Briefly describe the work you do.
My recent body of work blends woodworking, painting, printmaking, and other media to recreate a mid-century, science fiction aesthetic. Movie posters, wooden props, and miniature set pieces serve to craft a narrative born from real-life, small town events in which the all-too-human aggressors are replaced with extraterrestrials. Midwestern comedies and tragedies constitute the bulk of my story.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
My family moved frequently when I was a kid, and I think that constantly meeting new people spurred my interest in characters and stories. As I got older, I performed more and more carpentry work. During undergraduate school, I worked for a few contractors and naturally carried over a theme a craftsmanship into my studio.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
My studio practice is a combination of very traditional methods and contemporary practices. I believe whole-heartedly in the value of under-painting and I spend a lot of time working with wood and sharpening hand tools. To compliment these old fashioned techniques, I utilize modeling software to better understand 3D forms before and during their construction. I am interested in the translation of a theoretical, screen-bound model to an object cut from wood. Navigating between these two ways of working has invigorated my studio practice.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
I suppose I am a storyteller. Early on, I made things simply for the joy of making. I never saw myself as someone who had something to say, but as I have paid closer attention to my interests and investigated them more fully, I have realized that I, too, have a story to tell; a lot of them, in fact.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
I really prefer to work early in the day. If it were not for my day job, I would be in the studio at 5:00 every morning. The problem is that I peak at 10:00 am and need a nap. Currently, evenings and weekends are the best for studio work.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
Just a few years ago, I almost exclusively painted. When I did make 3D work, or anything object-like, I treated it as a very separate process. I have maintained an interest in paint, but have also reached into areas of sculpture and installation. Wood, sheet metal, and found objects have all found homes amongst the paintings. All of the parts work together.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
The short stories of Haruki Murakami have been very influential because they tend to make a surreal spectacle of everyday happenings. I think Jack White is one of the most important artists in history. I like his blend of homemade and high-tech. My parents have probably been my largest influences. They have been extremely supportive of my artistic endeavors, and I greatly appreciate that.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
I think I would enjoy working with animals. I saw some elephants getting baths at the zoo recently, and I thought, “That looks pretty fun.”
Kevin Mercer lives and works in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He received an MFA degree from The Pennsylvania State University where he developed curricula for 2D & 3D Foundations courses and received the Gerald Davis Painting Prize. He has shown in such cities as Chicago, Cincinnati, NYC, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. Kevin is currently employed by Carnegie Museum of Art as the institution’s Construction & Facilities Coordinator.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.