STUDIO VISIT: Keri Lyn King

Keri King is an artist, illustrator, dancer, writer, and revolutionary based in Providence, Rhode Island.  I met Keri, oh about 9 years ago, there were some friendship fireworks, we've collaborated for years, and probably will till were old ladies, maybe even from beyond the grave, who knows.

I was very excited to learn that over the summer of 2016, Keri was asked by the city of Providence to put up a mural downtown.  This Fall, Keri published her first book Spectacles & Spectators, and a copy currently lives on my nightstand.

I had an afternoon with Keri back in July and we talked about all these exciting projects.  Below is an interview I did with Keri in her studio about her practice!

   What are some of your inspirations- art or otherwise?     Art & entertainment history.  Depression-era hollywood musicals, vestiges of vaudeville and burlesque theater... I like to be reminded that life is one big weird party.  The Ringling Circus Museum in Sarasota, FLA is probably my favorite place in the world.  They completely immerse you in all kinds of paraphernalia - posters, newspaper articles, movies, costumes, gilded animal carriages all telling the story of this seemingly boundless and frankly insane creative enterprise in American history.  I've been twice and the experience greatly impacted my work.  My Gramma is quite the inspiration.  Hilda - she's 88 and she sings and plays guitar in three bands, and she goes out ballroom dancing with her boyfriend two times a week.  I can't keep up but I will keep trying!   How do you integrate your creative process in your daily life?   I tap dance!  Some days are for making and some days are for teaching but I can fit tap dancing into almost any day.  I can put on a record on in my studio and shim sham, I can soft-shoe some time steps in between classes, I can flap down the aisle at the supermarket.  I'm not very good but somehow shuffling off to Buffalo seems to make everything else better…   Can you talk a little bit about scale.  How did you go from intricate small illustrations meant for a book to a large scale mural?  How does this effect your work on a conceptual level.   On the small scale, my illustrations come together through a blending of collage and drawing processes.  I love to sample vintage ephemera, xeroxing photos andetchings for visual textures and the history that comes with them.   To make “life-size” characters, like the bird in the party dress, I enlarged these small-scale drawings using a large format xerox machine, traditionally used for copying blue prints.  “The Audience” needed special handling - the original illustration is 12" tall.  To go up to 15’ tall, IOlabs in East Providence, RI, scanned the original at a mega high resolution then sliced the file into 10 tiles for me and it was sent out to print.  Conceptually, when a viewer is looking at a rectangular illustration - in a frame orin a book - it’s a window into another world.  But at a larger scale, these characters are liberated - they are moonlighting in the viewer’s world and I think they have become more relatable.  Even though they are flat paper images on a wall, and black and white at that, they encourage interaction and play.  The shift is dynamic, it becomes theater.

 What are some of your inspirations- art or otherwise?

  Art & entertainment history.  Depression-era hollywood musicals, vestiges of vaudeville and burlesque theater... I like to be reminded that life is one big weird party.

The Ringling Circus Museum in Sarasota, FLA is probably my favorite place in the world.  They completely immerse you in all kinds of paraphernalia - posters, newspaper articles, movies, costumes, gilded animal carriages all telling the story of this seemingly boundless and frankly insane creative enterprise in American history.  I've been twice and the experience greatly impacted my work.

My Gramma is quite the inspiration.  Hilda - she's 88 and she sings and plays guitar in three bands, and she goes out ballroom dancing with her boyfriend two times a week.  I can't keep up but I will keep trying!

How do you integrate your creative process in your daily life?

I tap dance!  Some days are for making and some days are for teaching but I can fit tap dancing into almost any day.  I can put on a record on in my studio and shim sham, I can soft-shoe some time steps in between classes, I can flap down the aisle at the supermarket.  I'm not very good but somehow shuffling off to Buffalo seems to make everything else better…

Can you talk a little bit about scale.  How did you go from intricate small illustrations meant for a book to a large scale mural?  How does this effect your work on a conceptual level.

On the small scale, my illustrations come together through a blending of collage and drawing processes.  I love to sample vintage ephemera, xeroxing photos andetchings for visual textures and the history that comes with them. 

To make “life-size” characters, like the bird in the party dress, I enlarged these small-scale drawings using a large format xerox machine, traditionally used for copying blue prints.  “The Audience” needed special handling - the original illustration is 12" tall.  To go up to 15’ tall, IOlabs in East Providence, RI, scanned the original at a mega high resolution then sliced the file into 10 tiles for me and it was sent out to print.

Conceptually, when a viewer is looking at a rectangular illustration - in a frame orin a book - it’s a window into another world.  But at a larger scale, these characters are liberated - they are moonlighting in the viewer’s world and I think they have become more relatable.  Even though they are flat paper images on a wall, and black and white at that, they encourage interaction and play.  The shift is dynamic, it becomes theater.

