conveys a state of anxiety, engaging the audience in an exploration of the multifaceted nature of human existence.

Koak received her MFA in 2016 from California College of the Arts, San Francisco, CA. Her work is represented by Altman Siegal. Recent solo exhibitions include: Letter to Myself (when the world is on fire), Altman Siegel, San Francisco (2023), The Driver, Perrotin, Hong Kong (2022), Return to Feeling, Altman Siegel, San Francisco (2020) and Holding Breath, Union Pacific, London (2019). Selected group exhibitions include: I’ve got a feeling, Musées d’Angers, Angers (2023), I’m Stepping High, I’m Drifting, and There I Go Leaping, XIAO Museum, Rizhao (2022), Familiars, Et. Al Gallery, San Francisco (2022) and New Time: Art and Feminisms in the 21st Century, Berkeley Art Museum, Berkeley (2021), amongst others.

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Altman Siegel