2018 "Indigestion" Portland Press Herald review by Dan Kany
2014 "Parabellum" Artscope review by Suzanne Volmer
2019 Interview/blog post with "Gallery Closed" artists, Kenny Cole, Geoff Hargadon, Paula Lalala and Brian Reeves
2014 "Monhegan: The Unfailing Muse" review by Britta Konau
The following interview with Kenny Cole was conducted by Lisa Agostini about his solo show "Distress" at BUOY in Kittery, Maine, on exhibit during the month of June 2013.
Lisa Agostini was born in Canada where she attended the Ontario College of Art and Design. In her graduating year, she won the Fuji Film Color Photography Award for her pre-computer era, color photography experimentation. In 1990, she exhibited her giant, surrealistic, glowing bowls of cereal for a solo show at the O' Farrell Gallery in Brunswick, Maine. Lisa has always been drawn to the edgier aspects of life, art, music and pop culture, hence her enthusiasm for Kenny's art and her excitement about their recent dialogue, using Kenny's work as a jumping off point to explore his artistic vision.
LA: This show in Kittery seems particularly fortuitous. As you described in your Artist's Statement, Kittery is the epicenter of shopping and submarines. In other words the shaky foundation on which our economy rests as well as the very site where the machinery of war is constructed. These are some of the major themes and symbols that have been driving your art for a long time. Does this intersection set your new work apart from other shows?
KC: I think so...Kittery, as a place, is not something that I sought, but feels like an interesting discovery. BUOY, in turn, projects a fun, garish sensibility that I immediately identified with. The combination of the two really got my juices going and inspired me to take my work in a bolder direction. The gallery also had a unique ceiling with open trusses that inspired me to re-visit my hanging “Jacob’s ladder” canvas contraptions, and I made two new pieces for this show. With my general trend being, to try and understand or rather expose the machinery of war, this show has given me some solid footing in bringing these larger issues into context locally. This context is probably what really sets this work apart from past work. Previously I’ve tried to present an encyclopedic picture of basically everything in the world and how it all ties back, connects or feeds into war and violence. Most often the spaces are relatively neutral spaces, where the ideas or work is understood in a “universal” way. BUOY and Kittery really anchor (I know...how could I resist the pun?) this work to a place and context.
LA: Does it provide added inspiration and motivation for you?
KC: My first ambition came before I visited the gallery. I thought to expand on a new idea that had just started percolating and was based on some ongoing research I would periodically do just looking up all of the battles and wars that were ever fought. I came across a statistic by a political science professor named Francis Beer, stating that 14,500 wars have taken place between 3500 BC and the late 20th century, costing 3.5 billion lives and leaving only 300 years of peace. I came up with the idea of making a battle flag for each battle and thought that this might be my show at BUOY. Alas, that involved too many logistics and not enough time. I liked the name BUOY as it conjured up imagery of bright colors and as a device that can warn of danger. I also had begun to create
imagery using just the color red. Since around 2006 I had included imagery of bunting in my drawings and started drawing flags that were just stripes, without stars in order to suggest a kind of generic nationalism rather than a specific nation. I found that even a drawing of a black and white striped flag without stars in an otherwise colorful drawing, would be viewed as an American flag, which was interesting and got me on the track of zeroing in on a singular color, or two colors, red and white. I’ve had the opportunity to create a couple of very large wall drawings in the past couple of years and used those opportunities to make red only drawings. This enabled me to cover a lot of acreage using very little paint and execute a large drawing in very little time and with minimal expense. Then by chance I found a particular red and white striped painting on the web, that was not a political piece, rather just a hard edge painting. It’s titled: “Full Cleveland” by Richard Roth. For some reason that painting sent me over the edge! It’s a stunning piece and I felt it conveyed a wonderful combination of subtlety and power, I really projected my own concerns into it and the ideas I get from that painting are in a way driving me towards something that does not quite yet exist, but feels like something that I need to create. This installation at BUOY is really my first all out drive towards that.
LA: I'm particularly interested in the Jacob's ladders. On one side of each ladder you've painted the text to Sir Walter Raleigh's poem "The Lie". Can you explain the connection between Sir Walter Raleigh and the shipyard?
