Introducing Artful Dodgy's Artist of the Month for July: Edward Kelley. You may remember his name from last month's review of his installation at Art League Houston (on view until July 22nd, by the way, if you have missed it so far). I'm circling back to this because "Speak of the Devil" really resonated with me as a product of the CCTV generation, and I walked away knowing that I had to find out what makes this artist tick. Further exploration of his work revealed a Warhol-esque preoccupation with consumerism, and all the trappings of modern day life - most evident in his large scale installation. His most recent series, "Here Today - Gone Tomorrow" is certainly a reflection of this - but I'll let him tell you the rest for himself. So without further ado.....
First things first, I want to know more about Speak of the Devil, your current installation at Art League Houston - can you tell me more about the inspiration behind this piece?
Its hard to say if there was a specific inspiration for “Speak of the Devil” it was kind of a natural progression based on some earlier experimentation with camera and camera triggers. I was certainly interested in addressing concerns regarding the ease in which we can be monitored by various entities. This monitoring or surveillance encroachment and how we as a group become complacent with this action in order to participate within society. We all know we’re being watched but in order to take advantage of the amenities of todays world we have to overlook this. With most of my work I utilize a sense of humor or absurdity as a way to allow the viewer to enter the work. In this manner it becomes easier to address various content that can range from light to heavy.
Tell me a little about your background, how did you get your start as an artist?
I had a strong interest in art throughout my childhood. I worked in cabinetry and construction with my father so I think maybe the interest in sculpture stems from there. When I started in college I was taking a lot of Anthropology classes and initially planned on going in that direction. In fact, I would say that Anthropology and Sociology play a heavy hand in the development of my work. I eventually stumbled into the sculpture studio and ended up spending the rest of my undergraduate time there. It seemed natural and comfortable to be there in the studio so I just kept doing that.
Through college I worked in a frame shop and after graduating I started as a restoration mason, making molds and repairing stonework on buildings around Charleston SC. After a few years of this I went to Syracuse University for graduate study in Sculpture. Later, I owned a woodshop/art services business in Minneapolis for a couple years, worked as a mold and pattern maker in Lincoln, NE and finally ended up at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.
Is there a specific artist or artwork that inspired you to practice art? For example, for me it was Damien Hirst's Shark (The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Minds of the Living) that inspired me to study art history because at that moment I realized that art really can be anything, it's not limited to a canvas or a gallery wall - and I wanted to see how far artists could push those limits.
I don’t think there was ever one artist that spurred my art making. I think it happened naturally through my interest in art and the manner in which I grew up. Gordon Matta-Clark, Louis Bourgeois, Eva Hesse, Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Joseph Beuys, Martin Puryear, Bruce Nauman and Chris Burden are some that come to mind as artists I was really interested in at an early stage in my art making. I enjoy the manner in which they approach art in both a conceptual and formal or technical manner. While there’s a number of artists that I follow today, I find that I still gravitate towards these aspects in the work.
Can you describe your creative process (I know this is a very complex question!)? How does your work come to life from idea to execution?
There are threads of similar content that most all the work contains, so often the process begins with differing ways to approach these subjects. I started as an object maker so I begin through playing or exploring materials and methods, making smaller forms or individual pieces that the larger works feed from in process and content. The smaller works are more reflective and open in form as a way to feel out how the larger pieces are going to come together. Usually this practice of making and exploring on the smaller scale is a constant that maintains through the construction process of the large works. So the process itself or the act of making is usually what is pushing the overall work forward.
Do you have a preferred medium and subject matter?
During the small scale exploration, I’m working often with various materials and techniques from casting to constructing in wood and metal as well as exploring with different materials or things that I find. With the larger pieces I prefer the overall concept to dictate the material, in a way knowing what I want to do and then trying to solve the problem of what or how can I best accomplish this goal. I was brought up as a woodworker and focused largely on the casting and mold making process during school so these processes and materials come into play periodically. I’ve always been interested in sociology, cultural or class dynamics and history as subjects. I use “history” as a broad term, meaning not only general history but also its visual manifestations, conceptual and personal relationships and importance individually and as a whole. With most all of my work there’s also an absurdity or humor based aspect involved as a way for the viewer to enter the work. This humor typically allows me to convey more meaningful content through the piece without being to blatant. I wouldn’t call this a kind of subject matter but it is a supporting theme to the overall.
