Interview with Kelly Vivanco for “Betwixt and Between”

Thinkspace Projects is pleased to present Betwixt and Between featuring new works new works by Canadian artist Sarah Joncas and Southern Californian artist Kelly Vivanco. Both artists are known for their narrative-based works that embrace the imaginative potential of the subconscious and creatively play with elements of the surreal drawings on feelings of nostalgia whether it be hopeful or melancholy.  In anticipation of the exhibition opening, Saturday, January 6th, our interview with Kelly Vivanco shares her insight about growing as an artist, favorite fable, and plans for 2018.

Opening reception, Saturday, January 6th from 6 pm to 9 pm. 

SH: How long have you been working on this latest body of work? What themes were you exploring?
KV: It’s hard to tell if themes come before a show or emerge during sketching and painting the pieces. Months before, I look through my collection of old photographs, random art-crafts-animal-birds-picture books and an ever-growing mass of odd bits I’ve dredged from the internet. It sits up in my noggin’ and slowly tangles, making connections and snarls like a hoarder’s dreamcatcher until I start to paint. Atmosphere, feeling and theme comes out then. Like I said, I can’t tell if it comes before or during — it’s very chicken and egg.

SH: The key to a fable is that it teaches you a lesson. What is one of your favorite fables, and have you been able to master the lesson it taught you or do you still struggle?
KV: A lot of my favorite fables teach you things like — all stepmothers are evil, grandmothers should shave lest they be confused with wolves, or a prince’s kiss is an approved method of CPR. Others teach a more general — treat people how you’d want to be treated, which is a great message. I don’t try to add any story or message to my paintings, even though my pieces can appear illustrative, it’s up to the viewer to add their own interpretation.

SH: What is your favorite part of the creative process? What is your least favorite part?
KV: The best part — getting totally lost in creating, losing track of time and space and everything. Losing who I am and all my fears and worries. The worst part — letting my fears and worries get to me afterward, second-guessing everything I’ve done, looking at other peoples’ work and success and judging myself in comparison. I guess that’s not strictly part of the creative process, but it is part of the process of putting something out there.

SH: What inspires the environment that you end up building around your composition? Does the subject come first, or the environment that the subject inhabits?
KV: Where the subject is situated is important to the whole painting, whether she is at a Dodger’s game or in a box comforting Schrodinger’s cat or in a lush garden, it changes the view of who she is. But it goes both ways, she is viewed in the context of where she is, but also her environment is viewed in the context of who she is.

SH: The girls in your paintings have a very wide-eyed childlike quality to them, what are the values and ideals they’d carry by the time they grew to be women?
SL: I just hope that they keep their wonder even through everything it takes to grow into a woman these days.

SH: When painting are you listening to music or podcasts? Can you share what you’ve been listening too?
SL: At the beginning, at the critical stage, when I am trying to get totally lost in the pieces, I listen to music, like — Boards of Canada, Yppah, Tycho. I also listen to movie soundtracks, like — Thomas Newman, The Neon Demon by Cliff Martinez or Ramin Djawadi’s Game of Thrones. Or whatever random music pops up on YouTube. When I’m finishing off the paintings, during the less creative stages, I listen to podcasts like The Bugle and TV shows that I can follow along without having to watch the screen. For me, some of these pieces will be inexplicably linked to The Office and Toast of London.

SH: How do you continue to challenge yourself as an artist and remain excited about the work you produce, without alienating your collectors and followers?
SL: I think staying the same can alienate collectors and followers as much as changing too much. I’d like to grow as much as I can, evolving in a natural way. It’s easy to paint the same thing again and again and get into that kind of pattern, it’s a lot harder to push yourself beyond that. I guess that’s why they refer to it as “push yourself” and not “laze yourself” or “drool-on-your-snuggies-while-watching-repeats-of-storage-wars yourself”. I despair sometimes when I look at my body of work that I’m repeating myself — same girls and birds and orangutang, like everyone, is doing — but despairing is part of what pushes you to do something newer and better.

SH: Who would you want to collaborate with, dead or alive? The person can be in any area of the arts; film, dance, music, etc.
KV: I always thought it would be cool to collaborate with a costume maker. I would like to see some of the clothing my characters wear come to life.

SH: You sometimes create works with wood carvings or pieces that have a more sculptural element. Do you cut those pieces yourself or do you collaborate with someone to help create that vision?
KV: I collaborate with my husband, Peter, on those pieces. He makes such wonderful panels for me to paint on and frames to finish some work off. He always does something that is complementary to the piece or something that inspires me.

