Viktor Koen’s steampunk visions populate a world of intricate illusions. He delights in making the physically impossible seem likely and predictable. Steampunk, conceived as a genre of science fiction, envisions a retro futuristic world powered by steam and the machine age.
Think of Fritz Lang‘s Metropolis. In some sense, steampunk is a counterpoint or perhaps alternative universe to our own ever-digital, virtual world. Steampunk these days is often more about fashion, design and a look, like the one Viktor Koen is wearing.
His visual mix of the familiar with the fantastic is intriguing, graceful and strange – but all his images are quite carefully constructed, giving them an air of authenticity.
Perhaps you might see his creations as a commentary on our cultural icons of childhood, or a somewhat menacing satire exploding nostalgia and sentimentality.
Are we looking at the work of an adult exploring child’s play, a commentary on contemporary society, or just the musings of a fantastically gifted but peculiar artist?
However you want to categorize it, we’ve encountered Viktor Koen‘s work many times, perhaps without realizing it. Here are just a few mainstream examples:
He’s an amazingly prolific and sought after graphic and visual artist, creating illustrations for major publications and personal work that juxtaposes images and ideas to make a point. He comes from a mix of cultures – born in Greece, trained at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, Israel, with an MFA with honors from the School of Visual Arts in New York City.
Because he’s so prolific, I thought I’d just write about two of his series, a fabricated collection of strange playthings he calls Dark Peculiar Toys and his Toyphabet. These two barely scratch the surface of what he’s about, but they do illustrate two recurring themes in his work – typography and mashups of the weird and wonderful.
Here’s Viktor, from an interview in Art Digital Magazine, talking about what led to his exhibit of Dark Peculiar Toys
I’m a toy collector. I go to flea markets and fight with children over a bin of toys. There’s no better excuse to buy toys, but to work on a series of toys. I have a great time playing with them visually.
My father was an industrial designer and he gave me some of his old books and diagrams, and I retooled it to match the fictitious toys. The whole project was very playful. I always wanted to have these dark toys.
A lot of these are trial and error. The juxtaposition of the sweet and something very wrong is something I always look for.
From Viktor’s Artist Statement about the exhibit
I photographed toys and objects that I collected through the years and travels, some of them parts of my personal childhood, and then mixed and matched them for hours. While this was a different form of play, the magic was the same.
A year after his Dark Peculiar Toys exhibit was launched, he used some of those concepts to create a mashup of the alphabet in his exhibit Toyphabet. He loves typography and finding just the right combination of alphabetical form and toy imagery was more difficult than you might think.
Viktor, from his Artist’s Statement:
Since typography is an addiction of mine and fusion a second nature to me, illustrated type became a natural extension of my work. The challenge of preserving the integrity of the type forms made the process of mixing and matching a complicated one. The result was characters with unexpected symbolic attributes, true to the original point of the series – that children are formulated way too early to the troubles ailing their parents.
I think there’s some part of us that enjoys being teased about strange possibilities – like when we muse about an especially vivid dream. I think one of the attractions of Viktor’s work is how it seems so natural and strangely authentic while clearly it is not. The intricacy of the constructions makes us curious to find out more.
His work conjures an eclectic group of emotions and, while I wouldn’t want to encounter any of these object creatures in”real life,” they still tease the imagination with interesting possibilities. Maybe that’s the attraction of Viktor’s steampunk visions. We spend so much time plugged in to one machine or other, perhaps his creations point the way to the burgeoning cyborg in all of us.
At any rate, his work helps us see the world differently and for that we can be cautiously thankful. No, it’s not a lovely vision, but it does seem to echo the impermanence of our times and the hyper-wired world we find ourselves navigating.
So what do you think about his work? Do you like it? What does it conjure up for you? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.