Paul Kos

Every thing Matters


Born in Wyoming the son of a small town doctor, Paul Kos developed his art in the San Francisco of the late 1960’s. He has long been associated with the development of a particular strand of conceptualism associated with the Bay Area, focused on a kind of practical material reality but not constrained by any medium. Kos is drawn to the integrity of materials, and in finding a place where material, play, chance and meaning can magically come together.

In his father’s medical library, Paul Kos found a book containing the color vision charts developed by Japanese ophthalmologist Shinobu Ishihara in in 1918. Even today, these intricate watercolor charts remain in use throughout the world. Bringing together as if by accident two completely disparate things, Kos adapted these classic vision tests to the phrase every thing matters, attributed to Vaclav Havel, then President of Czechoslovakia. He created a small watercolor drawing. Then, years later, on entering the lobby of the newly completed Diller Cancer Research Building, he saw the polished, reflective limestone mosaic wall, curving through the space and reflecting what would eventually be a garden outside. The idea of these color vision tests came back in a completely different form and material.

Transforming the existing tiles into a range of 12 different shades and complementary hues, while maintaining their reflectivity (so that the garden outside could eventually be drawn in as part of the image) was no simple task. Working with the San Francisco specialty paint company Underground Colors, Kos experimented with different solutions that would allow the natural veining of the limestone to remain visible, so that the stone itself could be magically and subtlely changed. Ultimately these specialists transformed some 20,000 tiles according to an elaborate plan. The result is an intricate yet subtle array that is experienced as a multitude of individual, separate parts, as a series of abstract vignettes, and ultimately comes together as both image and language in a cohesive and useful whole.