SH: When not in the studio, what would an ideal day look like?
SL: A civilized day of croissants, coffee, reading or walking and exploring someplace new.

SH: What do you think the role of art / the artist is in society?
SL: It goes from the gamut of a pretty thing that matches the couch to a mirror that really makes us look at how society is acting. There are artists like Josh Keyes doing that for the environment, or writers like Margaret Atwood that have been doing it for years — or the show based off her show — The Handmaid’s Tale. I think as people, not just artists we all want to change things for the better. Anything that makes us feel something or use our brains is a good thing.

SH: Kicking off the new year with an exhibition is a great way to start 2018! What are your artistic plans for the rest of the year?
SL: I am curating an eight-by-eight show at Distinction art gallery in February and I have a solo show this November at Rotofugi in Chicago. Other than that I plan to play around with my grown-up version of a box of crayons and a pad of paper as much as I possibly can.

Interview with Scott Listfield for “1984”

Scott Listfield’s latest body of work of hyper-realistic oil painting inspired by Orwell’s 1984 and his own childhood memories of the 80’s kick off Thinkspace’s 2018 project room. The single astronaut who explores various landscape eliciting self-reflection from the viewer takes a time jump to a world once familiar and distant, with an unsettling familiarity. Our interview with Scott Listfield dives deeper into the inspiration behind the show, those who have influenced his artistic growth, and posthumous collaboration.

Opening reception Saturday, January 6th from 6 pm – 9 pm.

SH: How long have you been working on this latest body of work? What themes were you exploring?
SL: Well, I’ve been painting astronauts since 1999 which, considering how fast things move these days, is basically the dawn of time. I’ve been thinking about this particular series, though, for probably about a year now. In January 0f 2017, the George Orwell novel 1984 jumped to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list, which seemed a bit curious to me, since it was written in 1949 and all. So I’d be thinking about doing a set of paintings about what 1984 meant in 2017, which touched on themes from the book, referenced the wave of nostalgia for the 80’s that we always seem to be in, pulled from memories I had as a kid growing up in the 80’s, but also maybe talked about the world we’re living in today. That’s already kind of a lot to throw into one group of paintings, so of course, I decided to also add in some references to popular music, a recurring Lamborghini Countach, and a whole hell of a lot of stripes. And it probably took me about 3-4 months to finish all the work.

SH: What is your favorite band, movie, and TV show from the 80’s?
SL: For those of you too young to remember the 80’s, it was pretty much exactly like Stranger Things. We all had BMX bikes, bowl cuts, and there was an inter-dimensional demon in our hometowns that we had to destroy. Just like Bruce Springsteen used to sing about. Anyhow, if I’m going to pick my favorites from that era, I feel like I have to choose the things that were most important to me then. Which means you’re getting 8-year-old Scott’s favorites, not necessarily the things that still resonate with me most today. Although, now that I think about it, maybe they’re the same list.

Band: Michael Jackson. Movie: Return of the Jedi. TV Show: Transformers (the cartoon, obviously).

SH: What is your favorite part of the creative process? What is your least favorite part?
SL: My favorite part is making paintings. My least favorite part is not making paintings.

SH: When painting are you listening to music or podcasts? Can you share what you were listening to while developing this body of work?
SL: I used to listen to music while in the studio, but as I’ve gotten older, and increasingly bewildered by young people’s tastes in music, I find myself listening to more podcasts. But I do still listen to a fair bit of music while I’m painting, and I had new albums by Cut Copy, Action Bronson, Yellow Days, LCD Soundsystem, and King Krule in circulation in the studio, alongside some 80’s hits by Duran Duran, Michael Jackson, Phil Collins, and Hall and Oates, which put me in the proper 1984 type of mood. As for podcasts, I listen to The Jealous Curator’s “Art For Your Ear,” one of my favorite art podcasts, and “Beyond Yacht Rock,” a podcast about yacht rock and other made up genres of music, by the guys who first coined the term, among others.

