a conversation with Jason Koharik

"Making the lamps are to me making a sculpture. I cannot "mass produce" them, nor do I want to."

"So much of what I do I feel is collecting. Even the way I learn to do it, (it) is a collection of mistakes and breakthroughs."

(photography by Jennifer Parry Dodge.)

I feel lucky to have crossed paths with Jason Koharik.

About a month or so ago, Jason invited me to his L.A. studio in Echo Park, which is a garage space that opens up to neighborhood street. Over the next few hours, we talked about furniture (Neoclassical to French Modernism) , his interior design clients, his background in film and painting, and the recent line of lamps he is producing for Lawson-Fenning. (All the while, neighbors walking by, casually stopping to say hello, as they made their way down the sloped street.)

His line of lamps is called, Collected because "so much of what I do, I feel is collecting." In person, Jason's lamps radiate, with insect lines, soft-bent metal curves that are made with the hand, not the machine. He explained how he makes these works with his hands in his studio. Using heat, and relying on his strength, he is able to achieve graceful curves. His lamps have an ease, and fluidity, that can not be made from a machine. Slight imperfections tell a different story than mass produced objects. Authenticity is an often over-used word, but hardly in this case. Jason's dedication to authenticity is carried to the interiors he has designed for clients.

Last week, I returned to Jason's studio. The sun set slowly into the hills of Echo Park, shadows bouncing and frolicking, the forms of his lamps suddenly taking over.

Pure magic, a "new nouveau" as Jason might say. Indeed, a gorgeous way to light a room. - David John

How long have you been making lamps?

I have been making lighting for about 15 years. Often out of something found, some object that I might cover in leather or gold leafing . Or an attempt to recreate something I could otherwise not afford.

For this series, I started designing on paper and molding metal scraps into lamp shields in 2006. I then started prototypes that evolved into examples I showed Glenn and Grant at Lawson Fenning. This led me to a production of 60 finished lamps of about 10-12 different designs. I am still slowly adding to the collection,and its evolving.

Right now I am almost finished with two new floor lamp designs and two different wall sconces, and perhaps another desk lamp? They are each unique in their own way. They show signs of the age or history in the material I choose to use, such as the hammer marks from the bending process, that are heated and pounded on an anvil.

I tend to use a "use what you have" mentality in most things I create. For example: If I have only four 1/2 inch screws and one doesn't match, I will use it. Otherwise it ends up sitting in a box with with a bunch of others and it provides something unique to the creation. I don't like to waste materials. Today, reclaiming materials couldn't be more important, and I think a lot of people are beginning to see this. Plus, the quality of materials from the past is better.

Things made of steel, brass and wood from trees that just don't grow anymore. As a culture we have wasted enough. It is time to reuse and re-purpose what we already have. I go thru all sorts of self doubt in my head.. Where I tell my self I'm just making more junk for people . That "making stuff" is part of a bigger problem. But then I come back to the center, finding pride in what I am doing, which is creating. And hopefully its art. Not just a thing some guy stumbles over in a salvage yard and says" I could make a lamp out of this."

"New Nouveau" I love this term. What does "New Nouveau" mean to you?

Art Nouveau. It really was a time of beauty, A reflection of nature and its forms. I really see the fluid beauty of the art nouveau period play well into a modern environment. There are always trends in design, modern, mid-century modern, Danish, California, Regency, Industrial. I am always inspired, collecting and finding interests in different periods and pieces.

There has been a trend towards almost a depression era feeling for some time. Americana, broken, utilitarian. And its inspiring to me. It really is a sign of our times. You see it in every aspect of design.

"New Nouveau" the new new. It is a response to this trend. Something growing out of it maybe. There was a time when some one said "new art, Art Nouveau", and it described something pretty, flowing, and up lifting, it was painterly, gestural, and spontaneous. I guess I have just been thinking about those types of things when I am working.

And trying to find that spirit. A new nouveau.

"The Green lamp on my web site is the remainder of a lamp my father
built throughout my childhood, till he passed. "
- Jason

In addition to creating exquisite, handcrafted sculptural lighting, you paint, work on interiors for your clients, and do custom furniture. How long have you been creating works and art?

I really have been doing this all my life. Or at least learning. My father, he was a craftsman in that he could build or fix anything. I remember the things he made for my brother and I, and the things we made with him: small motors hooked to lights and switches, wheels and pulleys, working cannons and smoking pipes, boats we sank, and planes that flew only once. They were all painted with nail polish and oil paint, adorned with bobbers and pieces of metal and glass we found on "junk walks".

We took these walks often. Collecting. I learned so much from him.

He passed away last year. One of our final conversations over the phone, as I worked on my lamp series ,was a lesson on wiring a two-way switch. Most of this conversation took place with a flash light as I maneuvered my way to a fuse box to reset them. He never got to see the lamps he helped me work so hard on. The Green lamp on my web site is the remainder of a lamp he built throughout my childhood, till he passed. Always changing, painting, adding chains and stones, carvings and cigarette burns. It is my favorite lamp that I helped build.

Did you go to art school, or are you self taught?

I did have a great high school art teacher, Mr Bush. He was very encouraging. And I did attend art school at Kent State University Ohio for 2 -ish years where I studied painting/sculpture. Furniture and Interiors have always been a passion but really opened up to me in the commercial film world. I was involved in some way, production assistant,c ostumer, art department, for about 14 years total.

All the while, I was continuing to meet people that were interested in design. I would find them some rare or interesting piece, and in many cases, that led me to their homes where I began dressing them, and custom building/designing pieces for them. I do enjoy putting a room together. Finding balance both visually and with their life style and interests. I also get to turn people on to things they would otherwise never consider or designers they are not really aware of.