KC: According to Wikipedia: “During the Revolution, the ship, the Raleigh, was built in 1776 on Badger's Island in Kittery, and would be the first vessel to fly an American flag into battle. Even though she was captured and served in the British Navy, the Raleigh has been depicted on the Seal of New Hampshire since 1784.” So I clicked on Raleigh and found out that Sir Walter Raleigh wrote a cool poem titled: “The Lie”, which is basically about how every institution, from government, church, to the arts and on and on, are all in denial about how corrupt and false they all are, and when one presents them with the truth, they want none of that, so you just have to “Give them the lie” and tell them what they want to hear. So I created a Jacob’s ladder that I titled after the poem (actually I needed to make it into two ladders in order to fit the whole poem on it) with the Kittery outlets on the front and Raleigh’s “The Lie” on the back. I made my first two-sided canvas in the 80’s and have always liked how they lent themselves to the idea of every story having two sides to it. So, that’s all a round about way of making a connection with the two histories: the shipyard and the outlets, the latter of which, as you can read in my statement, are really no longer outlets as they were first known here in Maine, when there were actually factory jobs here. I go on to suggest that both overseas manufacturing and a military economy, fulfill the emptiness of the “lie”, in their dependence on destruction and exploitation rather than sustainable prosperity. There are three other ladders: “Virginia-Class”, “Medals” and “Rx”. Of them only “Virginia-Class” was created specifically for this exhibit. The title Virginia-class is derived from a class of nuclear-powered fast attack submarine in service with the United States Navy and designed to replace the aging Los Angeles-class submarines. Portsmouth Naval
Shipyard's primary mission is the overhaul, repair and modernization of Los Angeles- class submarines. With the commissioning of the Virginia-class submarine, the USS New Hampshire (SSN 778) in 2008, the shipyard and the Seacoast Communities got their first look at the next generation of submarine technology and the future of ship repair.
For the ladder with this title I rendered the lyrics from the Billy Joel song: “Only the Good Die Young” on the back and a collection of figures, wearing red and white striped outfits, singing with microphones on the front. For me the figure’s outfits can suggest prison uniforms or Uncle Sammy-like patriotic wear. The lyrics, for me, expose the etymological roots of the word Virginia, or virgin and thus set up a sticky dialectic relationship between the phallic shape of a sub and its feminine counterpart. Do we really think about these things as we go through life naming weapons and living on submarines? Possibly.
LA: In regards to the construction of the ladders, what inspired you to make them and what effect are you hoping for?
KC: When I think back, I realize that the aerial bombing of Iraq in 1991 was probably the key event that shifted me towards creating politically conscious art. Coming of age in the late 70’s in a post Vietnam world and believing that we would never fight a war again, thanks to the activism of the 60’s, the aerial bombing of Iraq really turned my head around. Yet I still did not really become "galvanized" until after 9/11 and in particular after meeting the conceptual artist Luis Camnitzer through the Drawing Center's Viewing Program in 2002. After showing him several "George Bush" drawings he questioned my unwillingness to admit that I was a political artist, and emphasized the importance of determining or knowing what kind of art one was creating. Since then, I've deepened my aesthetic towards an exploration of civilization's development and production of military technology and the artist's role in nurturing creativity in direct opposition to the violence and destruction of the weapons economy.