SH: Who has been one of the most influential people in your artistic development? Have they shared any advice with you other artists can apply to their work or journey?
SL: Oh jeez, I know I’m supposed to name a teacher or a mentor or something, and then fill everybody in on the most profound thing they ever said, which still resonates with me years later. But I don’t have a figure like that in my life, or at least not exactly. For a brief time in college, I became very good friends with a guy who was a couple years older than me and who had, unlike me at the time, lived a little. He had seen some things. Truthfully, he wasn’t exactly a great artist, but he was an extremely smart guy, and he told me a bunch of things I’m still unpacking years later. His name was Chris Ostoj, and unfortunately, he died young, which is sadly the way a lot of the most important people go. He used to look at my paintings and tell me, very seriously, to “Be more punk rock.” At the time, I’ll admit I didn’t exactly know what that meant, but it certainly seemed pretty bad ass, so I wrote it on my studio wall and repeated it to myself every now and again. After a while, I think I got it. And then I kind of stopped getting it. But hey, do with it what you will.

A little later on in my life, when I first started painting astronauts, I met my wife. She was my girlfriend at the time, of course, which is how that works, usually. She had studied illustration in school, while I had studied fine arts. Those two things are taught very differently, as it turns out. She looked at what I was doing, which involved essentially zero prep work and zero research and zero patience and 100% fucking around, and told me, in no uncertain terms, that I was stupid. And she was right. I learned to stop wasting time and get fucking serious about things.

Later still I met my friend Wes. It was at a time when I was making paintings of astronauts largely to throw in the back of a closet or perhaps to hang exclusively in my own home. Let’s just say that there was not exactly a lot of demand for my work back then. I was working a day job and it was hard to carve out the time to keep making paintings that almost nobody cared about. Every artist reaches this point, some many times, where they start thinking about hanging it up. Is it worth the time and the effort? Do I still like doing this enough to keep plugging away at it, even though it might never lead anywhere? I was at that point. My friend Wes would come over to my house, get kinda drunk, blunder into my studio, and proceed to tell me that he thought my paintings were better than the ones he had seen in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. He was wrong of course, and when he’d get into VERY DRUNK territory he had trouble pronouncing “Hermitage.” But at a time in my life that I needed someone to believe in my art, he was there.

SH: In the few paintings we’ve seen so far, the astronaut doesn’t seem to be as isolated as previous works. Was this a conscious choice or only our perception?
SL: Well, there are certainly more people in these paintings, although they mostly appear in the form of large billboards with the faces of Madonna and Lionel Ritchie and Huey Lewis on them. I also included, I think for the first time, a secondary recurring character – the mysterious Lamborghini Countach which appears in a number of the paintings from this show. But you never see who’s driving the car, and it’s not clear if they’re somehow aligned with our protagonist, or just lingering maliciously in the background. These also all take place in a world that feels more artificial than my normal paintings. Pink and purple skies stripes raining down from above. I don’t know, but I actually feel like the astronaut might be even more isolated in these than my previous works.

SH: Who would you want to collaborate with, dead or alive? The person can be in any area of the arts; film, dance, music, etc.
SL: Wow, I can choose a dead person? Like, I’ll take dead Einstein? Oh wait, you said arts. Huh. To be honest, I don’t do a lot of collaborating, because I’m one of those creative loner types. When I do, on occasion, though, I prefer to work with someone I consider a peer. Because the work has to make sense together, right? And if I’m being honest, I would have trouble working with someone a lot more famous than me, or a lot more dead than me, or especially both. Like if I worked with zombie Picasso and the entire art world was super excited he had come back from the dead but then they were also all like “Uh, why is zombie Picasso working with this guy who paints astronauts? Was zombie Matisse available? Or living Jeff Koons at least?”

Anyhow, let’s go with Stanley Kubrick. Or Pharell. Can I say both? Wait, David Attenborough. Final answer.

SH: When not in the studio, what would an ideal day look like?
SL: I mean, I like to be in the studio and, like a lot of artists, I tend to get a bit itchy when I’m not. But I also like to travel, and seeing new things and places and people do inspire me, both personally and artistically. So I’d say, flying off to someplace warm, exploring a city I know only a little bit, and grabbing an ice cream cone with my wife. Or, you know, fighting ninjas. One or the other.

SH: What do you think the role of art / the artist is in society?
SL: Well, that’s a big question. I hate to be simplistic, but isn’t our role to make some art? Do people ask accountants “What do you think the role of accounting is in society?” What about baristas, or systems analysts, or Uber drivers? Actually, maybe they do. But I feel like artists, more so than most, are always questioning our place in the world. And why is that? Do we need to play a role in society, or can we just, you know, make some art? And who am I to explain in one or two really long run on sentences what role all the other artists in the world should be playing?

