New to the Family: Interview with Kaili Smith

New to the Thinkspace Family is Netherland born and Australia raised artist Kaili Smith. We’ve shown pieces from Smith in group exhibitions at SCOPE Art Fair during Miami Art Basel and the Honolulu Museum of Art in Hawaii, and are excited to be hosting Smith’s solo exhibition World Meets Petit Prince in London at Moniker next week, October 4th through 7th.

Kaili Smith graduated with a bachelors in Fine Arts at WDKA in Rotterdam in 2018, finished with a sold-out graduation show. Smith is now pursuing a master’s degree in New York after receiving a full scholarship at Parsons School of Design.

Kaili’s work focuses on the topics of globalization, normalization of behavior & criminality, a reflection on the increasingly integrated society of today, its beauty and its struggles.

His current series of works Le Petit Prince reflect on the bizarre conflicting reality of children growing up in an environment of crime, while at the same time showing the strength that children often find through this lifestyle, an ongoing cycle of criminality that many western countries still struggle to understand or deal with in a progressive manner.

Get to know more about Kaili Smith in anticipation for his show at Moniker.

SH: Your artistic voice spans a wide range of mediums including but not limited to video, painting, poetry etc. Does one medium inspire the development of work in another and so on and so forth, or are the concepts developed more independently of each other? What is your creative process?

KS: So I didn’t touch a paintbrush till I was at least 18 (in elementary school my teacher let me play outside during art classes because I was too distracting and never did the work). I started art school at 19 with nothing but a background in spray paint and a few months of brushwork. The turning point was when I found myself in a poetry class in the second year. Long story short I had the most amazing teacher, he wasn’t some crazy motivational speaker, he was just fun and took time to see how each student’s own life experiences could be translated into poetry, I ended up making some short pieces that to my surprise got great feedback. I something switched then and for around 2 years I wanted to try every possible form of art.

The different fields absolutely inspire each other. “The petit prince” idea first formed from a fashion installation piece which never got finished. I, however, started to see the disadvantage in spreading out too much. So for the past year and upcoming future, I’m focussing on paintings & short film work.

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

KS: For paintings, in this series, I have found a style in which I truly enjoy the process from start to finish. For a while, I would jump back and forward between hyper-realism and figurative abstract. In this style, I just take both and let them go against one another. It’s made the entire process fun as-well as unexpected as I let myself choose between applying detail & precession or working extremely expressively all in the same piece.

For short films, the script writing is the most magical part, when you start to create this world and bring life to characters and have full creative control on where it goes. About everything else after that is a complete organizational hell. Once you look back at the process of filming it becomes worth it, but the stress of having everything come together from casting, costume, scheduling, film-crew and more is extremely stress full. I just hope with the more experience as well as growing resources the process of making the film can become more fun.

SH: What inspired the !Le Petit Prince! series?

KS: Growing up with a French mother “Le petit prince” was a book often read to me. In the original novel, Le petit prince is about a young boy learning about the adult world. On a core level, my paintings are taking that same premise but with a reflection of the environment of my teenage/early adult years. Exploring small snapshot stories of children mixed into a world of “criminality” through the lens of fairytales & the royal golden age aesthetic.

My main objective is for the work to create an ongoing conversation about how we view youth criminality. A topic often misunderstand. My paintings always try to capture the control, power, and self-identity that children find in this lifestyle. Society often either victimize or in contrast demonize youth criminality. The problem is that it doesn’t give the perspective of the child. A child rarely thinks they are a victim and see themselves as taking control over their situation and surroundings. The issue with the victimization of children involved in youth criminality is that if they are given any form of a way out whether it is punishment or placement in a different area, we then expect that to be the solution, as we frame it is as getting the “victim” away from their oppressor. However when proven unsuccessful this is then used as a way to label any young repeat offenders as simply genetically “bad” children. To sum it up, if we pay more attention from the perspective of children for their decisions and also see the strength needed to survive & strive in this environment, we can then reach constructive solutions to deal with the problem.