Once I shifted on to this course I began to revisit to my responses to the aerial bombing of Iraq and thought about aerial bombardment in general; as a mythical act, as superior military advantage and as an insidious form of destruction and violence. I created drawings of hands catching bombs in 2004 and did a series of drawings of individual bombs and missiles from the world's arsenal, on vintage prison record forms in 2006. The record forms were two-sided, so I created a frame that hung from a chain and swivel so that you could flip the drawing over. Unfortunately the plexi-glass shifted in the frame after turning and so the frame became unbalanced and hung crookedly. I was no stranger to crooked art, though! In 1999 I made a series of watercolor drawings that hung at an angle. The whole series eventually creating a very large circle, each drawing tilted at 10 degrees further than the next, but I never finished them. I thought that for the “Prison Papers” pieces it would be ok for them to hang crookedly, but when we hung them all that way and looked at it, the gallery proprietor almost had a nervous breakdown! That’s when I realized how interesting it would be to try and create an installation that looked disheveled, out of order or destroyed. Shortly after this show I began to make new work that was acrylic on canvas from a bunch of blank stretched
canvases that were given to me. Each canvas was tilted, had a “plumb” flagpole, an empty rainbow sky and clouds or smoke with hands and figures reaching across the void to shake hands with each other. I titled this series: “While Rome Burns” and was thinking along the lines of creating art that was conscious of being disheveled...in other words, it was built into the aesthetic of the pieces. One of the drawings in the “Prison Papers” series had a portrait of George Bush in it (it was a drawing that depicted the missile named “Nimrod”!) and his quote that we: “Were fighting them there so that we don’t have to fight them here”. This idea that it was ok to wreck some other country as long as we preserved our own country seemed too insidious to me and to be a key problem with nationalism. I think that the future of our planet depends on all nations having empathy for other nations. So the two key elements that I derived from all of this that led me to create these Jacob’s Ladders were the insidious power and nature of aerial bombardment and the idea of creating an installation that evoked a sense of unease and empathy here for all of the destruction we create “there”. With all of these elements lining up the idea of creating a Jacob’s ladder of two-sided canvases just came to me. I made some small models and loved how they were noisy chaos cascading down from above and could reveal, back and forth, “two sides”. This show is really my first big presentation of them.
LA: You've experimented with a number of interactive objects and you've encased molded plastic packaging within framed pieces. What are some of the reasons you've chosen to move beyond 2-dimensional art?
KC: I was schooled in the 70s when conceptual, process, performance, installation art were all at the height of newness, so two-dimensional art was really actually out the window from the get go! In school, even though I was a drawing major, I made some sculptural pieces and some installation and site pieces. But after graduation in the 80’s there blossomed a huge neo-expressionist movement in NYC’s East Village and the work was very imagistic and two-dimensional. I definitely picked up on all of that and ended up creating two-sided canvases, that were, for me, a coming together of earlier conceptual issues that spoke to the function of a painting and the imagistic, expressive trend of street art and graffiti. The plastic packaging has come along a bit later and probably comes from a desire to find materials that are more found, ready-made or attempt to resolve issues of consumer consumption / production / environmental destruction. This would align more with my later shift towards becoming more politically conscious, rather than my earliest schooling on formalistic concerns. Yet the clear molded plastic has a great formal appeal to me still, as a shaped window that fits neatly into the shallow “relief” space of the back of a canvas, that one can view “expressionistic” drawings through!
LA: Imagine you're from Kittery, unschooled in art or art theory. What do you hope the experience evokes?
KC: I’m hoping that a first impression might be that of an obvious reference to
pageantry and/or patriotism. I imagine that it’s really hard to see red and white stripes and not think of the American flag. After that initial reading, I wouldn’t “expect” anything, but rather would be immensely curious to get feedback! I might hope that these unschoolers can see some of the humor in my work along with a serious questioning of the role and purpose of our military economy, our consumer economy and the power of art in general to evoke and provoke.
LA: You've been experimenting with red and white as your primary colors. It's somewhat similar to going back to the bold simplicity of black and white - a choice that can force the viewer to have a more direct experience of why and how the marks were rendered. Is that part of your intention?
KC: It is in general, but there are probably a few other forms that come into play, that I’m interested in here too. Black and white can be faster to render, which starts lending itself to a form of immediacy of ideas, tapping into the unconscious, impulse, etc. High contrast black and white also lends itself to reproduction really well, in that a simple copier can reproduce a high contrast black and white image without loosing subtleties, because there are no subtleties. This begins to be seen as connecting up with a plethora of Pop Cultural forms; cartoons, advertising, graffiti, retro, schematic drawing, etc. It is also a visual form that is very close to language, which is really just shaped characters that we understand to represent sounds that form words, that have meaning and intent, like you say, that the viewer might have a more direct experience of why and how the marks were rendered. With that (and probably more) being said, switching to red adds a charged meaning to everything, whereas black is not seen as charged, rather it is transparent or neutral.
LA: Red has a lot of connotations, blood being an obvious one. What is red signifying to you?
KC: Monochrome is a good way to reduce noise and emotion and develop symbols and language. Red in particular is a popular color and I think we do first think of blood, that’s probably instinctual. I like working with tired, overworked symbols and try to redirect the huge cultural momentum that weighs them down. It’s almost like we don’t “see” things that are so ingrained and predictable. Red is one of those things. It’s loaded with history and meaning, probably more than any other color, it’s the mother of all colors. That’s probably why nations use it in their flags. I know I’m tackling 1000 years of symbolism, but that’s my goal, to try and re-define the color red!