I’m just a guy who paints astronauts. Sometimes an astronaut with a cool car in the background. Sometimes an astronaut with like, oh shit, is that Hall and Oates? And sometimes an astronaut, and somebody looking at it stops for a moment, in the middle of everything else that is going on right now in their life, and maybe or maybe not there’s something in that painting that makes them think about the world we’re all living in together just a tiny bit different. And they feel a little more connected to something, or someone, or the things I’m saying, or trying to say, in my paintings resonates with them, in some small or large way. And maybe they think about buying it, and taking it home with them, to live with, forever and ever. Or maybe they don’t. Maybe they just smile. Or maybe they ignore it and scroll to the next thing in their Instagram feed. And hey, that’s fine. I’m just making some paintings of astronauts. I hope some people like them.

So yeah. I’m answering this question in the most roundabout way possible. Of course, we have a role to play. But I’m not the one who says what it is. That’s for each of us to figure out on our own.

SH: Kicking off the new year with an exhibition is a great way to start 2018! What are your artistic plans for the rest of the year?
SL: So I am very excited to be kicking off 2018 with a show of my work that feels to me like it’s pushing things forward a bit. It’s kind of dark in tone but exceptionally bright in color. It’s politically timely but set in the 80’s. Working on these paintings did feel like the next step for me, and I’m excited to see how it shapes my paintings coming up. I’m sure I’ll spend 2018 painting more astronauts. I’ll be doing a little something with Spoke in San Francisco in June, and a show with the very talented painter Josie Morway at Antler Gallery in Portland in the fall.



Interview with James Marshall “Dalek” for The Space Monkey Returns!

Thinkspace Projects is pleased to present The Space Monkey Returns featuring new works by North Carolina-based artist James Marshall. Also known by his mutant cyborg epithet “Dalek,” an ode to the classic sci-fi British series Doctor Who. In anticipation of the exhibition opening, Saturday, December 2nd, we have an interview with James Marshall aka Dalek discussing the evolution of the Space Monkey and how he continues to challenge himself as an artist.

Opening Reception:
Saturday, December 2, 2017
6:00pm – 9:00pm

SH: Why do you think the Space Monkey has resonated with people so much?
JM: Maybe because it’s so representational of what is fascinating about humanity. I’d ideally hope that people can see a lot of the humor in it that is part of their own experiences through life. We sort of have to embrace the absurdity of our own stupidity as we stumble through navigating endless nuances.

SH: What is your favorite thing about being an artist? What do you think the role of art / the artist is in society?
JM: I just like making art. It’s fun for me. therapeutic in a way to relay a lot of my thoughts..but more so a way to keep my hands busy and mind occupied. Art/artist have always and will always be important to connect the dots of cultural shifts and the human experience. its connective tissue for the larger organism. that develops and delivers complex experiential layers into clear tangible objects.. how people relate to art is how it connects to their own lives. It gives meaning… it gives a voice… power and so on.

SH: Who has been one of the most influential people in your artistic development? Have they shared any advice with you other artists can apply to their work or journey?
JM: Me…and I only say that in so far as I need to remind myself constantly to stay motivated and push what I’m doing. Sometimes consciously, sometimes subconsciously…everyone’s journey is different. So I just try to keep focused on whats important to me and my own development as a person, and therefore as an artist.

SH: I know it’s old news, but for many, they were not aware at one point you were a studio assistant for Murakami. One choice story or a bit of wisdom from him that has stuck with you, that you’d care to share?
JM: No, it was a long time ago and hasn’t been relevant to my life in ages. I learned some technical stuff that helped me get organized, but ultimately I modified things to suit my needs.

SH: Who were some of your favorite punk bands when growing up?
JM: Oh man, Minor Threat for sure, The Freeze, Ill Repute, Scream, Dead Kennedys, Agent Orange, The Faction.

SH: How do you continue to challenge yourself as an artist?
JM: I just know I need to challenge myself. I’ve never been cool with going through the motions in any aspect of life, part of why I dropped Space Monkey years ago, didn’t feel I had anywhere to take it given my skill sets. I’ve learned a lot since then and it made sense to revisit it, I got excited by it again and I’m sure it’ll wear thin again…maybe? We’ll see, I just keep trying to teach myself how to paint how to understand color better, just the basics. Maybe once I figure that out I’ll get rolling. Without a doubt, I still feel like I haven’t really learned to paint yet, too many distractions in life and making art just isn’t my main focus. So maybe one day it will be and I’ll crank out some stuff.