What projects are you working on right now and where can we see your work next?
I’m currently working on an ongoing project called “Here Today-Gone Tomorrow”. It’s a series of sequential dollar bills used in a grid like a rectangle or square and a corporate logo is laser etched over the entirety of this. So you can only see the image when all the bills are together. The logo is pigmented with powder pigment, sealed, photographed and put back into circulation by purchasing at various locations thus creating an image that exists in a singular moment only. The logos are chosen based on the amount of money spent by these corporations on influencing and directing public policy, and is done as a way to address concerns over the expanding influence of corporate interests on government policy. In order to rebrand our money to fit our current social and political atmosphere. This is again pointing to a specific singular moment in history when these bills are together. During exhibition the viewer is able to purchase one of the etched bills for .50$ through a gumball machine. There’s a few other projects that are happening but right now their really in the very early stages of development.
So I've written about this bloke before, but never had the good fortune of speaking with him about his work and processes up until now. Here's a little catch-up in case you missed it: In my last feature on local Houstonian artist Rene Fernandez, I noted that he's a self taught artist and self proclaimed music junkie, he cites Caravaggio and Salvador Dali as influences, and of course he's the artist behind that incredible Numbers mural here in Houston. His style is primarily surrealist, with a trademark three-dimensionality that makes it easy to pick his work out of a line up regardless of medium or subject matter, which can vary tremendously from piece to piece.
I caught up with Rene a few weeks ago as he was working on a series of works for the Star Wars Festival (you can see progress pictures in the gallery at the end of this post), and had a quick peek into the mind of this intriguingly quirky guy....
Tell me a little about this project (star wars pieces), how did they come about?
I heard of the Star Wars Art Festival when it first began, over 4yrs ago. I thought it would be a great event to show my art in, also being that I'm a fan.
Talk me through your creative process, how long did these 2 paintings take, how did you get started, what's the first thing you do when starting a piece etc.?
My two recent pieces took me a little over month to complete. I usually start with an idea, then sketch it out. I then re-draw the final idea onto canvas in full detail. Then begin the sculpting part (if particular piece requires it) then the oil painting starts.
How do you balance being an artist with a full time job?
It's been very challenging having a job and also pushing my art. I work as an Industrial Mechanic in the oil field, therefore, I travel a lot. The plus side to that is, I get huge breaks in between. So, I try and do what I can, as many art shows, or just paint as much as I can. I do tend to miss out on so many exhibitions when I'm away, so that sucks sometimes.
How would you describe your style?
I would consider my style with my original pieces to be Surrealism.
How did you get into mural painting?
Mural painting wasn't something I really did before my Numbers project. After constantly seeing the Numbers' wall in it's condition, I started envisioning something cool to attract and show what Numbers is to many who hadn't been, I guess.
I read somewhere that you actually approached the Numbers owner about painting a mural on the building, is that true?
My good friend Lloyd Smith (who bartends at Numbers) and I had been talking about the outer building needing a makeover. So, after talks about it, I offered to do some art,.. I whipped up a sketch, which he showed to Rudi, the owner, and it went from there. I began working on it during one of my long breaks from work, with the help of my girlfriend Brynn. I also worked on more art throughout the Numbers building after completed the large mural.
Is that how you get a lot of your work, by creating your own opportunities?
I guess because I do well with my regular job, I do art for the love of it. I do wish I could do art full time and nothing else, but fear that when I mix the two together (job+art), something will be lost. Right now I feel joy and more openness to paint what I feel and want, create my own style and experiment, and not feel enslaved or forced, for monetary reasons. Most of my opportunities have been through word of mouth, many close friends recommending me, or people seeing my stuff at a show.
What's your favorite medium?
Throughout my life I've learned many mediums, from airbrushing, sculpting, mold making, to oil painting, which is where I am most comfortable, I feel that's where I can get my ideas out in full detail.