LA: You use recurring motifs including Cavity Sam, a plethora of arms and hands, bombs, Santa . . . can you explain more about your motifs and where those personal/emotional connections stem from?
KC: Cavity Sam was a motif that I started using for an installation of two-sided coffin shaped canvases in 2004/2005. He represented the hapless pawn in the game of war.
Since then I think that he has become more autobiographical: a fat, middle aged man who needs medical attention! Santa is one of my newest motifs and has come along primarily for his intense redness! I’m looking for red figures/symbols to gather and interact in my imagery, do a little role-playing on occasion. The arms began really as just a schematic device, you know, not quite language, not quite picture or symbol, but mostly a visual device in order to instruct or explain, as in an image of pointing finger to direct your vision to a particular spot or place. They quickly morphed into suited, big business arms, Uncle Sam arms, uniformed,
historic dress and God or biblical arms. For the most part I’m trying to use familiar imagery and make it do unfamiliar things.
LA: Certain motifs like Cavity Sam or a large herd of Santas create incongruity and a sense of absurdity. What place does humor have in your artwork?
KC: Humor is really important to me. When I was a student in Catholic grade school I often got in trouble for being a wise ass. Laughing is certainly a very healthy response to life, that’s proven! It’s also a normal healthy response to the absurdity that is our existence. I love absurdity and wish that I explored it more with my art and was better at being absurd. One of the greatest art movements of all time, DaDa, was the proper way to respond to the carnage and promise of the new industrial age and WWI. The opposite of absurdity is God, which is a way of explaining our existence and is never funny.
LA: I was thinking about what you told me on Sunday about hands making things, to quote you: "The strange busy-ness that humans occupy themselves with in order to survive" and the symbolism of the hands from above like God and the hands from below manipulating, etc... I kinda missed the insightful part about the hands from below.
KC: I forget what insightful gem I said, but this idea of human hands having touched just about everything that has been fabricated by humankind is actually a very new thought of mine. Even though I draw arms and hands all the time, I haven’t really explored depicting hands actually making things or everything yet. I’m not sure where this will go; it’s too new of a thought...stay tuned!
LA: Along with recurring motifs you incorporate a sea of text (and text within text). Tell me about the inclusion of text, any interesting audience reaction to it and how you feel about the power of words - whether for nefarious or altruistic purposes.
KC: Well, text in art has an immense tradition, particularly with contemporary art. I’m actually trying to do something a little different than what has been done to date, but most likely someone is probably doing exactly what I’m trying to do only better. I really started drawing text as an image itself full on first in 2008, just before Obama’s first election. There was something cathartic about creating these drawings. It felt as though there was change and hope on the horizon after the horror of 9/11 and the ensuing
wars. Yet there also seemed to be a welling up of a cacophony of fear, anger and anxiety that was positioning itself to counter any shift in the massive military surge that 9/11 seemed to set into motion. There was also an expansive confusion or conspiracy culture that seemed to blossom and prosper with every advance in accessibility to greater information. I began by drawing texts that confused Obama’s name with Osama bin laden, just to get that out of the way and created a whole flurry of drawings that borrowed text from multiple sources and drawings in which I invented my own quasi- authoritative ramblings.
All of my text drawings pretty much involve drawing each letter as neatly as I can free hand and basically filling the picture plane according to space filling rules rather than proper writing rules. In other words, if I ran into the edge of the paper in the middle of a word, so be it, it’s a picture not writing. I’ve gotten some very good response to this work and even came close to getting the Maine Arts Commission's Individual Fellowship Award, so I was told! I sold a fair amount (for me) of them too. I’d like to think that this work triggers a unique response in people. Words clearly can be powerful and important, whether it is a letter from the grave or a declaration of war, and I want to explore this. I’m also trying to make them pictorial without losing their purpose as words and I’m carefully hand drawing them minimally, without embellishment, in order to straddle the line between writing and drawing. I’m hoping that they’re viewed this way.