SH: Your work really translates a love for color. What is your favorite color, and how many paint colors do you have in your studio? Do you mix them yourself?
JM: Yeah. Just trying to learn color, mixing them helps. I have a couple hundred right now, don’t have a favorite really, they are all good. Depends on the mood, day of the week and so on.

SH: Are you detail-oriented and a geometry nerd outside of your work, or is all the neurosis tapped out on the canvas?
JM: No, I gotta have things certain ways, there is a lot of that in my day to day life.

SH: Do you remember the first sticker you created of the Space Monkey? If so, do you have an image of it you can share?
JM: It was a long time ago… Shepard Fairey helped me make stickers back in 97 or maybe it was 98, anyhow…no photos…not that I have anyways.

SH: Who do you think everyone should look up?
JM: That’s a broad question, they should look up anyone that they want. I could name a million things, relevant to different aspects of what I find interesting in the world. It probably wouldn’t be an artist. Let’s be honest, for all artist do, it’s nowhere near as fascinating as what scientist or people in other exploratory fields contribute to the growth and development of our species.

SH: What about other artists’ work excites or fascinates you?
JM: Hard to’s just a reaction.. usually based on whether something is interesting or not.. so much shit in this world is boring and unoriginal.. so i just like people who actually have something striking to say. Honesty always comes through in art or anything really, so if it feels genuine, it’s good. Too many posers out there.

SH: Whom would you want to collaborate with, dead or alive? The person can be in any area of the arts; film, dance, music, etc.
JM: Walt Disney probably.

SH: When not in the studio, what would an ideal day look like?
JM: Hanging with the family, that’s all I like to do when I’m not painting and watch Duke basketball.

Interview with Icy and Sot for “Human (Nature)”

Icy and Sot’s Human (Nature) is the first solo exhibition and full gallery takeover by the internationally acclaimed Iranian, Brooklyn-based artist-activist duo. A collection of work ranging from sculptures to stencils, the duos breadth of talent shows in Human (Nature).   Below is our interview with the artists discussing the inspiration behind the exhibition, the role of art in society, and what it’s like to work and create alongside one’s brother.

Make sure to check out Human (Nature) on view now through November 25th.

SH: What is the inspiration behind this latest body of work?
I & S: The inspiration comes from the nature where we always find peace and inspiration for our work, its so sad to see the planet crying now, with all these natural disasters happening every other week recently its trying to say something. We need to listen and respect it more than ever now, we have destroyed so much of it already that we can’t repair or even stop it. But we can give the planet a longer life, by caring more about it and by doing something, the impact can be small but if all of us try we will have [a better] chance.

We only recycle 1 of every 5 water bottles. We all should try to use less and less plastic in our life. Every single piece of plastic that has ever been created since the 19th century its still somewhere on our planet. Plastic is killing the planet and our health, there is just too much plastic floating around in rivers, seas and oceans; our usage of plastic ends up in our food chain and back again on our plates, when eating fish and sea food.

SH: There is clearly a higher risk involved in creating street art in Iran versus America or Europe, how has that risk-informed your art?
I & S: Yes in some ways. Graffiti and Street art is illegal in Iran and America or Europe, the main difference is that there is no legal form of street art in Iran like mural festivals or legal walls, its been always underground and illegal, other difference is if you get caught they could label you as political activist even if your work is not politically charged.

All the works we did in Iran were usually painted over less than a week sometimes overnight, that made us to be even more active and start to make work about censorship and other issues in the country, that kinda activism remain in us, although we are based in country with more freedom, but there are so many issues that need to be spoken!

SH: Tell us what you feel is your brother’s artistic strength and how he helps you be a better artist (a reply from each would be great here).
I & S: We started working together, don’t think we could have continued if we didn’t have each other,
we always supported each other from the very beginning, working in Iran and Migrating to a new country.
We learned faster, we worked faster, its great to brainstorm about ideas together, we start with a simple idea, and we can build it up, its so much easier to make dissection together, we have the same thoughts, interests, we are basically one artist together.

SH: What is your collaborative process like with gallery pieces versus murals?
I & S: They are both the same, we start with the idea, and we both work on it until we complete it.