I am, I suppose, self taught on much of what I do, (metal working, weaving, leather work, sewing, electrical, wood working), mostly out of necessity. I don't know how else to get it done. So I mess up 5 times or so before I get it right! I learn so much this way. You just have to keep trying, which is really hard sometimes.

I have found mentors along the way. I met a master wood worker, an artist really. I evolve every time I visit his shop or we work on a design together. An upholsterer I can only describe as an angel. Not only because of the quality of his work, but mostly for his appreciation of life. Creating and learning new ways to create is something I am very passionate for.

Authenticity. It's a word we discussed when we met at your studio. Why is authenticity important to you?

Authentic.That is one of my favorite words. You can see it in an object when something truly is. And you can hear it in a voice when some one speaks from their heart. I gravitate towards that. And aspire to always be.

French modernists that have inspired your work?

Jean Royere worked with so many different materials and ,while keeping a very modern feel, and still creating a sense of luxury. Royere, Prouve, Mouille and especially Jacques Adnet (I think a twin) all are very inspirational for me. He was a leather worker!

"the target series." 2011
read more about this series here...

The Target painting series. How did these come about?

I loved the idea of an old archery target as an object, a painting on a wall. I hunted one with no luck. So I made one. I looked for old rounds, wood spools, table tops and wine barrel lids. I was surprised by how many were discarded on the side of the road. (Thank you Alessandro and Riverside drives, streets in Los Angeles)

Glenn and Grant at Lawson-Fenning saw the one in my house, in a photo, and they offered a wall in their store. I am very thankful to them both for seeing in them what I saw, a painting that is accessible, that can be an anomaly in an interior, or something that just looks good above a couch or a crib. And again it is my attempt to do something with the things we set aside or discard. Not garbage art. I don't feel they come off that way. Just potential.

You mentioned you do not text. In this modern world, with constant communication and noise, do you feel with less technology you are ablr to achieve more in your studio?

Ahh. Yes, Although, I do have a phone. Its a phone. It flips to open. Its not smart. So I am confident I am smarter then it. I rarely use it. I don't text. I never sent or received one. Its not that I am contemptuous of the whole device or idea or technology or anything like that. I just let it pass me by.

I am right at that age, 35 ,when the internet just kinda started in my youth. Maybe there was a computer lab in high school to teach us a bit about it, but I just passed it by. I don't have a face book or twitter. Again no contempt. I just simply have no passion to learn it and therefore I really don't know how to use it or what it is. I do recognize it is changing the world. For better or worse. I do think my memory is good though, because I don't program phone #s or dates. I just do what we used to do way back in the 1990s and I remember it.

As far as the noise or communication I just don't let it effect me.And I don't feel isolated because of it. My studio opens up to my street. Ten or so people, neighbors, stop by to talk every day. We talk and listen. I should open a bar down there!

Can you talk about the process of making these lamps? Bending the metal?

These lamps are an attempt to create something I can continue to create. They are my version of a production piece, made by one person, myself. While the materials may change a bit, the shapes and silhouettes will be consistent. There are a variety of lamps, (wall sconce,chandelier,floor,desk,table) but they feel as if they belong together. I am always adding to the collection. They do take time as all of the shapes are made by hand.

I create forms based off the things I have available around me. Some of the turns and curves are based directly off the shapes of my anvil. The brass brackets took many attempts. The bending and shaping is difficult and time consuming . But I am happy with the result. I do try to make a conscience effort to reuse materials. Much of the tube steel and plate brass is reclaimed from salvage yards. Often I will reuse weights or bases off lighting I find discarded. And of course the hardware is mostly purchased new. I am always trying to find new ways to be more conscience of the effects of how I make things. I do my best to not use plastics. Although I am not fully there yet. How I paint or plate or the chemicals I use,these are all things I think about.

Making the lamps are to me making a sculpture. I cannot "mass produce" them nor do I want to. The people attracted to them I hope will feel as if they are buying something no one else will have.

2 things I would never guess to ask about you?

I spent many hours of my late teenage days in a pool hall. Before I moved to California, while avoiding college I suppose, I played pool, for money, supplemented by income from my brother's real job...Subway/Office Max...

He would give me cash, and I would turn it into more cash. I saved enough money "hustling" and winning amateur tournaments, that I was able to pack up and move to Los Angeles California.
Since then, I have not really played.

And, number 2. I prefer sunrises....

Prototypes and lamp studies line the walls
of Jason Koharik's Los Angeles studio

What does "Collected by" refer to?

So much of what I do I feel is collecting. Even the way I learn to do it is a collection of mistakes and break-throughs. Most of my works, paintings, sculptures, are made from materials that have taken 10 -15 years to collect. Examples being: Paintings made from hundreds of used paint stir sticks creating large linear color fields. I have collected what seems like miles of lost or acquired steel and cloth tape measures to weave large canvas inch by inch. Working in the commercial film business, I collected 1000's of pieces of "camera/gaffers tape" to create a full scale Arri 2c camera body complete with lens and matte box.

Collected by also refers to my love of "hunting". I have a collection of furniture, lighting, designer, rare discoveries, and things that inspire me. Some I reupholster, some I re-purpose. Some are so far gone I turn them into something new. I also collect old scrap leather, a material I am very fond of. I reuse this (hand stitched) on old bent metal chairs to give them a new life.

I love to collect the unusual. The pieces passed by because they no longer have a place. Some of them are just better used as something else. Potential energy. It only becomes trash, filling some dump, if we do not recognize its potential. All the things I do or make are part of my collection. Its away for me to archive my growth and interests.

Collected by Jason Koharik here.

Jason Koharik's lamps are sold exclusively at
Lawson-Fenning, Los Angeles

Photography by Jennifer Parry Dodge , visit her site here.