LA: When I made art in the past, nostalgic triggers from my childhood drove me to create. Those memories had a mysterious, emotional atmosphere that motivated me to keep reinterpreting the feelings they conjured up. I was curious if you have any nostalgic triggers and how that plays out for you. Since my creativity stopped before my nostalgic motives dried up I wonder what happens to an artist as they move beyond those influences. Is there a maturation process?
KC: Well, I think that there is definitely a maturation process for me. I struggled to understand what kind of art I wanted to make when I was younger. I’ve always been envious of brilliant young artists! My impulse to make art, has been with me since I was a small child. In this sense I might venture to say that my nostalgia, if I have any, relates to this feeling of knowing that I wanted to be an artist, but not really knowing what that meant and being cautious about life in general, so it has taken me a long time to be where I am today, which is a much more confident place. But there is one other thing. A friend who thought we might want to use them for our kids gave us a set of old encyclopedias in 2001. They were from 1966; so they were pretty useless in terms of current information, but I became very attached to them for the imagery that they contained, ink drawings, schematic drawings, black and white photography, retro imagery, etc. I think that this encyclopedia set must be my nostalgic trigger too, as it is essentially a view into everything (encyclopedic!) that existed in the world when I was eight years old. I draw from them religiously!
LA: Does having children and a family affect the artistic process for you?
KC: In many ways, having children immediately gave me a new perspective on the world and expanded my relationship with my partner. You begin to think about the future and what kind of a world you’ve brought your children into. You experience the immense positive energy that children have, which lightens despair and brings great hope. My children are now young adults and so they are at the stage where they have begun to contribute their skills and service to the world and it has been fantastic to realize that they approach things with a fresh eye and mind, unburdened with the baggage and limitations of the way we used to do things. So despite the fact that raising children might have impinged on the amount of time I had available to be creative in my studio, it really breathed new life into my artistic process, helped me understand more how the world functions and ultimately gave me a degree of confidence and energy that is propelling me to be actually more productive artistically now that I’m older, than when I was younger.
LA: How do you replenish the well of inspiration?
KC: I think that the best way for me to do this is by checking out other artists and galleries online. This tunes me into what’s going on, what new artists or trends are emerging. I suppose this can be depressing for some, to see that there are so many artists and galleries out there all struggling and striving to be seen, but I really like looking at art and get excited and inspired when I see stirring and innovative work. Our world is constantly changing and we need more artists to help us understand what it all means!
LA: Which drives and motivations never leave you and where do you think they stem from?
KC: I’m always trying to improve on the last piece that I’ve created, to the point where I don’t want to even finish it in order to get on to the next piece! I think that this is a common drive or impulse for artists and probably stems from the way that the art world runs, with it’s hierarchy of top artists, its limited opportunities and the general sensationalism that tends to define contemporary art. It makes us all anxious! I also "think a lot" and have more ideas than the time to execute them. I guess the ideas come from looking around at this strange world that we live in and puzzling over it. Moving to Maine was interesting because I found myself less surrounded by the kind of oversaturation of culture and art that is found in big cities, like New York, from where we had moved. In a big city, as an artist, you can get your culture/art fix without necessarily making art. That’s kind of dangerous for your drive and motivation. In Maine it felt like I really came to terms with myself as an artist, somewhat isolated from all the vicarious exposure to the art world, and realized that not making art would be the end of me. Some of us are just artists, but the ability to stay productive and flourish is really difficult.
LA: Nationalism and patriotism are ideas you continue to play with. I was born and raised in Canada and surrounded by people who had derision for nationalism. I grew up at a time when our ties to the British Commonwealth were still strong. All of these factors seemed to strengthen the idea that we were citizens of the World rather than just citizens of one country. Moving to the US was a shock and extremely foreign in this way. I felt bombarded by nationalism and patriotism. The US seems to be stuck in an antiquated paradigm where the strongest nation acts as the world's watchdog and enforcer (keeping the war machine thriving). That's a nationalistic world-view yet one that provides infrastructure and safety to some people. How do you imagine replacing this status quo and keeping stability and equilibrium?
