Magical Arts Fridays
An Interview with Kim Power
Check out her WEBSITE!
MM: You have been so creative and artistic as long as I have known you. It is definitely in your blood. Did you always know it was going to be your career?
KP: We’ve known each other for about thirty years, wow. It has been a while! You’re right, it is in my blood, literally. My mom was an interior decorator and my dad designed lamps so they were into art and there was always something creative going on at home. We also had this fabulous batik artist next door when I was growing up. I don’t know that I thought of it as a career as such early on but it has always been something I had to do. Whether it’s in visual media or in words I am driven to express myself. I’ve also always had a curious mind so making art was the perfect way for me to continue learning throughout my lifetime.
MM: You work in multiple mediums. What do you like about each? And are there any other mediums you are interested in exploring?
I really believe in the element of play. Art can be serious when it comes to technique but I think all artists need to take time to find out what the materials can do when you just fool around with them. I keep asking myself, “What if?”
I started off learning fiber art at James Madison University with Barbara Lewis. I also had a terrific painting teacher in Frank Hobbs. Ultimately though, I’ve also been my own teacher. I mentioned I had a curious mind, right? So along with my education I’ve always researched on my own and tried different techniques and materials. I loved working in the medium of textiles because it was so experimental at the time. New materials and tools were constantly coming on the market. Also, when I was beginning to work in the medium it was still very new to the contemporary dialogue. The P&D Movement gave it great credibility and fiber artists were pushing the envelope on for textiles being considered a real art form rather than, what was then a derogatory term, a craft. I would look at artists like Pacita Abad and Faith Ringold and see so many possibilities!
I got into painting much later. Basically, I wanted to improve my compositional and drawing skills so I could take the textile paintings I was making to another level. I was so lucky because I found the perfect teacher in Hakim Tourdiev in The Netherlands. He was a friend and a mentor along with being and excellent instructor. He would work with me for a few weeks on a painting and then I would work for several months doing more paintings and pushing my abilities as far as I could go. When the opportunity arose for us to come to NYC, I was thrilled to be able to continue my studies. I was able to take figure drawing with Costa Vavagiakis and Michael Grimaldi at the Art Student’s League and with the skills they instilled in me I applied to the New York Academy of Art. I studied painting there under some amazing teachers like Vincent Desiderio and Dik Liu. Roberto Osti’s, Artistic Anatomy class was phenomenal. I got not only a strong foundation in figurative studies, but also a deeper understanding of what art is and what I want to do with it. I had abandoned textile art for my new love of painting, but when I needed to rely on my strengths, the language that I had developed in textiles served to inform my painting. Acrylic and oil paint give the ability to describe form and space on a flat surface and it is that which intrigues me. At the same time, getting back to my roots has been very satisfying. It is the interplay of these two worlds that intrigues and challenges me today. If I could explore other mediums, I think it would be mediums that relate to sculpture, which doesn’t exclude the ones that I am working with now. Ultimately, the materials I work with are chosen to express an idea and not the other way around. I see something in my minds eye and I ask, “How can I make that happen?”
MM: I was lucky enough to be at your very first exhibit at JMU and was so proud! Tell us something about favorite moments at some of your exhibitions over the years?
KP: That’s great that you remember that! Thanks for you’re your kind words. Favorite moments, hmm… Well, I had this amazing moment at an exhibit I had at the Salle Basse in France. A woman was discussing my large textile paintings with me and at a certain moment in the conversation she began to cry. It had to do with the way the colors affected her and the imagery as well. That was really powerful to me because I realized the immense responsibility we have as artists, that we are touching peoples lives, communicating something to them that we just can’t say in words.
The other one I will share with you is when I showed my series, Women in Transformation at The Glenview Mansion. Just accomplishing that with the time and effort I put into it, to see it completed in the gallery was a great thing. My mom had died that year and it had slowed me down quite a bit. When I realized I was behind for the deadline, I spent days and nights, catching only a few hours of sleep for several months, embroidering these really intricate pieces. I realized then that there is a fine line between creation and destruction because I was forced to slow myself down in order to do a good job even though I was rushing to get it all done. It taught me a lot about what we can achieve when we really believe in something.
MM: How do you sift through all the things that inspire you and focus to start something?
That’s a terrific question. I am inspired by many things every day. Here’s what I do: I write down everything, so it doesn’t get lost in the storm. I also document a lot of visual information, through sketches and photos. Lately, I’ve been working on a series of paintings of my friend Monstah Black. I started it at the Academy and am on my last piece with the imagery I’ve developed. Working on series is perfect for me because I have this seed of an idea and I can expand upon it till I’ve said everything I want to say. I’m a gatherer, so I hunt down all the information I can on a subject and that leads to associations that lead to new ideas. It’s an evolving process. When I have enough to start with conceptually, I begin with a sketch. When that is ready, I decide how I’m going to handle it, though the whole time I’m sketching I’m already playing with several ideas in my head. I try stuff out and try to keep it open for as long as possible so I don’t tie myself down to something that’s finished before I’ve been able to develop the idea fully, then I just keep at it till everything feels as complete as I can make it without overworking it.
MM: How do you deal with it when what you are trying to do isn’t coming out the way you want it to?
