Last Friday, Kevin T. Kelly wrapped up his opening for "Kicking Against the Pricks" at Alan Avery Art Company. In light of the show, we realized what better time to feature this amazing artist than for our latest installment of In Studio With. This month, learn how Kelly's childhood influenced his career path, his experiences living in New York City in the 80's, and how tenacity is the best-learned life lesson. And don't worry, if you missed the opening reception, Kevin T. Kelly's exhibition will be on view until November 3rd!
Predictive Programming, acrylic on canvas, Kevin T. Kelly ©
1: DC or Marvel?
KTK: When I was a kid, my Dad would bring comic books home for me and even before I could read, I would be fascinated by the artwork and interpret the stories as best as I could by what the images were eliciting. Once I started grade school and learned to read, I found the characters in Marvel Comics more appealing but read both DC and Marvel. After about the fourth or fifth grade, I pretty much quit reading them and am not really a fan or a collector of comics today. I am however interested in the power of the archetypes and iconography the characters represent and utilize them metaphorically in my painting today.
2: What does the "T" stand for in Kevin T. Kelly?
3: Do you have any guilty pleasures?
KTK: I'm pretty much a workaholic, but there's nothing I enjoy more than binge watching serials on Netflix to unwind after a long day in the studio. Favs are "Peaky Blinders", "Babylon Berlin", and "Ozark".
On View Now At AAAC
Cognitive Dissident, acrylic on canvas, Kevin T. Kelly ©
Inverted Reality, acrylic on canvas, Kevin T. Kelly ©
4: What is your favorite coffee table book?
KTK: Can't say I have just one favorite. I do possess a rather substantial collection of artist monographs and books on philosophy, spirituality, and the counterculture. My favorite authors include Stuart Wilde, Carlos Castaneda, William S. Burroughs, and Ernest Hemingway as well as my published friends, Rick Robinson and Vincent Lasorso.
5: Do you have a favorite contemporary artist?
KTK: Many. Leslie Shiels, Michael Scott, C.F. Payne, Tom Bacher and Cole Carothers are dear friends whose work I have admired and followed for years. And with the advent of Instagram, I am able to follow and discover artists from all over the world. Favorites include: Peter Stanick, The London Police, Ryan Coleman, KAWS, Pro 176, and Jordan Nickel.
6: You spent six years as a studio assistant to Tom Wesselmann. What was your most significant takeaway?
KTK: When studying art history, those who influence the world's cultural trajectory are often regarded with an almost larger than life reverence; possessing gifts or talents seemingly unobtainable to all but a chosen few. In working for Tom Wesselmann, I saw a man who came from my hometown who became a paragon in the world of art, not because he possessed supernatural talent, but because of his discipline, insatiable curiosity and an unwavering dedication to his craft. The lesson gleaned: Life's path takes tenacity and full immersion. Pursue it with passion.
7: What was the craziest thing you saw living in New York?
KTK: I remember an interview with the singer Jim Croce shortly after he died in which he said, " 42nd Street isn't a place, it's a state of mind." I never really knew what that meant until I lived in New York City. In the late 80's and early 90's, 42nd street between Times Square and Port Authority contained every make and model on human depravity known to man. Pimps, hookers, panhandlers, three card monte scams, junkies, porno shops, live sex theaters and shooting galleries... it was the walking tour of Dante's Nine Circles of Hell. When you reached Port Authority after traversing those few blocks, you felt like you needed a shower to rinse off the filth, but at least the experience was REAL. Creepy, but real. Today, 42nd Street is Gatlinburg North. A glittering ridiculous cavalcade of tourist attractions, from Madame Tussaud's Wax to Ripley's Believe It or Not "Museums". Throw in every possible theme restaurant imaginable and the result is a neon-lit nightmare capable of inducing an apoplectic seizure. The experience is even creepier today and totally surreal.
Amused to Death, acrylic on canvas, Kevin T. Kelly ©
8: What is the worst compliment someone can give your art?
KTK: A compliment is a gift and people are entitled to their opinions, so I'm always gracious, but when they say "Oh, you're an artiste (pronounced ar-TEE-st)", it makes my teeth hurt.
9: What was your biggest breakthrough moment?
KTK: Life's greatest opportunities often come in the guise of adversity. In 2010 I had what I've termed my mid-life meltdown where my entire life as I knew it imploded. Nothing was selling, I was broke and at the age of 50 found myself parking cars for $6.00 an hour. It was at that point I reevaluated my entire belief system and threw out about 80% of what I held to be true.
One day, while retrieving a car, I heard a voice in my head say, "You want to paint landscapes." At first, I dismissed it entirely and a few minutes later the voice returned louder and more emphatic. I stopped dead in my tracks and replied aloud, "No, I don't, that is not what people expect from Kevin T. Kelly!" In that very instant, I realized the mental prison I'd constructed in my own mind and decided to follow my intuition. Despite not having any money for supplies, a deficit of time to spend in the studio and absolutely no clue as to where these landscapes would take me, I decided to commit to the task of making the best of it. I went straight to the studio every day after parking cars for eight hours and for ten hours on my days off. I couldn't afford stretchers or canvas but had a stash of bristol board and decided to create a series of small acrylic paintings on paper that was contemplative and gem-like in appearance. The result was a shift in both consciousness and my creative process. Prior to these landscapes, I was in complete control, exacting my will upon the image and creating works that were boisterous, loud and communicated by "visually shouting" at the viewer. With these works, the process became more of a dance where the image would dictate what it needed and as a result, the communication became a subtle whisper.
The following spring, Cincinnati Art Galleries exhibited these new paintings on paper in a show I titled "Embracing the Yin" and thirteen of the twenty works sold before the show officially opened. The financial success of the show enabled me to abandon my short-lived career as a valet parking attendant and later that year, I was commissioned to paint six large canvases for the Breitling flagship store in Manhattan.
Kevin T. Kelly for Breitling, Paris, France, Kevin T. Kelly ©
10: You've accomplished a lot in your career. What's next for you?
KTK: It's deeply satisfying after working on this show for a year to now pause and reflect upon the work and consider what direction the next set of paintings will take. The process is not unlike running a marathon; you prepare mentally, train constantly and then put every ounce of all you have into the race. Afterward, you have to refill the reservoir. That's what I will be doing for the next few months, processing the information and inspiration generated by these new works, as well as finishing up some licensing projects for the Museum Masters International.
The licensing agreement my agent, Marilyn Goldberg, signed with Robert Graham for a line of wearable art t-shirts is going exceedingly well. I'll be making in-store appearances in select locations for them throughout September and early October to promote the collection. Top Pocket Rocket in London will also be releasing a line of silk ties and unisex scarves in the fall to complement a line of silk pocket squares featuring my images. I'm scheduled to make an appearance at the Robert Graham store in Venice, CA on Oct. 6th, and plan on spending a week in Long Beach to visit my son, Jack, and his girlfriend, Emily. Then it's back home to the studio to begin work on a new series of paintings.