Jack Kohler Byers
Scrolling through Instagram can feel overwhelming, inundating users with endless photos and images. So Jack Kohler Byers (in Instagram as @jackkbyers) creates “digital speed bumps” — artwork that “stops people from scrolling and [causes] them to look and think about what they’re seeing,” much like the way a speedbump slows down a car, he says. The East Boston artist, 29, spoke with the Globe about inspiration, Boston, and exploring color.
Q. What inspires you?
A. Everything. But in a specifically visual sense, I’m inspired by living in a city, and by the diversity of cities — seeing signs from different eras and different times, seeing people from different places. Everybody coming together and jostling elbows in a city creates a contrast and a juxtaposition that inspires me in a lot of ways for my work. In a subject sense for my work, I’m inspired a lot by philosophy and philosophical writing. I’m also inspired by efforts to understand the way that we think, and by different ideas about the way that we work as humans.
Another huge component of what inspires me is music — I’m pretty much always listening to music when I’m creating, whether it’s drawing or working on the computer. I have a very, very eclectic musical taste. I listen to tons of different stuff, and I think the freshness of what I’m listening to, in terms of music I’ve heard or haven’t heard before, has a huge impact in my work.
Q. You mentioned that you’re inspired by cities, and by city life. Are there any unique characteristics of Boston that influence your work?
A. Yeah, absolutely. Boston’s history of city planning and architecture is constantly an inspiration.
I don’t necessarily mean that I’m walking around in awe, but I’m inspired when I read about the history of the city — especially about certain things like the history of Scollay Square [now Government Center] and the West End in Boston. Those were thriving, diverse neighborhoods that you can still find today in some other cities, and they were just kind of obliterated in Boston as part of these big municipal planning initiatives.
I’m just fascinated by what the city lost in that, and because of that, I’m drawn to what now exists in place of where those neighborhoods were. I’m definitely very inspired from a compositional sense by Brutalism and the Brutalist architecture seen in City Hall and around Government Center, for instance. There’s many examples of Brutalist buildings all around the city that inspire a lot of the shapes and angles in my work.
Q. How do you incorporate color into your art?
A. In my ink work, I think anybody would be quick to point out that the color schemes are very basic — for the most part, with ink, I just use black and white. But part of the challenge that I have, and what keeps me coming back to ink work, is representing something that has depth and temperature and is visually interesting interesting using only two elements — black ink and the white paper, and that kind of becomes a game.
With my digital work, I come up with those color schemes by trial and error. I also have Evernote documents and photo albums on my phone where I’ll save interesting colors and clippings. I just stash it away, with no real distinct idea of how it’s going to come out in the future. I’m still just getting in the waters of color — a lot of my understanding comes from this great book called “The Interaction of Color” by Josef Albers, which is like a seminal text on color theory. Fully understanding that book and also practicing what is written in the book gives anybody a sense of color theory in a way that, although they’re not really able to put it into words, it becomes a much more intuitive process.