Interview with Kayla Mahaffey for ‘Deconstructed’

Thinkspace is pleased to present Deconstructed featuring new work by Kayla Mahaffey.

Mahaffey’s unique blend of illustrative elements with brilliant photo-realism has made her a sought after artist. Her work giving a voice to the unheard stories of contemporary youth and, as explained by the artist, “serves as a guide to bring hope back into our daily lives by cherishing each moment not in the mindset of an adult, but with the fresh eyes and imagination of a child.” 

In anticipation of Deconstructed, our interview with Kayla Mahaffey explores her favorite cartoons, who she’d want to jump on a Zoom call with, and her creative process.

SH: For those not familiar with your work, can you tell us a little bit about your background?

KM: I was born in1994 in Chicago, IL on the southside. My style and subject matter has evolved over the years to something I can say that I’m extremely proud of. These portraits connect with me personally through my own experiences of my childhood and by the many people I’ve come across in my life. My style is a juxtaposition of rendered figures and portraiture with 2d elements (like cartoons).  My topics range from mental health and society issues, to the trials and tribulations of our youth, that are mashed up perfectly with a colorful backdrop to tell the story from. 

SH: What is the inspiration behind this latest body of work?

KM: My inspiration for my new body of work came from something I’m very passionate about, mental health. All of the paintings are about the idea of unraveling our thoughts and peeling down the layers of our mind to find the cause of what’s internally affecting us.  Strings, ribbons, twines, etc. acted as the glue to bind or secure the figure from coming undone and to show how fragile we can be at times. 

SH: What was the most challenging piece in the exhibition and why?

KM: The most challenging piece of the exhibition has to be “Bind.” It wasn’t necessarily the hardest painting process, but figuring out how I wanted the composition planned out and what feeling and visual I wanted to convey did lead to many difficulties.

SH: What is your most and least favorite part of the creative process?

KM: My favorite part of my process would be the sketching phase and lining stage.  Making thumbnails in the beginning of every painting always gets me excited to create each future painting and helps me envision the final product. While outlining the 2d elements happens closer to the final stage. It can be very therapeutic and really ties everything together in the end.

My least favorite part of the process would be filling all the solid colors in my 2d elements. It can be very time consuming and tedious. Especially when you want the colors to be completely opaque and saturated. I feel like I’m doing paint by numbers, which can be truly mind-numbing. 

SH: Who are some of your creative influences?

KM: Kerry James Marshall and James Jean

SH: Why is it that in some work we only see the whites of people’s eyes? Is there a symbolic difference between those who do and don’t have their iris painted?

KM: My older paintings mostly had figures with white eyes. It was most prevalent in adult figures but was featured on a few kids from time to time. This represented those who were ignorant to the truth and oblivious to what was happening around them. They were spiritually lost but searching in all the wrong places. 

Including white eyes is all in the past for my newer paintings, but it may or may not have a comeback. It almost represents a kind of revelation amongst the figures as if they’ve not only found a new purpose, but also a new path. They can see what is going on around them and know now how to move forward.

SH: Your work has such playfulness in it and a love of shapes, colors, patterns – What were some of your favorite cartoons growing up? What’s a favorite game you love or loved to play?

KM: My favorite cartoons growing up was anything Warner Bros., Sailor Moon, Power Puff Girls, Dexter Laboratory, and Scooby-Doo. My go-to games back in my day was anything Mario or Super Smash Bros. related.

SH: We are in the middle of a global pandemic, it’s an unprecedented time, and it’s a weird time – What is your approach to life during this time? Are you sticking to routines, or making it up as we go? What does quarantine life look like for you?

KM: During these rough times, I’m just doing what I do best — making art and staying indoors. I’ve always been a home-body and that still hasn’t changed much. I wake up, get ready, eat some breakfast, exercise, stay hydrated, and binge shows while painting.  My schedule has stayed pretty much the same. I would say for those looking on ways to approach these unprecedented times, stay healthy, stay positive, and cherish those around you that you hold dear. 

SH: Favorite thing you’ve watched, listened to, and ate in the last 30 days?

KM: My favorite thing I’ve watched in the last 30 days was the start of season 3 of Westworld.  Recently, I’ve been listening to two artists Bree Runway and Moses Sumney on repeat. My favorite thing I’ve eaten recently has to be my mom’s salmon croquettes. 

SH: What is the most rewarding moment thus far in your art career? How about your life?

KM: Bringing a new idea to life and creating a new piece is the most rewarding aspect of my work. When we find our own voice in art, we experience the pure joy of exploration and creativity, and are able to share the final product with the world.

SH: If you could be on a zoom call with 5 people dead or alive who would they be? What would be the ice breaker question?  

KM: If I could zoom call with 5 people they would be…

 Kerry James Marshall, Nelson Mandela, Michelle Obama, Robin Williams, and lastly My late grandma –  to tell her that I’m doing fine and doing many great things.

The ice breaker would be – What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Online Schedule of Virtual Events:

Saturday, May 2 at 12:00 noon pacific time we will post our professionally shot video tour of both our May exhibitions to our Instagram TV

Saturday, May 2 from 1-2PM pacific time we will go live on our Instagram Stories to tour both exhibitions, have a bit of fun, giveaway some stuff and answer some questions

Sunday, May 3 at 2pm pacific time we will post a full set of photos from both exhibitions to our Facebook and blog

Monday, May 4 at 2PM pacific time we will share a link to our self-guided virtual tour of both exhibitions on all of our social networks (links to all below)

Monday, May 4 at 4 PM pacific time we will debut ‘Magic Mondays’ with our close friend WORM who will wow us all with his sleight of hand magic and feats of wonder. He really is a mind-blowing magician and we think it will be fun to share with you all. Looking forward to having this be a weekly featuring during our li’l pandemic lockdown and we’ll always give a li’l look at both shows as well

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