Leading the way into his home studio off Agua Fria Street, it’s clear that Grant Kosh marches to the beat of his own drum—or in this case ghetto blaster, complete with some vintage Cypress Hill tunes.
We walk through his living room, where Kosh points at a painting that features some oranges—his lone foray into oil—hanging above the sofa.
“It did nothing for my ADD,” he says of the still life, adding that the wait for paint to dry between layers proved too tedious to handle.
After some experimenting, including tricking out his old Nintendo game cartridges, the Waldorf School alum found his niche in freehand airbrush.
Standing underneath a custom-built hood vent that protects him from paint fumes, Kosh is working on a monumental portrait of actor Bill Murray, aided by an iPad that he’s rigged next to his workstation.
“This totally eliminates the paper process,” he says of the setup. “Before, I used magazines. I have stacks and stacks of old references,” he says, pointing to a Hoarders-worthy tower of clippings.
“It’s all in the eyes,” Kosh says, as he powers up his Iwata airbrush gun and gets to work finessing the most miniscule of details—pores, individual strands of hair—with more delicacy than his six-foot-five frame suggests.
“For me it’s not hard,” he says, refocusing his attention on Murray’s brow. “It is the most critical point of a portrait, because if you don’t get the eyes right, then it’s not believable. You can get everything else right, but if those eyes are off, it’s not gonna look like the person you want.”
Nearby, photo-realist likenesses of John Belushi, a Bhutanese Rinpoche and Boris Karloff as Frankenstein stare back, seemingly in agreement.
“It really falls back onto iconic pictures, because we’ve seen them so many times that those are the most striking ones,” Kosh says of his Tinseltown influencers.
Even more impressive than the finished product is that he starts every piece turned upside down. “It teaches you just to look at shapes,” he says, adding that his mentor, airbrush art pioneer Jürek Zamoyski, taught him the technique.
Kosh has painted on everything from sneakers to old refrigerator doors, and recently, he’s ventured into custom automotive: flame jobs, decals and a stab at reproducing the Nissan 350Z from The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, topped with a white tiger on the hood, to boot.
“The airbrush is really an amazing tool, because you can paint on really anything,” he says, now that he’s mastered it. “You’re mixing two things that should never mix: air and paint. It’s like oil and water.”
His plate close to full, Kosh now works as an artist full-time, which doesn’t come without its perils.
“It’s not consistent. Especially when you do these types of portraits in Santa Fe,” he says. “A lot of people are looking for Southwestern art, and it’s hard to establish yourself if you’re not painting cowboys and Southwestern landscapes.”
His approach to gallery representation is also an unconventional one.
Since 2007, his work has hung exclusively at the Atomic Grill.
“It’s open so late that you get a different crowd of people,” Kosh says, adding that most of his commissions come from the exposure he gets at the diner. “People will admire my work and call me in the morning.”
Equal parts Banksy and Tijuana velvet painter, Kosh recognizes that he’s swimming upstream.
“It’s a hard world,” the 31-year-old says. “I’m watching friends that are in Portland selling their stuff and they’re doing great, they’re in galleries and they have all kinds of shows here and there. The only gallery I can really look at is Pop.”
Another constant for Kosh is defending the medium he’s grown to love.
“A lot of people already have their minds made up [when] they don’t know what they’re talking about,” he explains. “They’ve never even seen it, just heard about it and say, ‘Oh, it’s just for models,’ or ‘It’s just for cake decorating,’ or ‘It’s just for nails or self-tanning.’”
“I just smile and chuckle and try not to get into it,” he says.
Waiting to be discovered, whenever Kosh is probed by friends and family members about his next show, his answer is always the same: “It’s constant—at Atomic.”
“They’ve got great wall space,” he says, focusing on the positive. “I can do huge, large-scale portraits, so I’m not complaining at all.”