Main menu


Kohshin Finley paints with legacy in mind — for him and his subjects

featured image

When I meet up with Kohshin Finley in Hollywood for pastries, he has legacy on his mind.

It’s not abnormal for artists to think about whether their work will stand the test of time — to think about which museums will collect the work or what the history books will say. Which artwork finds its way into the canon is subject to the whims of collectors, curators and critics.

But Finley isn’t just invested in building an artistic legacy for himself. He’s invested in his family, his friends, his community. After all, they are the subjects of his paintings.

“As an artist, you want your work to be in museums, and I’m making paintings of real people,” Finley says. “So, one of the things I’m trying to say is the person in there is also an artwork.”

Artist Kohshin Finley is photographed with a self-portrait he painted at his
Artist Kohshin Finley is photographed with a self-portrait he painted at his “Eight Artworks” exhibition at Various Small Fires in Dallas.(Nan Coulter/Special Contributor)

In his newest exhibition, “Eight Artworks,” the Los Angeles-based painter renders his brother, his fiancée, an assemblage of friends and — in one instance — himself into intimate, emotional works of art. The paintings are on display at Various Small Fires in downtown Dallas through Nov. 12.

Art has been a part of Finley’s life since childhood. He grew up in South Central Los Angeles with parents who both worked as fashion designers. His dad, Ron Finley, used their house as a studio to create custom clothing and a line called Drop Dead Collecxion that was popular with professional athletes and movie stars. (He is also famous for a TED Talk and later a Masterclass on guerrilla gardening.) Finley and his two brothers would be in the studio for fittings, watching their parents draft new designs. His younger brother Delfin is also a painter.

Finley’s first artistic creations were the cover pages for comic books. He would come up with an idea, create the first few pages and then start an entirely new one. Finley started at Otis College of Art and Design as a graphic designer before dabbling in illustration and photography and, finally, painting. These days, he integrates these various forms into his process.

The works on display in Dallas start as candid photos. He takes his camera with him everywhere, looking for everyday moments that he will turn into paintings. In the studio, his first step is to consider what the person in the photo means to him, and then he writes it down freehand on the canvas. He paints their portraits over the writing. If you look closely, you can see traces of his cursive script.

“A lot of that text is meditations on my time with the person I’m painting the portrait of — my time with them, who they are, who they are to me,” Finley says. “I think of the text as a welcoming device, an invitation to get close to the work.”

That invitation is worth taking, because it allows a viewer to see the exquisite detail in Finley’s work. From a distance, these works are strikingly photorealistic, even in the grisaille shades of gray. Up close, though, you can see the delicacy of the brushstrokes and discover that some of the whites in the painting are simply the gesso on the bare canvas.

This is not Finley’s first brush with Dallas. In fact, the city plays an important role in his career. In April, the Dallas Museum of Art became the first major institution to add one of his paintings to its collection. It was one of the museum’s acquisitions from the Dallas Art Fair.

Kohshin Finley's
Kohshin Finley’s “Portrait of Cameron, in Sunrise,” a 2022 oil-on-canvas painting of his fiancee, is included in his “Eight Artworks” exhibition at Various Small Fires Texas. The VSF gallery also has locations in Los Angeles and Seoul, South Korea.(Various Small Fires Texas)

It’s not lost on Finley that it was a piece titled “A Portrait of the Artist as Himself.” Just like that, Finley’s art and his image joined a collection that includes self-portraits by Diego Rivera, Camille Pissarro and Paul Cézanne. Joining a museum recontextualizes a work of art, elevating it into a direct conversation with masterworks.

“My goal as an artist is to be in institutions and museums, not only because I think that is where work is fundamentally protected, but also it’s where people go with their families to see art,” Finley says. “That’s always what has been in the back of my mind.”

Finley is well on his way to carving out a legacy. Various Small Fires will announce later this year an acquisition of one of his paintings by a major Los Angeles institution, opening up an entirely new context for his art — and in turn, his community.


Kohshin Finley’s “Eight Artworks” exhibition runs through Nov. 12 at Various Small Fires Texas, 1511 Commerce St., Dallas. Tuesday through Saturday from 10 am to 6 pm For more information, visit