  What does it mean to have your work on the side of the Satin Doll?  How does this fit in with being a woman/performer, and your conceptual process for the installation?   Well, the Satin Doll was a strip club until 2014 when their license was revoked for prostitution.  The property was recently purchased by AS220, which means it will soon be the Main Stage for a nationally recognized arts venue supporting visual and performing artists.  I think the location and it’s story effectively complete the work and add another layer of meaning to peal back.  Produced for PVDfest, the city’s annual international arts festival, it was the intention of this work to invite viewers to consider their dynamic relationships with visual art, performances and architecture.  An audience of finely dressed animals stares the viewer, a set of footlights and a curtain separate the paper animals and living people, looking at each other.  I wanted to make the viewer feel like he or she is on stage - to spin the attention back around and make the viewer the vital performer in the artwork.  The image is fairly innocent on it’s own.  But that it’s a predominantly male cast of viewers sporting what a friend recently described as “WASP-y attire” I think has more potential impact when we know the history of the venue.  Some friends have discerned a burlesque a tension between the suggestion of a Victorian morality that espoused sexual restraint and reflections on the  performances  that once took place inside the Satin Doll; others have expressed a ‘Wind in the Willows’-esqu nostalgia towards animals in handsome outfits - that all feels right to me.  The awesome folks at AS220 pointed out that this is also the first work of art to be presented at the new space - I am proud of that, I’d love to think of the piece as a beacon of that transition.  …In my opinion, it’s a decidedly female building.   Has doing this large scale public piece inspired new ideas or changed your though process?    Sure it has, putting this project together was an amazing experience.  I would love to create more public work and to do so in other cities and that's not something I ever considered before now.   Also, the act of creating an illustration in my home studio is 100% private. But, using the city as my canvas, I was constantly meeting people.  There were unexpected visitors and conversations - about the work, the weather and where they were going for dinner and that became an important part of the process!  I surprised myself with just how open I was to that - it was really wonderful.

What does it mean to have your work on the side of the Satin Doll?  How does this fit in with being a woman/performer, and your conceptual process for the installation?

Well, the Satin Doll was a strip club until 2014 when their license was revoked for prostitution.  The property was recently purchased by AS220, which means it will soon be the Main Stage for a nationally recognized arts venue supporting visual and performing artists.

I think the location and it’s story effectively complete the work and add another layer of meaning to peal back.

Produced for PVDfest, the city’s annual international arts festival, it was the intention of this work to invite viewers to consider their dynamic relationships with visual art, performances and architecture.  An audience of finely dressed animals stares the viewer, a set of footlights and a curtain separate the paper animals and living people, looking at each other.  I wanted to make the viewer feel like he or she is on stage - to spin the attention back around and make the viewer the vital performer in the artwork.

The image is fairly innocent on it’s own.  But that it’s a predominantly male cast of viewers sporting what a friend recently described as “WASP-y attire” I think has more potential impact when we know the history of the venue.  Some friends have discerned a burlesque a tension between the suggestion of a Victorian morality that espoused sexual restraint and reflections on the performances that once took place inside the Satin Doll; others have expressed a ‘Wind in the Willows’-esqu nostalgia towards animals in handsome outfits - that all feels right to me.  The awesome folks at AS220 pointed out that this is also the first work of art to be presented at the new space - I am proud of that, I’d love to think of the piece as a beacon of that transition.  …In my opinion, it’s a decidedly female building.

Has doing this large scale public piece inspired new ideas or changed your though process? 

Sure it has, putting this project together was an amazing experience.  I would love to create more public work and to do so in other cities and that's not something I ever considered before now. 

Also, the act of creating an illustration in my home studio is 100% private. But, using the city as my canvas, I was constantly meeting people.  There were unexpected visitors and conversations - about the work, the weather and where they were going for dinner and that became an important part of the process!  I surprised myself with just how open I was to that - it was really wonderful.

  What advice would you give a young artist/creative person?   It’s like what David Bowie says in Modern Love, "I know when to go out, I know when to stay in - and get things done." Every creative person's needs are different but I think striking that personal balance is key.    If you want to be successful, you have to carve out that time for making work.  But if you work in a vacuum, you're liable to get stuck.  So know when to go out! travel, see shows, make friends, take a cooking class - because all of that exploring of interests helps you to find your authentic voice and make your creative life that much more fulfilling.   How do you know when a piece or an idea is complete?   Gut feeling - when I step back and my emotional response to the work matches the feeling the original idea gave me, that's when I know my work is done.  But I think a lot about something Duchamp wrote, that "the creative act is not performed by the artist alone" - he suggested that a piece is complete when it connects with an active spectator, and I think that's definitely true.   What do we have to look forward to next coming out of Keri King Studios?   This fall I will be releasing 'Spectacles & Spectators,' a picture book for grownups; it's a madcap narrative of art and crime in high society, featuring many of the characters from these recent installations.  I'm self publishing a limited edition through DWRI Letterpress and partnering with the Providence Public Library on a reception will take place, October 23rd.  I'm super excited, it's a long time coming!

What advice would you give a young artist/creative person?

It’s like what David Bowie says in Modern Love, "I know when to go out, I know when to stay in - and get things done." Every creative person's needs are different but I think striking that personal balance is key.  

If you want to be successful, you have to carve out that time for making work.  But if you work in a vacuum, you're liable to get stuck.  So know when to go out! travel, see shows, make friends, take a cooking class - because all of that exploring of interests helps you to find your authentic voice and make your creative life that much more fulfilling.

How do you know when a piece or an idea is complete?

Gut feeling - when I step back and my emotional response to the work matches the feeling the original idea gave me, that's when I know my work is done.  But I think a lot about something Duchamp wrote, that "the creative act is not performed by the artist alone" - he suggested that a piece is complete when it connects with an active spectator, and I think that's definitely true.

What do we have to look forward to next coming out of Keri King Studios?

This fall I will be releasing 'Spectacles & Spectators,' a picture book for grownups; it's a madcap narrative of art and crime in high society, featuring many of the characters from these recent installations.  I'm self publishing a limited edition through DWRI Letterpress and partnering with the Providence Public Library on a reception will take place, October 23rd.  I'm super excited, it's a long time coming!

 Check out the rest of Keri's work at...  also pick up a copy of  Spectacles & Spectators !!!!  http://www.kerikingstudio.com  @kerikingstudio

Check out the rest of Keri's work at...

also pick up a copy of Spectacles & Spectators!!!!

http://www.kerikingstudio.com

@kerikingstudio