During a vivid display of the aurora borealis (northern lights), Vince Koloski
was born in Minneapolis, Minn. in 1953. Raised on the Midwestern icons of baseball,
basketball, books and God; Vince was a promising acolyte until 1968 when his faith
crashed head-on into the concept of predestination and his faith lost. He was a decent
sand lot pitcher until he realized that you just can't sneak a 65mph fastball by hitters
forever. While in High School, he took up photography with the dream of becoming a sports
photographer. In 1971 he forsook that, for a chance to propel himself into the ranks of
(semi) professional table tennis players, traveling extensively to tournaments throughout the
USA and Canada.
In 1975, realizing he was not that good a table tennis player, his life entered a new
phase at New College in Sarasota, Florida. Originally a philosophy student, sculpture
captured his interest in 1976 and a year later he also took up poetry. A dual B.A. in
Sculpture and Poetry, with accompanying senior show and chapbook, demonstrated his
commitment to interdisciplinary arts and letters. It also showed a definite lack of
commitment to making any serious money.
Koloski returned to Minneapolis to refine his craft as a neon sculptor and skilled neon
glassblower. His efforts in his hometown led to his first solo show at the Imprimatur
Gallery in Minneapolis in 1984. He spent two years as a neon instructor in the Extension
Division of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. He was an integral member of
the original group that founded the American School of Neon and St. Elmo's Gallery.
Vince migrated to California in 1985 arriving in Los Angeles on Thanksgiving Day just as
the turkey came out of his friends Fredricka and Louis' oven. Thanksgiving day has had
additional meaning for him ever since. Ending up in San Francisco, Koloski continued
his explorations in mixed media and neon sculpture. In 1986 he completed a limited
edition commission of 160 neon lamps for The Sharper Image company of San Francisco.
The edition sold out in three weeks. He vowed never to work with The Sharper Image again.
Marriage bells (more accurately cheesy recorded marriage organ music) pealed in 1987 as
Vince reunited with the love of his life, Claudia Willen and after a whirlwind
engagement they were married at the Lakeside Chapel in Zephyr Cove Nevada. The
"ordained minister of the State of Nevada" was a dead ringer for Rupert Pupkin and
their witness was a teenager with prominent braces on her teeth, but none of this
could dim the stars in their eyes. After a celebratory gambling run to Caesar's Tahoe,
they repaired to their honeymoon cabin at Farfey's Family Fundiminiums for an exquisite
In 1989 he was accepted as an artist fellow at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New
Smyrna Beach, Florida. He and six other artist fellows studied with master artist Stephen
Antonakos in a 3-week intensive workshop concerned with sculpture using neon. Stephen is a
wonderful person and artist and the experience was a highlight of Vince's career.
Vince and Claudia also took this opportunity to revist many favorite Florida sites
from their college days. They also visited the Keys and discovered that every beach bar
in South Florida has a "Jim Squared" band that plays exclusively Jimmy Buffet and Jim
Croce songs. Is it a law or just bad taste?
In 1991 he was included in his first museum show "Six Sculptors" at the Rosicrucian
Museum Contemporary Gallery in San Jose, California. In addition to a nice contemporary
gallery, they also feature one of the best collections of Egyptian artifacts in California
The hightlight of 1992 was a solo show, "Neon Constructions" at Merced College in
Merced, California. Despite inclusion in nine exhibitions that year, he was shut-out
when it came to sales.
1993 saw another solo show, this one in the McCafferty Center Gallery at the University
of the Pacific in Stockton, California. He also won the Award of Excellence at the
"Magnum Opus" show at the Sacramento Fine Arts Center in Carmichael, California.
His piece "Authorities Are Baffled", was the first large-scale illuminated art installation
ever installed at the Burning Man event in the Black Rock Desert near Gerlach, Nevada.
The piece was chosen to be included in New Glass Review #15 published by Neuglas magazine
and the Corning Museum of Glass. The same piece was awarded the Grand Prize in the 2nd Annual
"Crabbie"Awards sponsored by Art Calendar magazine.
1994 began with a solo show at the C.I.T.Y. 2000 Gallery in Reno, Nevada and an
exhibition at the Glass Art Society Conference in Oakland, California. He began experimenting
with neon-illuminated artist books and showed the resulting work in "Redefining the Book"
at the Braunstein/Quay gallery in San Francisco, CA.
In 1995 he continued his work in the book arts and exhibited throughout the west in
Reno, NV, Great Falls, MT, Portland, OR, and Los Angeles, CA, He received a grant
from the Ruth Chenven Foundation in New York to make a new series of neon-illuminated
books. He reprised his 1993 installation with another, larger, neon crop circle at Burning Man
and also completed a commission for the world headquarters of Towers-Perrin Inc.
in Manhattan, NY.
1996 saw just a few invitational exhibitions as he and his wife, writer Claudia Willen,
bought and renovated what the Real Estate industry would call a "fixer upper" but was
so much more work than that, in San Francisco, CA. When Vince's parents heard what
he and Claudia paid for their project home, they thought he had gone insane. They were not
alone in that thought and indeed many wondered what took them so long to figure
In 1997 Vince was included in the exhibition "A Celebration of Light" at the Linn
Benton Center for the Arts in Corvallis, OR. He also exhibited book works at the Center
For Book Arts in New York and the Arts Commission Gallery in San Francisco.
In 1998 he completed a new series of artist books and exhibited an interior crop circle
installation in a solo show at Diablo Valley College in Pleasanton, CA. He had a solo
show of his illuminated book works at St. Johns University in Collegeville, MN.
