The artist is interviewed by Pharrell Williams about the vision behind his fashion story and how he uses his creative powers for good. By Pharrell Williams
PHARRELL WILLIAMS: I'm a huge fan of yours. How has your perspective changed since you began your career?
JEFF KOONS: I'd have to say I've become more aware of my communal responsibility. Seventeen years ago, my son Ludwig was abducted, and it was devastating. [During their divorce proceedings, Koons's first wife, Ilona Staller, fled to Italy with their son. An Italian court later awarded Staller full custody.] But you have to try to make something out of what happens to you. Living such a negative experience made me stronger and made me want to use my art to bring enlightenment into people's lives. [To this end, Koons has partnered with Kiehl's on a limited-edition Creme de Corps collection, which benefits his organization for abducted children.] The Koons Family Institute, which is an initiative of the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children, would like to help victims and families and prevent this from happening.
PW: How has having a family affected your work? [Koons and his wife, Justine, have five children together.]
JK: I haven't found anything as rewarding. My favorite activity is to be with my family.
PW: You've worked in so many different mediums. Is there one that you prefer?
JK: I enjoy all mediums, and I have to say, music is the medium that first made me understand how powerful art could be. I remember when I was 16 and driving around in my Firebird 400, listening to Robert Plant's voice in Led Zeppelin and not really having a base in philosophy or psychology or sociology but experiencing the medium that pulled it all together.
PW: That's how it was for me as well.
JK: What did you hear that informed you of the power of art?
PW: When I was a kid, my father would be in his Cadillac, and he'd play Earth, Wind & Fire or Stevie Wonder, and I'd look at the stars. I always made a connection between the twinkling of the stars and the chord changes in the songs. I realized I had been looking at music differently all my life. Most artists have some form of synesthesia; it's easier for us to speak different metaphoric languages.
JK: Boy, you can paint a picture!
PW: When I first saw your Balloon Dog at Versailles, I think I stood in front of it longer than anyone else. I kept asking myself, Why don't I make enough money to afford this? What I love is that you toy with optical illusion. You're looking at something that seems like it's made of what it would usually be made of, and then someone says, "Oh, yeah, that's steel." And you are just in sheer awe. Can you tell me the inspiration behind your Harper's Bazaar shoot?
JK: When Bazaar invited me to do a photo shoot, I wanted to do it in a minimal and open way. The set was inspired by a photo of Twiggy from the '60s, and she had a straw top of a cabana behind her. It's a circular effect, and I thought, That's a symbol of Botticelli's Venus in a way. I made a stand — because I'm making a new series incorporating Venuses from antiquity — that would reflect that type of energy. Just having that prop there would let the clothes tell their story.
PW: What art do you yourself collect?
JK: The first piece I ever collected was a Roy Lichtenstein: a sculpture called Surrealist Head II. There was a waiting list. I remember Steve Martin wanted one, and I wanted one. I got the Surrealist Head, and I was thrilled. When my son Ludwig was abducted, I was on the verge of bankruptcy, and I sold everything I ever created: my rabbit, my Michael Jackson, everything, before I sold any other artist's work. Then I had to sell my Lichtenstein. It wasn't until about 2004 that I was able to financially bring myself back. The first thing I bought was a Lichtenstein. I love Picasso. I have Courbet, Fragonard, Magritte, Dalí, antiquities. Most recently I acquired a Picasso Kiss painting that I am just blown away by. I hope, Pharrell, to have one of your works. I think your artwork is fantastic.
PW: Thank you. That's a huge compliment coming from you! My last question is, what are you working on now?
JK: A series called "Antiquity." I start with a sense of contemporary time and make references to different artists such as Lichtenstein or Dalí through to Manet, Renaissance artists, or the greatest artists of antiquity, like Praxiteles and Apelles. The aspect is the acceptance of how we exist, how nature procreates, and how we are able to sustain life.
May 18, 2011 in New York City. (May 17, 20112011-05-17 16:00:00 - Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images North America)
Pharrell Williams of N.E.R.D at The Coors Light Super Cold Summer Kickoff Event at The Mansion Elan on May 25, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (May 24, 20112011-05-24 16:00:00 - Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images North America)
Hip-hop artists Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo, and Shay Haley of N.E.R.D. perform during the Coors Light Search for the Coldest National competition and tour at Highline Ballroom on May 31, 2011 in New York, New York. (May 30, 20112011-05-30 16:00:00 - Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images North America)
Singer Pharrell Williams attends the "Entourage" Season 8 premiere at the Beacon Theatre on July 19, 2011 in New York City. (July 18, 20112011-07-18 16:00:00 - Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images North America)
Musician Pharrell Williams attends the Proenza Schouler Spring 2012 fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at 330 West St. on September 14, 2011 in New York City. (September 13, 2011 - Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images North America)
Musician Pharrell attends the 2011 National Design Awards Gala and Ceremony at Pier 60 on October 20, 2011 in New York City. (October 19, 2011 - Photo by Steven Henry/Getty Images North America)
Pharrell Williams attends a cocktail reception for Soledad O'Brien + Brad Raymond Foundation hosted by Pharrel Williams at a Private Residence on November 18, 2011 in Miami Beach, Florida. (November 17, 2011 - Photo by Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images North America)
Musician Pharrell Williams visits the Dior pop-up shop featuring Anselm Reyle for Dior at Miami Design District on November 29, 2011 in Miami City. (November 28, 2011 - Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images North America)
Pharrell Williams attends Art Basel Miami Beach at the Miami Beach Convention Center on November 30, 2011 in Miami Beach, Florida. (November 29, 2011 - Photo by Rabbani and Solimene Photography/Getty Images North America)