KC: I don’t know! My guess would be just that it will not happen overnight, that many suggestions will come forth and either take hold or not. I think one of the biggest issues will be, trusting other people from other countries. We seem to pride ourselves on being a melting pot, but have a lot of distrust toward other societies. You know I also don’t like to just bash the U.S. There are plenty of bad governments in the world. Maybe it comes down to the power structures in general, humans have yet to really enact and act upon all of the great ideas of democracy and prosperity. We need to get better at creating democracy and prosperity for everyone without relying on gigantic power structures. I think the big hope is that by increasing communication through technology we’ll improve things greatly by figuring out solutions from the bottom up.
LA: Which artists most intrigue you and why?
KC: I’ve liked Raymond Pettibon and Mark Lombardi for some time, was an early fan of Nancy Spero and I dig many newer artists like Dana Schutz and relatively unknown, but fairly interesting artists like Larissa Bates, Waafa Bilal, Dexter Dalwood and Jules DeBalincourt. All of these artists with the exception of Waafa Bilal and Mark Lombardi are relatively imagistic, with a somewhat “unschooled” hand in terms of their drawing or painting style. Most likely it is the content that ties them all together. Bilal and Lombardi would be the most extreme in terms of this, with Bilal’s deep foray into the psyche of mass culture with his performances/events/re-engineerings: “Shoot an Iraqi” “Capture George Bush” and “Waterboard a dog or Waaafa Bilal” and Lombardi’s unrelenting informational drawings. The other artists similarly cut deep into the underbelly of culture, but explore it via a unique “hand” or style that references folk art or bad drawing. Nancy Spero, being the earliest to explore/undermine cultural content of my group, created imagery outside of stretched canvas or framed drawing, making drawn cut outs that she could then arrange in a space to create a narrative. Her subject matter was war, violence against women and myth. Pettibon somewhat focused on the 60ís counterculture, created edgy zines and mostly draws with ink, giving his work an outsider comics feel. His texts are smart, funny and refreshing. Schutz, Bates, Dalwood and DeBalincourt all share a pleasing contemporary style, that is retro, edgy, funny, folksy, bad, with their foray into the underbelly of culture being less direct and hard hitting, rather more subtle, artsy and quirky. I like them all for the variety of these
LA: What do you think makes their work successful?
KC: In some cases, probably with the newer artists, their trendy style makes their work successful. With the others, their hard-hitting exploration / undermining of mass culture makes them compelling and thus successful. They all seem to vary in the degree to which they touch on important qualities, whether it is their content or style.
LA: How do you feel you excel as an artist and what would you like to improve upon?
KC: I try hard! Though I’m not sure if that counts! I also think that I don’t try to create a style or look that is trendy, I’m very resistant to that, despite the fact that I do like certain trendy or current styles, but it’s not for me. My work is probably more idea driven, but not purely, say, the way conceptual art is, rather my mark making or construct building is driven, not so much by how it looks, but by what it means. Thus my current use of red, for example, has meaning or multiple meanings. I am trying to work with its meanings, by molding and transforming it through familiar and invented forms, motifs and devices. I also strive for a certain authenticity, honesty or directness in that I do not really employ a unique craft, skill or technique. I try and keep my form or process somewhat innocent, naive or dumb so that it is closer to language than high art. In other words I’m more likely to draw on, say, white paper with one color and not even work with bringing the negative space of the white ground “forward”, than I would, say, build up intense crafted glazes to create a mysterious atmosphere or something. This places me closer to the unrealized form of language, which is essentially a transparent visual form, universally understood to convey sound and meaning and able to be depicted in a prescribed arrangement in a pictorial field. So in short, I strive to create in a space between being very un-visual and being visual. I love that tension and if I do excel it might be there. Ironically, I think that there is something inside me that would like to be trendier! I really do love certain work that is trendy stylistically, like, say, Dexter Dalwood. So if I were to improve upon anything, I would totally contradict myself and be both very un-trendy and extremely trendy, stylistically, all at the same time. That would be fantastic!
LA: What gives you the most pleasure about the process?