SH: Since you’re a collaborative team, how do you resolve conflicts or come together on a piece when the other person is resistant or doesn’t like the direction.
I & S: We have a drink and try to find a way that we both think is better

SH: Can you walk us through a day in the studio?
I & S: We don’t have big studio, we start work from home with catching up with emails and planing our day in the studio, we usually walk or bike to the studio and start working on whatever project we have coming up, always listing to music while working , the creative time is usually at night when we brainstorm together and work on ideas

SH: In Iran, to leave the country, you must serve in the military. You both were studying at University before deciding to join the military in order to travel and work. Was that an easy decision to make? Can you elaborate on how having to make a decision like that motivates the art and work you do?
 I & S: Yes that was a very easy decision to make, since our passion was what we were doing, and it was hard to continue and work as an artist in Iran, the hard decision was when we wanted to get asylum and stay in NY knowing that we can’t go back home, we making decision like that we proved ourself that we can always continue what we love to do and never stop.

SH: What do you think the role of the artists in society is? Why are you both artists?
I & S: Art can definitely contribute to change in society, especially public art because it has more and diverse viewers, We try to give the audience the opportunity to imagine a better world. The impact a piece has on the course of someone’s day may be small, but it’s still an impact. 
We believe the role of the artist is to advocate for the freedom and the hope of the general public and raise awareness about the issues happening in their time.

We didn’t start as an artist; we didn’t know we will be doing this for our whole life and get where we are now, so it was kinda natural.

SH: What is one of your most memorable pieces to date?
I & S: “Let Her be Free”

SH: When not in the studio, what would an ideal day look like?
I & S: Either going to hiking and camping in nature or hanging out / parting with friends.

Interview with Andy Kehoe for “PRISMATIC”

Thinkspace is proud to present PRISMATIC from Pittsburg-based artist Andy Kehoe. PRISMATIC is a body of work that speaks to both the freedom and fear of the unknown. Through the prisms of fantasy and imagination, Kehoe considers the variegated nature of mixed perceptions that shape our endless versions of experience. In our interview with Kehoe, we discuss his evolving creative process and technique as he approaches each new piece; in addition to dreams and desire for collaboration.

Kehoe’s work is best experienced in person.
Make sure to come into the gallery during PRISMATIC‘s showing from now through October 21st.

SH: What is the inspiration behind PRISMATIC? Are you exploring a specific theme or narrative?
AK: Throughout my career, my goal has been to create a sense of wonder, mystery, and grandeur. I feel my recent work has really started to tap into those facets of emotion so with PRISMATIC, my goal was to take those themes and emotions to another level visually and conceptually.

On the surface, PRISMATIC applies an expanding color palette and use of a greater range of color than in previous work. I also used some iridescent and pearlescent paints that give the paintings a physical shimmering and glow when seen in person. Visually, I wanted this show to be bold and vibrant. Beyond the surface, I wanted the pieces to expose the hidden layers of reality that surround us.

Until the discovery of the spectrum of light using prisms, humans accepted the idea of light being white and colorlessness. It was initially accepted that the prism colored light, when in fact it separates it and reveals the entire color spectrum. This spectrum extends beyond what we can observe with the naked eye and even what we label as “color.” This makes me wonder what other layers exist around us and are neglected due to our limited understanding. What other mysteries can we not yet see?

There are very few natural things that occur in a singular or even dual reality. There is no black and white, but in fact, a multitude of gray or “in-between.” For example, there is no pure emotion, motive, or perspective. Almost everything in existence is beautifully and sometimes maddeningly layered. I have been working with layers for many years, even before the use of resin, and my work continues to progress technically and conceptually. While I don’t have the ability to explain the mysteries of the universe in a practical or scientific sense, I do possess imagination. I see imagination as a gift to help explain the mysteries of reality and expand beyond what is known. I’ve always been interested in the concept of a multiverse but my work looks at this idea through the prism of fantasy and imagination. The world I create is layers of imagined universes and though those universes are more apparent, they are no less mysterious.

Technically, I wanted to put more focus on painting for this show. I have learned a lot working with resin over the last few years but mostly I have learned I prefer working with resin primarily as a medium itself. I wanted to refocus the work to the techniques and textures I can create and not just the three-dimensional elements of resin. By applying pigments and wet paint in the uncured resin, I am able to create an organic chaos I could not bring out just working with oils. That kind of uncontrollable randomness is very hard to consciously create because no matter what, my mere human mind always tries to create order. It brings an intriguing juxtaposition when combined with the very calculated and ordered parts of my work. For this show, I made the decision to use fewer layers of resin so I could spend more time painting within each layer. This allowed me to bring more detail, attention, and care to each individual layer. It also allowed me to work larger due to the overall weight of the resin. My early resin pieces were very heavy and cumbersome. As my imagination and ideas continue to grow, the larger format allows the universes to breathe and exist. That being said, the thin resin sill adds an amazing amount of depth but I’d be wary to call it three-dimensional.