What's your favorite subject matter to paint?
Depending on my mood, I sometimes paint about society, it's effects on the soul, religious views, and sometimes historic things, or mythological . ..whatever's on my mind at moment I guess.
What are your biggest influences as an artist?
My biggest influences have been my dad, my brother ( who taught me things on sculpting), and famous artists like Caravaggio, Dali, DaVinci..etc.
As part of my Artist of the Month series, last week I caught up with native Houstonian and local badass artist Katherine Mason. At just 25 years old, Katherine is an enigmatic artist to say the least. Her work ranges from picturesque realism to multi media abstraction, with definite roots in pop culture. A lady after my own heart, Katherine is also a philanthropic creative. Her latest "Lipstick" series is a crowd sourced project using lipsticks donated from all over the country,with sales benefiting the National Breast Cancer Organization. If that's not enough to make you love this girl, just wait until you see her work!
How long have you been creating art?
Ever since I can remember. My parents always told me that I would make a mess with just about anything I could get my hands on and over the years my mess just started to make more sense.
What's your background? Are you a trained artist?
I consider myself a trained, yet self-taught artist. I have had basic training over my years in school but I never went to a swanky Art Institute. I took what I learned and spent years developing my skill set and pushing my creative as well as technical boundaries.
I think to be a real artist you have to put in the time and effort to “teach” yourself. If you’re only willing to be taught be someone else then I believe it blurs the boundaries of your art being a product of you vs. a product of your professors.
How would you describe your style?
I’m a bit different from other artists in the sense that I’ve never really had a defined “style”. I think it’s hard for me to take my creative mind and force it into a singular approach. My brain has an interesting way of interpreting and decoding the world around me and applying that to my practice, so I try not to constrain it in any way.
However, I do have some Series that I’m building where I try to stay consistent between pieces. Then again, if you were to look at the different Series I’ve built, I’m confident that you wouldn’t be able to guess that they were done by the same artist.
What inspires you?
Hahah what doesn’t inspire me?! I think this world is full amazing things that can inspire all of us, and in our own unique ways, but we just have to be willing to see it.
Who or what are your biggest influences?
Aside from my work, my biggest influence is God, the best Artist of them all. I’ve always loved getting lost in the details of things, things that you would never notice.
Whether that’s realizing that the tip of my dogs nose is composed of tiny, intricate shapes that fit together perfectly, the countless colors in a single Fall leaf or even how theatrical milk churns and dances through a cup of coffee. Everywhere I look, there’s something amazing that I haven’t quite seen before.
That’s probably the most hippie thing I’ve ever tried to explain hahah but in all honesty, I TRULY believe that God created the most breathtaking and awe-inspiring world and yet very few people take the time to notice it.
I hope that I could, for just a second, capture people with my art long enough to show them the beauty in the details, like God has done for me.
What is it like being an emerging artist in Houston?
Being an emerging artist in Houston is very difficult but in reality, being an emerging artist anywhere is difficult! I think Houston is slowly starting to embrace a more artistic and creative culture but it falls behind in comparison to LA, Austin, New York, etc. where creative minds really flourish. It’s definitely difficult as a Houston based artist, not only to find opportunities to network and showcase your art, but to have your work met with an open minded and receptive audience as well. However, I like to look at it as the perfect opportunity to be one of the few artists that get to really shape and transform this city.
What are some of your greatest achievements in terms of your work? What are you most proud of?
I wouldn’t say that I’ve “achieved” anything spectacular with my work, however I am quite excited about my new Lipstick Painting Series.
This series is the first time I’ve been able to really combine my two passions, Art and Philanthropy.
Each painting in my Lipstick Series will be done with donated lipsticks from women from all over the country, and within each piece I hope to capture the beauty of all women. I’m hoping by the time the series is completed and sold that I will be able to give back a substantial donation to the National Breast Cancer Organization, furthering Cancer research and family support.
Where do you hope your career will take you?
I hope that my career will take me to a place where I can express myself, support myself and inspire others to do the same. I think there are way too many talented artists out there who are afraid to rely on their talents and get stuck in a monotonous 9 to 5.