KP: There’s a lot of head banging and I have the bumps to prove it. No, just kidding. As I mentioned, I try to keep it open. I fully embrace the motto, “There is no such thing as a mistake. There are only possibilities.” Sometimes I need to walk away or turn it away for a few hours. Mostly though, if something isn’t working, I’ll work on a different part of the painting and that will help the part that I was working so hard to develop. Letting go can be hard but the moment I see I’m holding on too tight I do just that because experience has taught me that trying to get it “right” is not the answer. Also, I’m willing to fail, because failure leads to learning. At every moment I have to be able to say, “I’m just going to try this.” Making something too precious kills any chance I have to discovering new things.
MM: You have lived in a lot of interesting places. How have they each inspired your work?
A sense of place is very important to me. Home is where the heart is, as they say and my heart is in my community. Wherever I’ve lived, France, The Netherlands, New York City, I’ve always looked to develop that. In France, I was in living in the countryside so that played a role in the imagery I developed. In the Netherlands I was surrounded by the painting of the great Flemish masters, so that had a big influence on the subjects I was exploring. NYC has given me a connection to the urban aesthetic, though now that I’m in the Bronx, I’m surrounded by beautiful parks and not just high-rise apartments. The feeling of the space and the things that I witness everyday become part of my painting, directly or indirectly.
MM: You are teaching others now. What are the best moments for you? The most frustrating or challenging?
KP: Actually, I’m not teaching right now, although I did have the wonderful opportunity last year to be the Teaching Assistant to Patrick Connors at the New York Academy of Art, a teacher whose skill as an artist and knowledge in education I greatly admire. The class was Portrait Painting. Being in charge of his uninstructed sessions reminded me how much I love to teach. That moment the light turns on and someone has grasped a concept is so great. Then, you get to see where they take what you’ve taught them and that is even more special because everyone has their own way of expressing the same idea. I don’t feel frustration unless someone just doesn’t put any effort in at all and that’s rare because who doesn’t want to be they best that they can be? I think what is challenging is figuring out how someone learns, because we don’t all learn the same way. I may say something to you that makes total sense but someone else might struggle to understand it. That’s a positive thing for me because it means we aren’t all the same. We all see the world in our own unique way and I love trying to figure out how someone else thinks.
MM: Conversely, in your own studies – what have been the best moments? The most challenging?
KP: I’ll start with the most challenging. That would be going to the New York Academy of Art. Working to find my own voice amongst such talented colleagues while being sleep deprived and trying to learn as much as possible in a short time was intense, to say the least. It was also the best moment because it forced me to take a stand on what I believe in. You can study forever and develop your technique but until you try to use those skills to say something that matters to you, you will just be incredibly skilled. Skill is nothing to scoff at. I am constantly trying to improve my skills, but it helps that I have a vision and goal that I am working towards. Being an artist means that I am constantly learning and that is something I love about it. It is infinite.
MM: If you could give one word of advice to others as to how to tap into their own artistic creativity what would it be?
MM: Who are some of your own favorite artists (historical and contemporary)?
Top of the list would be Andrew Wyeth. His Helga paintings brought me to tears and made me want to paint. Rembrandt, for sure. I especially love his later paintings, you have a sense that he is so familiar with his material that he can do whatever he wants, so visceral. Tim Okamura’s and Jonas Burgert’s paintings really turn me on. John Singer Sargent’s painting is pretty sexy too.
MM: Do you ever look back at something and say WHAT was I thinking?
Haha! I don’t usually do that because I know at each moment I was trying to figure something out. That doesn’t mean I haven’t made some awful things. Some of those I keep just to remember what I was trying to learn. I try not to be too critical because doing that creates a block in the process.
MM: What’s a typical workday like for you?
KP: I have the freshest ideas when just I wake up. I’m lucky enough that my studio is in my home, so as soon as I get up, I’m in there, looking at what I did the night before. I always try and leave something for the next day that I need to develop or “fix,” that way I can jump right into it. I grab breakfast and make a plan of what I want to get done that day. I work for a few hours painting or preparing surfaces to paint and take a break for lunch then I’m at it again. It sounds a bit mundane, but making art is a job. I don’t just work when the muse inspires me. I have to put the time in or it doesn’t get done. I take breaks to do admin or research and that gets me thinking about other things so I have fresh eyes for my work. If I’m particularly into something, I only stop when I absolutely need to sleep, or the cat insists that I have worked hard enough and it is time for a long scratch.
MM: Now – what is your favorite…
Color(s)? Peacock Blue
Vacation spot? Paris, France
Music? Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”
Movies? “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”
Books? “The Glass Bead Game” by Herman Hesse
Drinks? Champagne, of course!
Down-time hobbies? Reading, knitting, yoga.
Museum? Musee D’Orsay
MM: What is the accomplishment of which you are most proud?
KP: I think that would be the current body of work I am finishing. It has taken me so many places and I have learned so much from it. A selection of them is in FreshPaintMagazine’s London Issue this month!
MM: What’s next for you?
KP: Several things are going on at this moment. While I’m finishing up my latest painting, I am also beginning a career as an art writer. I have written for the BrooklynRail and QuantumArtReview so far. I’m also planning an exciting new series of paintings that I’ll be starting in the New Year. I’ll keep you posted!