KC: Being in the studio on a bright winter day, with the snow reflecting maximum ambient light in to it, is the best! Despite the fact that my studio is not very warm, I’m happiest when I can get in on days like that. I like just about every phase of creating art; thinking about ideas, executing repetitive functions for larger projects, building stretchers, looking at a blank piece of paper or canvas and wondering what to create, working on a piece that I don’t like until it becomes something that I do like, getting my work photographed, writing about my work, searching the web for inspiration, updating my website, applying for grants or other opportunities, I especially like sitting in front of
a computer, as my day job often involves being outside in almost every weather and being physically active, so it’s really nice sometimes to just sit and think and type. While I’m mentioning the day job, I have to say that having to need time for one has impacted my process, style and aesthetic in a major way. I’ve had to find studio time early in the morning, before going to work, which has caused my work to become more about language, symbols and a very limited palette. These features, in turn, tend to relate to popular culture, politics and commercial imagery.
LA: Are you comfortable with the label 'political artist'?
KC: No one likes labels, because it feels like they box you in and limit how you are perceived. We all want to think that we are more full and complex human beings, that’s always nicer and more interesting. That being said, that label does not bother me like it might have in the past. In the past I would have argued for you to see me as more complex, for you to see that my art is about so much more than politics, but now I guess I’m interested instead in making complex political art. I’d like to think that my art is still about much more than politics, but I’m not in such a hurry to guide you away from that label, I’d like to draw you into a political debate within an aesthetic context and breathe a degree of relevance into this form we call art.
LA: If you find that too constricting or inaccurate I'd love to hear your thoughts. Would you call yourself an Agitator, an Activist - a Provocateur?
KC: Sure! It really does feel like we are living in a “Brave New World” and that we are in the throes of “Future Shock”. Society and culture is advancing at an alarming rate and we have no idea how to react, or we may have an idea, but we are, either too busy, distracted or depressed to figure things out and act. I think that art is an excellent form to use to explore issues and that it needs to be much, much more active in terms of being relevant and interactive. I’d like to be more of an agitator, activist or provocateur, I think that I fall way short, but I’m just as busy, distracted or depressed as everyone else and there is so much going on in the world that needs to be figured out that I suffer as much as anyone else from “Future Shock” syndrome, that it’s very hard to focus or move forward. But I get great satisfaction from creating art and have decided that the process of creativity is a good place or platform for me. Each work of art, drawing or studio session is a small stepping-stone toward tackling the world’s trajectory and I’d love to see more artists getting on board, creating more relevant, active and interactive art.
LA: We've discussed the art world and elitism. I believe you said you wanted to keep your work grounded and accessible to all audiences. Now that you're receiving more recognition, how will you straddle the two worlds and keep your authenticity/integrity?
KC: I think I’m still in a manageable zone of recognition in terms of staying grounded! There are no demands, currently, for me to create paintings to hang over the sofas of
wealthy patrons. I’ve been fairly under recognized for many decades, so I’d like to think that I would be very immune to the lure of recognition and whatever that might engender in terms of compromising my aesthetic, authenticity or integrity. But even without recognition it is hard to straddle the art world and the real world. Artists have been struggling with this initiative since the invention of the camera and failing pretty consistently since. It’s possible that this has begun to change in the last few decades, in particular with street art and the web. I think that it is definitely an important effort and I’m throwing my lot in with the activist branch or anything that (aesthetically) undermines art institutions/forms, the military economy or environmental destruction, with a sub-branch that might explore the ramifications of advances in genetics and the role of religion for the future!
LA: Has computer technology changed the way you create your art?
KC: I’d like to think so, but in all probability it’s made me more of a Luddite in some ways. I probably wrote notes by hand more in the past, that is, while generating ideas for drawings or projects. I still do keep notebooks / sketchbooks, but I also keep track of texts as computer files. I’m extremely resistant to making images with a computer. That really feels cumbersome and never has the fluidity / imperfection / touch of anything rendered by hand. So I guess “information”, stored and processed on a computer, accessible via the interweb, has had the biggest affect in terms of changing the way I create art. My project “The Hellfire Story” was based on a chronology of the development of the Hellfire Missile System, which I chanced upon while researching weapons on the web. I’ve since gone back to that website, which is an Army website and the information is gone. So now my art speaks about our relationship with information, its availability and accessibility. This is one potential function for painting / art; to stop the flow of information, or to be able to hit pause, or concretize the magma of ideas, influence, doctrine, propaganda or story that is being constantly written and that seeps into our psyche somewhat unknowingly. We have access to untold piles of information and my response has been, in one way, to transfer that information on to rectangular picture planes that hang on architectural wall surfaces.
2013 "Distress" Interview by Lisa Agostini