All too often great artists are settling to being told what to create in order to make money, and that truly saddens me
If you’re lucky enough to find a job you love that allows you to utilize and challenge your creativity then you’ve already won. I truly believe if you have a passion for art, and you’ve put the time and effort in to develop your talent, then you should never allow yourself to be confined to the creative regulations of someone else. It’s like forcing a world-renowned chef to work a concession stand at Six Flags.
Do you feel that there is a conflict between art and design in your work?
Personally I don’t think I’ve had a conflict between the two. Some days I want to create a piece that’s very organic and reflects what’s going on with me at that point in time, whereas other days I love incorporating the more structured and consistent qualities of design. It really depends on what type of artist you are, but I believe that when you learn how to incorporate and balance, both the artistic and design aspects, then you’ll have yourself some great work.
Do you think that it is possible for art to be functional? (I.e. is art that is wearable or useful in some way actually art in your opinion?)
Art is very versatile to me. Of course you have the obvious visual art, whether that be paintings, drawings, etc. but in my opinion, anything that is created through the utilization of creativity is Art. A car engine, your smart phone, a luxury handbag, even your favorite tacos down the street, these all have their own functions of course but they’re works of art. Mechanics, Designers, Engineers, Chefs are all artists in their own ways. They work with different subject matter but they all have to go through similar creative process when building their masterpieces.
Do you think that technology/internet etc has helped or hindered you as an emerging artist?
It has DEFINITELY helped me. I don’t know how artists, or anyone for that matter, ever got noticed before the Internet! I’ve always found it to be such an amazing tool. Whether I’m connecting with other artists, releasing new images of my work, advertising my next showcases, selling work online or even interviewing with bloggers like yourself, the Internet has given me a platform to show the world what I can do. Technology holds countless opportunities for artists but the beauty is that you can utilize it as much or as little as you want
Sorry guys, this one is not Houston-based, but i'm confident that you will forgive me once you check out the awesome Jen Stark. Jen is originally from Miami, Florida, but her reach has spread far beyond her home city with major shows in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, Thailand and Canada. Her work is included in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the West Collection, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale and MOCA Miami among others.... I could go on and on about her impressive CV, but for now I think i'll leave it there!
Stark is a contemporary multi-media artist whose primary medium is... paper! Yup, you heard me. She works with acid-free paper to create intricate and kaleidoscopic stand-alone sculptures by cutting away at (or simply layering and arranging) thousands upon thousands of layers of multi-colored paper using only an x-acto knife and foam or wood supports to achieve the end results. In a recent interview with Contemporist, Stark revealed the more complex compositions can take several weeks or even months (as well as the help of several assistants) to complete. Her 3D works are hand-cut, often large-scale, and consequently fairly tedious to create, but this is a labor of love, and it shows.
Stark's sculptures have a hypnotizing effect, with endlessly repeated geometric patterns giving the viewer the sense that the piece extends infinitely beyond the gallery's floor to a world beyond. They seem to glow from within, and one can almost believe that something magical is hidden just a few feet out of sight. Stark graduated from Maryland Institute College of Art with a minor in animation, and her talent for capturing movement is clearly evident in everything she does. Her work is intended to transform the simple into the complex, i.e. paper into a vortex of color and movement. It is, according to scribol.com, inspired by forms in nature, as well as her family background in medicinal practices such as cross-section cutting, MRI scans and X-rays.
Stark is not limited to sculpture either, in fact her work translates remarkably well to 2D. Her 3D pieces may get all the glory, but her latex or acrylic painted murals are eye-catching in their own right. The same use of color and geometric pattern that makes her sculptures seem to take on a life of their own gives any surface that Stark touches a depth and movement that belies the flat surface lurking underneath.
All in all, this girl is a breath of fresh air - truly talented, driven, and refreshingly unique.
One of Jen's large paper sculptures "Meltdown" (6ft x 8ft / 2012 / acid-free paper, glue, wood) is currently on display at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, so if you happen to be nearby, I suggest you go check this out. If not, you can follow Jen's latest news on Facebook or Instagram.
All images are property of JenStark.com