Quietly spoken, self proclaimed recluse, engineer turned artist Kim Keever, has spent the last 30 years producing otherworldly, alluring, paintings and photographs. Working from his tiny NYC apartment (where he has been since the 1980s) Keever’s extraordinary success seems appreciated but almost incidental to the pursuit of his passion. Displaying rare authenticity driven by self-contained creative purpose, we caught up with Keever while shooting one of his original pieces in collaboration with Paridust at Sky Gallery, to talk about love, art, inspiration and the poetry of his practice.
EMMA Thank you for working with us on such a magical collaboration. We love your work and have been following you for some time but for those who don’t know and those who do but want to know more, who is Kim Keever?
KIM Thank you, my pleasure. Well, I’m a pretty relaxed, laid-back guy, I’m not really a socialiser, even though I live in a huge city I probably see only 1 person a week. I talk on the phone and through email exchanges which is a great modern convenience. I mean, I love being an artist but success had been a long time coming. I tell people, it’s not bad for 80 years of trying…(he jokes, clearly much longer than he’s been alive, both laugh)
The things is, most artists don’t have a great sense of money…the people doing it because they love it, not because of the hype. There was a point I hit rock bottom. I made a decision not to be doing part time jobs all the time, I wanted art to be my work. The internet has been a great friend to artists because, for the first time in history, artists can share what they do with the world.
EMMA And in terms of the emotional provocation of art, what are you trying to bring out from your audience at a deeper level, perhaps soul level…is there a message or response that you look to receive or do you leave interpretation open?
KIM No, not really, not from my audience… though I’m always trying to create different pieces. I suppose its more personal than that. I get a lot of compliments on my work. People seem to respond to it but the point is more about making things that I haven’t seen before - in a relative way - tying to create something different and new.
EMMA I think your work is otherworldly, awe inspiring, seductive, utopian. Can you tell me a little about how you came to explore art in this way? The method behind it, the process?
KIM Well I was a painter for a long period of time but I was familiar with a lot of areas of art making - photography, sculpture, printmaking - and I just reached a point where I was bored so I wanted to get into photography, into building models and photographing them. It was mainly landscape models I photographed which is what led me to using water. Everything looked like it was made on Mars because there was no atmosphere and so I got a tank, a hundred gallon tank at the time, filled it with water and put plaster landscapes into the tank, and painting clouds into the water. I did that work for quite a number of years but again, I reached the point where I loved making the landscapes and I could have easily continued but I wanted to show that my work had more dimension to it. After that I did a couple of series of heads, a series of birds with feathers and sticks and wire (in the tank), some figures and finally it dawned on me…why not just try paint in water…simplify the whole thing.
*interview continues below
EMMA And it’s your best work yet?
KIM It’s been great! It’s been successful and very random. Occurrences happen with just dropping paint on water. I have no idea where it’s going to go or what its going to look like eventually. It gave me a lot more room to explore colour. I use a lot more colour than I would to explore landscapes. It’s the unexpected, random nature of it that works. In terms of the process, I’m using all types of water based paints and inks. Any oil based paint would gum up the tank…This tank is 200 gallons and after the shoot the water turns a grey brown - unusable - so I drain it every time and start again for the next shoot.
EMMA What keeps you coming back to this technique?
KIM Well, it’s fun! I’m going to use the word random again, but because of the random surprises. I never know what I’m going to get. It’s kind of like a painting or photography machine. I fill the tank with water and drop paint in, then stand back and see what happens. I chose the colour and make other minor decisions but ultimately its unpredictable. So that makes it a lot of fun for me.
EMMA Are you ever disappointed?
KIM Well, like everything else, it doesn’t always work out but more often than not I get some work that I like…after I get the images back its mostly just a question of cropping.
EMMA Are there still different types of mediums that you’d like to explore?
KIM Yes, of course, that’s part of the fun of going to galleries and museums and to see other works and imagine what’s been done. I was recently asked to do a photograph in the New Yorker of seaweed. After that, a woman who makes rugs came to me and wanted to make a rug out of it. We’ve exchanged emails.
EMMA During our shoot with you, we were very drawn to the alluring shape and texture of your work - the movement of the imagery. Have you ever likened the fluidity of what you do to the movement of fabric or does your mind go back to landscape and geography because that’s where you started?
