Briefly describe the work you do.
I am an artist primarily working in painting and photography by way of sculpture. I begin by making and applying mixed-media skins to small found bits of discarded detritus: cloth, fur, shell, bone, and the like. I spend a great deal of time in the studio during each phase of creation; once objects are collected and sorted, I begin by crafting small, organic sculptures (later adhering and manipulating paint skins), finally assembling and photographing the individual elements to either be painted from as references, or further manipulated for my photography.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
I started out early in dance (with my sister). While I was preparing for ballet recitals, I would sit with drawing materials, sketching, waiting for my turn to rehearse. I would also bring my camera back stage, to photograph others for figurative reference images. I started taking oil painting lessons in my early teens after inheriting my Grandmother Helen’s oil paints. The lessons were held in the back of a local hobby shop, where the youngest student (besides me) was in their 60s. I was doted on a hugged a lot; they painted their grandchildren and talked about their health issues. Looking back at that time, I wonder if I ever really stopped painting ballerinas.
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
Not unlike my early ballet training, much of my painting requires repetitious motions with endless subtleties in search of harmonious movement. The results of thousands of hours of practiced, variegated choreography yields a finished painting. I often hover over the paint, watching the evaporation, waiting for the moment to sop up a puddle or reshape or scrape. It is a feeling of both being attentive and practicing restraint.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
I am thankful that 80% of my time still goes into studio duties (whether painting, collecting and photographing objects, editing works on the computer); I am still working on managing the myriad of responsibilities that come with running a small business (all a part of being a professional studio artist).
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?
I go through long working periods in the studio, followed by a down time for rejuvenation. Leading up to an exhibition, it’s not unusual for me to work 16+ hour days for weeks in a row, right up until the show’s opening. If I don’t have an exhibition on the horizon, I try to keep a standard schedule and put in a full eight hours, five days a week.
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
I sometimes joke with friends that I’ve been painting the same painting my entire life; but really my work has evolved considerably over the last five years. My color palette and technical approach have been refined considerably; I re-incorporated photography and digital compositing, in addition to the new use of mono printing to create deep creases and folds in my paper based works.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
My family’s support has always been a driving force in my work; I was never made to question whether being an artist was a wise choice. My father is a percussionist and university professor; both he and my mother were supportive early on (and are still my favorite people to walk through a museum with). My grandmother was an oil painter (I still have a tube of her Viridian Green). My parents and my sister always fly out for my openings, which I am very grateful for. A writer I find great inspiration in is John Berger, whose work “The Shape of a Pocket” I periodically reread. Lastly, I am indebted to many talented artist friends in Los Angeles and abroad.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
Since I was young, I have had a very strong connection to dance; I realized after a period that I didn’t have the proper footing for a ballet career, and have maintained a myopic interest in visual art ever since.
Kim Kei (b. 1981 Corpus Christi, TX) received her BFA from San Francisco Art Institute in 2003. Kei will be participating in the AIR Program at Instinc Singapore in 2015. She has had solo exhibitions at Alter Space, Bustamante Gill (Curated by C. Feign Jr.,Los Angeles), and will exhibit at Oxholm Gallery (Copenhagen) in 2016. Kim lives and works in Los Angeles.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.