SH: Nature is a strong element in your work, have any of your pieces been inspired by a specific place?
AK: I wouldn’t say there’s any specific place. A lot of influence definitely comes from growing up in western Pennsylvania and having access to a big forest in our backyard. My brother, Ben, and I used to run around those woods like wild animals. Exploring the mystery of the woods as a kid certainly stuck with me. In 2010, I moved back to Pittsburgh from Portland. The move home was a cross-country tour of amazing national parks like Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Devils Tour, and the Badlands. I was blown away by the grandeur of it all and those sights certainly left a lasting impression.

SH: As your work tends to address the elements of the “unknown,” what unknown is most daunting to you?
AK: I don’t see the unknown as daunting. The unknown is, of course, very terrifying by nature, but it’s also equally inspirational and wondrous. The cosmos has an incomprehensible scope and magnitude that generates both fear and awe. That emotional duality will always inspire me and spark my imagination. I definitely try to evoke that feeling through my own work and it’s a major reason that I was drawn to adding cosmic elements to my paintings. (Aside from it being really fun to paint!)

SH: What is your creative process? Can you walk us through a day in the studio?
AK: When I’m working on a show, I usually wake up, make some decaf coffee (regular coffee betrayed me and now makes me feel like death), give the dog and cats some treats, cook some eggs, and check up on emails and other mundane administrative things. Then I’ll go up to the studio and formulate some sort of game plan for the day. Because I work on several pieces at once, and each of those pieces consists of a few layers of resin, every day is a singular adventure.

A normal day can consist of working out concepts with writing and sketching, cutting masks for airbrush, applying clear base acrylic layers to new resin layers, experimenting with some new materials, taking pieces down to the basement for airbrushing, and of course, some actual oil painting. Some layers take a while to paint and sometimes I spend a whole day on one piece, but I usually end up working on a few different pieces in a single day. If there are any pieces that are ready for a new layer of resin, I’ll usually do this towards the end of my workday. I close out my night by putting on headphones and washing all the brushes I used throughout the day. That task can be pretty daunting and it’s tempting to skip, but I love waking up the next day with a fresh set of brushes to work with.

SH: We know you continue to challenge yourself as an artist with each body of work, but was there a specific piece in this exhibition you feel unexpectedly challenged you or took you on an unexpected journey?
AK: The most challenging piece for this show was Worlds Apart. I wanted to somehow create two different worlds existing at once, on different layers, and have them blend into each other. Somehow. Logistically, it took a ton planning and brainstorming. This was done mostly by staring at the piece for hours and wondering how the hell I was going to pull it off. I spent a lot time tinkering and improvising and, by the end, many of the initial conceptual elements were shifted and readjusted. It was also hard to know how things would come together until I painted the very last layer. There were some very tense and uncertain times with that piece, but I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.

SH: In past interviews, you’ve shared that you have very vivid dreams. Do you have recurring dreams or locations? What is your earliest dream memory?
AK: Yes. My dreams are very epic. Haha. I have all types of dreams. Sometimes I have action packed dreams full of guns, explosions, and impossible odds of capturing a bad guy or saving the world. I also have dreams that could be considered nightmares, usually consisting of an ominous and unseen threat closing down on me, and those around me. Those dreams are pretty frightening but also very intriguing and exciting.

Mostly I find myself wandering around strange, alluring landscapes. I’ve seen so many amazing and indescribable places in my dreams and I can only remember fleeting glimpses of them. They’re impossible to verbalize and properly explain, but I do attempt to evoke the feelings these places give me. Some of these places I do revisit in dreams, and one specific landscape is what inspired the piece Reoccurring Shores. In my dream, I find myself facing a vast, quiet ocean from a snow-covered, rocky shoreline. I am always there at the very end of sunset or the very beginning of sunrise. I am not sure where this place exists but it feels like the very bottom of the world, as far as you can be from civilization. The salty ocean air is so crisp, cold, and clean and the only sound is the gentle lapping of small waves on the shore. It’s an overlap of profound tranquility and a frightening feeling of utter isolation. I feel so small and so wonderfully insignificant in this place and I reminisce of it often in my waking hours. I have wanted to capture this image for a long time and this painting feels very close but to truly capture it, I think the painting would have to been around 20 feet while keeping the character the same size. One day.