KIM The billowing effect of the fan on cloth was very interesting to me. I hadn’t thought of it like that before but, yes, it was there. I liked it. I was very happy to be there (the shoot) and a part of it.
EMMA So, you may not know it but your apartment and your work have been a highlight of my near decade in NYC. I feel so moved by your work, your home, your studio. I mean, this is the true NY. To me, this is the NY that people dream of. The reason people come here - to be inspired. Your passion, your art, the way you are leaving a mark...the mark you are leaving on the world. What drives that passion, what inspires you personally?
KIM I want to leave a mark, I want to join the history books but even more than that is the love, the passion for all kinds of art…the poetic way of expressing art in general, that is so inspiring to me.
EMMA How long have you been in New York City?
KIM Well, a very long time. I was born in Manhattan.
EMMA Wow! Then you left and came back? You grew up in…
KIM Virginia and Chicago.
EMMA Where is your place to go for quiet time in the city?
KIM I try to go to museums once a week. I mean, I generally go to the MET once a week. There are so many periods of art and you never see it all even if you think you do, you find that you didn’t see this piece over there with the little placard on it.
EMMA Is that your favourite museum?
KIM Well, I haven’t seen them all…but, yes, I’d have to say The MET. Of course, MoMA is a great museum too. Actually, I am in the MET. I have a piece there and in MoMA and the Brooklyn Museum but they’re not on view. They’re in their background collections. But I’m very happy with where I’m exhibiting now which is at WATERHOUSE & DODD*. It’s a great space. (Kim is exhibiting at WATERHOUSE & DODD from Nov 12th to Dec 8th)
EMMA Yes! We love it there! And what keeps you here in New York?
KIM I’ve lived here such a long time, its hard to leave. It’s such an amazing city, especially for the arts in general and I love the restaurants.
EMMA Oh, favourite restaurant?
KIM At the moment, Miss Lily’s , a Jamaican restaurant on A and 7th Street.
EMMA So much must have changed over the years! What have you seen change in your time here?
KIM Well, this neighbourhood, when I came here was very tough a lot of drugs and prostitution. Cab drivers didn’t want to bring you down here. Everyone I knew got mugged. I got mugged! Now its this wonderful, glorious, expensive (he laughs) neighbourhood. I was lucky enough to buy my place for peanuts and it has appreciated tremendously. My one good business investment.
EMMA Well, and your art!
KIM Yes, of course my art.
EMMA Has there been a particularly significant moment for you so far? A ‘wow’ moment so to speak?
KIM Well, Elton John has bought 3 pieces. He started buying photography 15 years ago to add to his collection.
EMMA Wow! How incredible! Did you get to meet him?
KIM Well no, my dealer gave me the a choice but I didn’t follow up on it. I’m kind of sorry I didn’t. I regret that.
EMMA What advice would you offer our readers on love, life, happiness?
KIM Wow. Advice. Well, if you are lucky enough to love something… A lot of us spend our whole lives searching and then we settle. We settle on what, say, our parents wanted us to do. I feel like maybe 20% of people are really doing what they want to do in life. As an artist, If you really love being an artist, that’s very important. It’s not an easy road and I avoided being one because I remember being 6 and my father saying, “Oh, you’ll starve as an artist!” and naturally, I didn’t want to end up starving. I avoided it and went through engineering (thermo engineering), then grad school but literally dropped out of grad school to become a full time artists. I feel very lucky to have found what I want to be doing for myself. The best advice I have is really, find something in life you truly love.
EMMA And was it what your father suggested you do?
KIM My father was an engineer and he was happy that I was studying it.
EMMA So what fuelled your decision to turn back to art?
KIM It was a movie I saw about Picasso where he was painting on plexiglass so you could really see him paint and he just looked so darned happy. I was thrilled! I decided that when I reached that age I wanted to be that happy.
EMMA And are you…not that age yet...but are you happy?
KIM I’m not that age yet, but yes, definitely happy.
EMMA Kim Keever, thank you so much for your time today. You are a true inspiration and it’s been a pleasure talking to you.
*EXHIBITION DETAILS: Kim Keever: Random Events, WATERHOUSE & DODD, November 12 - December 8 2015, Opening Night: November 11th 6-8pm, 960 Madison Avenue NYC