SH: Your artwork addresses the worlds varying perspectives, how do you personally approach understanding a perspective that differs from your own?

KS: This is a tricky one to answer. I think I am just lucky that due to my extremely diverse family and different places I have lived, different perspectives was simply all I ever knew. Even before I was old enough to articulate it, I simply never questioned different peoples way of living and often would find myself adapting to it. different was just the norm I suppose. If anything, becoming an artist and an adult I have had to think hard about what my own personal Identity and perspectives are. In terms of my work, my latest series is very personal. In the past when making works about other peoples perspective I have simply tried to listen to what they are ultimately saying and not what I would want them to say.

SH: Who is an artist; musician, director, any art form – who would be a dream collaboration for you and what would you create?

KS: I love collaborating with musicians. If I have to dream… I would say getting Kanye or Kendrick to collaborate on a musical short-film and have Rei Kawakubo (Comme des garçons) & Viktor & Rolf design all the costumes. I would name some amazing filmmakers to join the process, but then I would have nothing to contribute…

SH: Has there been someone or some event that has made a significant impact on you that lead you to where you are now? An artistic catalyst of sorts?

KS: There was a very specific turn of events in my life which I think shifted my focus a lot. When I was 18 I worked shortly at a cafe and met this French abstract artist who owned his own gallery and sold a ton of work. I had showed him some of my graffiti murals and he wanted to do a collaboration with me for one of his works. He offered $500 + material costs and 50/50 split when the work was sold. I honestly didn’t know what to make of him, but figured I didn’t have much to lose and that even if just the spray cans were covered I would have some leftovers to go towards trains. On the day I was supposed to meet him my house got raided at 6 am and I had to spend the day in jail. It was the 5th time since 14 I had been raided for graffiti. The next day I told him I’d lost my phone, luckily enough he told me to come by his gallery and that we’d go ahead with the plans. When I walked in he was still talking to some clients so I sat down and waited when they started talking about which paintings they wanted to buy and how one of the paintings was $60,000, I released all the sudden that this whole thing wasn’t a joke. We then drove to the studio in the nicest car I’d ever been in and spend the day working on our canvas. I never did admit to him what had actually happened the day before. But it was as if he could tell I was bit lost. Being in such a rich environment definitely was impactful within itself, but the time he took and lessons he taught me about self-value and the importance of putting good thoughts and energy into the world, were truly priceless. I don’t think they could have come at a more crucial time. and due to the circumstances had an extremely powerful impact that still influences me to this day. The universe works in funny ways…

SH: What plays in the background while you are painting, podcasts, music, tv shows?

KS: Music is a must. it was not asked for but here is top 5 albums playing while I’m painting.

1.My Beautifull Dark Twisted Fantasy(Kanye West)

2. 4 Your Eyes Only (J.cole)

3. Process (Sampha)

4. To Pimp A Butterfly (Kendrick Lamar)

5. Coloring Book (Chance the rapper)

Also on the podcast wave, I’m very interested in psychology and human behavior, try to balance it out with some comedy though, being too “woke” will only lead to sleep deprivation…

SH: What is an aspect of other’s artwork that really excites you, what are you drawn too?

KS: My head went into error when trying to answer this. I see value in all forms of creativity. For me, storytelling in an objective manner is powerful.

SH: You have a time machine, and you could do anything / go anywhere for 24 hours, and would not interfere with the space-time continuum. What would you do?

KS: I feel like I can grasp the idea of the past. Let me go 500 years into the future and see what’s going on. However, I would highly argue it is impossible to go into the future and not interfere with the space-time continuum. Even if I was never allowed to talk about what I saw, that in itself would interfere with the space-time continuum. (stay woke)

SH: Favorite way to celebrate the completion of a project/body of work.

KS: I’m a simple man…a tub of cookies & cream ice cream, my bed, Netflix and I’m happy.

With that being said a trip to a new place in the world every year or two, is good to recharge the creative juices and keep things in perspective.

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