Vince was awarded a grant to be visiting artist at Hartwick College in Oneonta, NY in
the spring of 1999. He constructed "Partially Excavated Submerged Object" in the
Foreman Gallery on Campus. He lectured and worked with the students to construct
outdoor neon projects. He also made a pilgrimage to nearby Cooperstown for a
daylong visit to the shrine of our national pastime, the Baseball Hall of Fame. Every baseball
fan should make that trip once in their life, it is a wonderful place. If you don't
get teary-eyed at least once during your visit, your heart must be as withered as an
old baseball mitt. He was included in a group show of Northern California artists who
use light at the Museum of Neon Art in Los Angeles and rounded up the year having a piece
included in the exhibition "The End Is Near" celebrating the end of the millennium,
at the Wustum Museum in Wisconsin.
The first year of the new millennium (or the last year of the old millenium depending
on whether you enjoy tiresome debates about calendrical validity) saw Vince exhibiting
several of his books at the Bush Barn Art Center in Salem, Oregon in the early part of
the year. He completed several new pieces for a solo show at the Krasl Art Center in
St. Joseph's, Michigan and took part in the "Glass and Gas" exhibition at the Galesburg
Civic Art Center in Galesburg, Illinois. The exhibition "Tribute to the Founders/Members 2000,"
in San Francisco garnered Vince a complimentary mention in the exhibition's Artweek
review. He finished up the year by closing out the edition of "Poetry Desk," the second
of his artist book editions to sell out.
Vince was invited to exhibit in two exhibitions of artist books at the start of 2001.
"Conceptually Bound," in Chico, CA and the "Books As Art, Art as Books" show at the
Triton Museum in Santa Clara. The Chico exhibition was reviewed in Artweek and
Vince's work was discussed at length. Some of the discussion was actually positive. The year
wound up with the "Illuminated Books, Illuminated Walls," exhibition at the Los Gatos
Museum of Art and Science. The show featured the debut of two new pieces: a large
wall installation entitled "Silicon Valley Crop Circle," and an illuminated wall piece
based on petroglyphs entitled "Closet Disco Dancers" in homage to his (and your)
favorite band The Red Elvises. Check out their website.
He was selected to create his first public art commission in 2002. It was a sculpture
project in the form of a large-scale, illuminated, accordion-fold book for the new Mission
Bay branch of the San Francisco Public Library.
Texas was the theme for 2003 as Exhibitions at the Buddy Holly Art Center in Lubbock
and at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville served as bookends for the year. He
also closed out the Petrobook edition of artists books and once again failed to place in
the money in his fantasy baseball league. This was not due, of course, to any fault
of Vince's in assembling his team. Rather it was the result of injury, sloth, sudden loss
of talent, untimely revelations of lack of talent, etc. on the part of his players.
He reunited with his old friend Brad Jirka (check out Brad's stuff at bohemiawerks.com)
to put together the "Light and Motion" exhibition at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN
in early 2004. His work was also included in "View From the Rim," the first exhibition
of West Coast sculptors at the Grounds For Sculpture in New Jersey. The show generated
wide response in the east coast art press. Some of the response was positive.
In 2005 Vince had ample opportunity to ponder a wise man's (the aforementioned Mr. Jirka)
description of the public art process: "The creative process stops the minute your
drawings are approved. So you'd better like your drawings because you will be seeing
them a lot while you make the damn piece." Luckily, Vince liked his design.
In March 2006, his sculpture "A Library Book" was installed in the Mission Bay Library.
During the grand opening of the library, Vince even had a photo-op with Gavin Newsom, the
Mayor of San Francisco, who is taller, younger, and better looking than Vince. Later in
the year, Vince was interviewed by myartspace.com. You can check out the interview here
to see if Vince had anything interesting to say.
2007 was a Beat year for the Vinster. The Donna Seager Gallery featured
two of his illuminated books in their annual artist book show. One of the books celebrated
the Haiku of Jack Kerouac, and three people in the Beat-happy San Francisco Bay Area
added it to their collections. This year will also debut the Garage Door Neon Project, coming
soon to a neighborhood near you.
It took a bit longer than he thought but the Garage Door Neon Project finally did debut
on the Spring Solstice in 2008 with the "Single Family Crop Circle" on the garage door of
his unsuspecting neighbor Greg Corning. The sight of autos screeching to a halt to take pictures
and heads whipping around to look out of bus windows was most gratifying. The opening was made
even more auspicious by old friend and Burning Man co-founder John Law who took time out from
his busy underground art schedule to stop by. Vince is always looking for more garage doors
to wreak havoc upon so contact him to volunteer.
2009 was marked by the sad discovery, on Halloween Day no less, that Vince had Hepatitis C. Talk
about your ultimate trick or treat, eh? The sad goodbyes to wine and beer were a terrible thing to
behold. Luckily Vince's lovely wife has not been infected.
Vince entered a trial for an experimental drug to treat Hep C in late 2010 which eventually morphed
into an 18 month round of Chemotherapy for Hepatitis C. The treatment was debilitating enough that
it took almost a year to recover making it a grand total of about 30 mostly lost months. The treatment
failed as well to add that extra fillip of bad luck. He did manage to complete the second piece in the
Garage Door Neon series in 2011. This one was in his own neighborhood as well. He also finish editions
of Moon Pops and Take Me to the River, two of the new smaller illuminated books. On a brighter note 2012
saw his fantasy baseball team, the Vincent Black Shadows, squeak into second place on the season's final day.
2013 marked the year that a number of his books entered academic and museum collections. Yale University,
Ringling School of Art and Savannah College of Art and Design all added pieces to their collections.
The Garage Door Neon Project moved south to Santa Monica for Incident on 18th St. Two of the books
travelled to Australia for an exhibition in Sydney and one of them now resides permanently in Australia.
Remember, You Too can be a part of the Garage Door Neon Project, Uncle Vince wants you...