The New Vanguard III: Interview with Kayla Mahaffey for ‘Adrift’

Thinkspace is proud to present new work by Kayla Mahaffey for her latest exhibition ‘Adrift’ as a part of ‘The New Vanguard III’ showing at The Lancaster Museum of Art.

Mahaffey’s work gives 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 ‘Adrift’, our interview with Kayla Mahaffey discusses the mysteries of the deep blue, the American dream, and the power of a clear and collected mind.

SH: How long have you been showing your work in galleries and various exhibitions? Do you remember the first time you showed your work to the public? What was the exhibition?

KM: I’ve been showing my work in galleries since 2016. My first time showing my work was in a group show. My style was totally different and the show’s theme was illustrating films in like a poster form. It was called, “XPO Illustrated Show” and it was a huge step to the beginning of a life as an artist.

SH: When painting, what are you listening to in the background?

KM: When painting, I usually have a documentary or podcast going on in the background. I love learning new things and I like to hear people’s views on various topics. Musically, I like listening to anything energetic and upbeat. Anything that keeps my mind running and keeps me thinking positively. Genres like pop, rock, jazz, and rap are usually my go-to’s and encourage me to move, get up, and paint.

SH: What was the inspiration behind the body of work that you will be showing for New Vanguard III?

KM: The visual inspiration behind, “Adrift”, came mainly from the ocean and sea-life and how vast it is and how it’s depths are mysterious and unknown. For the subject matter, I took inspiration from societal hindrances and how the American dream being achieved through struggle and generational efforts can bring about a story of inspiration and growth or sometimes bring pain and suffering.

SH: When viewing other artists’ work, what elements get you excited or inspire you?

KM: I really get inspired by other artists’ techniques. I love looking at their pieces and studying how they made that painting come to life. I like seeing the brush strokes, color schemes, and process. It makes me get a better understanding of their artistry and helps me learn in the process.

SH: Does having an exhibition at a museum feel different than showing work at a gallery?

KM: It definitely feels more monumental. Not only by the scale of things but by the title and involvement. The atmosphere brings about a notion of advancement not only in my career but in my capabilities. It hits you differently because when we were younger we all went to museums to gaze upon greatness and look at paintings that we thought were unimaginable and grand in some sense. Never would we think that one day we would even be showing at a museum of any kind. It’s a wonderful and beautiful feeling.

SH: Every person experiences that moment, when they are in the middle or even at the start of something, where it feels overwhelming or isn’t going as planned – how do you personally push through those difficult moments?

KM: When things aren’t going as planned, I step back from the problem, take a deep breath, and once relaxed, I tackle the problem head-on with a cool, collected and clear mind. Difficulties come and go in life, but they never cease to exist. It’s best that we find the most effective way to deal with these issues so we can get pass them…each time bouncing back stronger and with more ease than the last time.

SH: If you could show your work beside any artist, in the entire history of art, who would you want to share wall space with?

KM: I would love to show my work besides Jean-Michael Basquiat. Basquiat is a favorite of mine and I feel like our work evokes energy, color, and culture. While our styles are completely different, they include a chaos of color that contains structure, which grounds our pieces. The essence is somewhat similar and shows tons of narrative. If we were showing together in an exhibition, it would be a feast for the eyes, a shock to the senses, and everyone would leave feeling entertained.

SH: What piece challenged you most in this body of work and why?

KM: The most challenging piece had to be, “Don’t Rock the Boat,”. I had a hard time trying to change my color palette a bit and trying to make a much more complex composition. Not only was the composition difficult to organize and keep balanced, but the story challenged me. I had to delve into the journey that many of us make through life and how it can be difficult staying on track and staying balanced, while trying to keep the peace. I tried my hardest to make that statement come through the painting and I think in the end it was a success and worth every headache.

SH: Do you have any pre-studio rituals that get the creative juices flowing?

KM: Before painting, my ritual isn’t anything special. I wake up get some food for nourishment and some water to stay hydrated. I might read a book or a graphic novel for entertainment or might exercise for a bit. The main thing is to keep a clear mindset, stay healthy so you’re recharged, and keep yourself entertained because with this comes inspiration and a good mentality before you Stuart. You don’t want to hit a wall mentally when you’re about to get into the groove of painting.

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