SH: How have you grown as an artist in the last 5 years and how do you hope to grow in the following 5?
AK: There has definitely been a learning curve with the resin. I feel like I’ve figured out so much by using it over the last 5 years. Being more comfortable with the resin has allowed me to focus more on the actual art and less on the process itself. This has been really energizing for me. PRISMATIC is more ambitious because it was less about experimentation with resin alone but the combination of all of my skills and tools I have learned and practiced. I am also more comfortable painting on resin and it feels great to bring back those techniques. Truly mixing my old ways with the new and continuing to learn so much with every piece I make. I hope to continue using those lessons and keep pushing my work into new territories. On top of the technical growth, I’ve also grown as a human being, and continue to expand my mental horizons. That definitely has a profound impact on the direction of my artwork.

I really want to do more collaborative work in the future. Working from home as an independent artist can get pretty isolating. I know there is no way I could work on a project and paint everything manually so I plan to take some digital painting classes. I’ve always wanted to be good at digital painting and I’ve tried to figure it out on my own, but I’m so damn used to the feel of brushes and mixing paint on a palette. I know I can persevere; I’ll just have to get some expert education. Plus I have some other personal projects that I want to spend some time on, and being able to do digital conceptual art would be very handy.

SH: What about another artists’ work excites or fascinates you? Who do you think everyone should look up?
AK: I love a mix of good craftsmanship with art that is still mysterious and imaginative. If it’s well made and makes me think, “What the hell is going on in this person’s mind?” I’ll likely be attracted to it. Having a unique visual style goes a long way, but having a distinct and defining voice is more important to me. Essentially, artwork that’s comfortable in its own skin. Some specific artists that come to mind are Aron Weisenfeld, Esao Andrews, Femke Hiemstra, AJ Fosik, and Martin Wittfooth. There are plenty more, but it would take way too long to list them.

SH: What was playing in the background during the creation of this body of work? Does what you listen to inform the mood of the pieces or are they separate?
AK: It’s a constant mix of music, podcasts, and audiobooks. I really like working to music in headphones. It puts me in the zone and I become immersed in the work. I actually picked up some nice wireless headphones for this show because my corded headphones kept getting caught on things in my studio, my drafting table chair being the main culprit. Nothing tears you out of a good creative session (or inspires a quick, hot rage) like having headphones suddenly ripped off your head. In the beginning concept stage, I zone out to ambient, non-vocal music. Later on, I move on to whatever albums fit my current mood. Music can definitely add to the mood of a piece I’m working on, and sometimes it’s just something to fall into and be creatively motivated by.

Audiobooks are a huge part of my listening regimen. I usually listen to 15-20 audiobooks per show. I mostly listen to fantasy books and series with a sprinkling of non-fiction and general fiction. The fantasy genre consists of a lot of descriptive world building, which inspires my imagination and puts me in a good creative mood. It also helps me push through more tedious parts of paintings, such as endless straight hours of trees and grass painting.

SH: Who would you want to collaborate with, dead or alive? The person can be in any area of the arts; film, dance, music etc.
AK: My ultimate dream is to animate a story of my own creation, and I’ve been writing my own story, on and off, over the last few years. That being said, the ability to work with some of my current favorite authors like Brandon Sanderson, Scott Lynch, or Patrick Rothfuss would be amazingly insightful. I’d also love to collaborate with J.K. Rowling so she could inject magic and humanity into it, and could help me name my characters. She has the best names. If I could work on a personal animation project, it would more likely be influenced by filmmaking than animation, so I’d like to pick the brains of my favorite auteurs like P.T. Anderson, Wong Kar Wai, Guillermo del Toro, Stanley Kubrick, Alfonso Cuaron, and Wes Anderson. Terrence Malick can also throw some philosophical tidbits my way and make me contemplate the war of man and nature.

As for painters, I don’t think I’d want to collaborate as much as be a fly on the wall and observe some masters like Bosch, Bruegel, Goya, or Caspar David Friedrich. To see their processes and techniques from conception to completion would be astoundingly fascinating and enlightening.

SH: When not in the studio, what would an ideal day look like?
AK: My studio is at home, so sometimes it feels impossible to get away from work. For that reason, I try my best to take Sunday as a day of guilt-free slacking. Those days usually consist of hanging with my wife and the animals, playing some video games or board games, watching some good TV or a movie, and ignoring email at all costs.