Interview: Kim West
Kim West is a painter living and working in downtown Los Angeles, California.
Following studies in painting and printmaking at Smith College and Amherst College, West graduated from the painting department at the Rhode Island School of Design. Immediately upon graduation, West began exhibiting in Boston, MA. Her work continues to be exhibited nationally, and is collected and commissioned by everyday people, art collectors, celebrities, corporations, and educational institutions.
When did you know you wanted to become an artist? Share a brief version of your story with us.
I have always painted. My mom was an art teacher, and for as long as I can remember, art and making were tools used daily in my childhood home for fun or distraction. Having said that, I didn’t personally know any artists who identified as such. This was pre-internet, and I didn’t come across (nor seek out) too many accessible stories of how working artists got from A to B. It just didn’t occur to me that being a painter might be a plausible career choice. I liked to read, write, and research, and I enjoyed being on the high school debate team. I figured I should be a lawyer — it had a seemingly knowable path and clear definitions of success. My mom felt differently, and she dragged me to art school tours on college trips when I was only interested in looking at the pre-law schedules of liberal arts colleges, which is where I initially ended up — at a classic New England college. I loved it. But by the end of the first year, I was spending all of my time and energy in the studio, skipping what I should have considered important classes, to paint. My deep shift in focus was rapid and transformative. I wanted to be a better painter. I wanted to be in the studio all the time, and I wanted to be around other people who did, too. I transferred to an art school to study painting full-time.
How do you come up with ideas for your paintings? Explain where you get your inspiration.
My work is an on-going series of responsive investigations to what is happening around me. Ideas for paintings flow through various overarching themes within ongoing bodies of work. I’m responding to loss, to the idea of finality, and to things that can't be measured. I play with layers and work with memories to create new, fractured realities that pin down wisps of ether, and bridge the gap.
I tend to work serially, and each starts with a specific memory or group of memories. As I work through the paintings, over and over, iconography and motifs within the work emerge, change and morph — much like the way memory works. The initial starting point is a memory, but as I’m working, I’m continually responding to color, texture, light, etc., allowing and encouraging tangible elements in current time to effect the outcome of how the memory is documented.
How did you get started on your latest body of work?
Several years ago, within the span of a short time, I lost people who were incredibly dear to my family and me. Old age, old age, disease, freak accident, suicide, and old age. Processing those experiences showed up in work.
In what ways do you feel your work has changed over the past few years?
My painting continues to get looser, I think. I am after tension between the purposeful and the unintentional. As I go deeper, I am not only becoming more open to following those unexpected and sometimes contradictory moments but courting them.
When did you first start working on murals?
Cherubs above cribs, romantic gardens with the Three Graces for dining spaces – these types of commissioned murals helped subsidize my time in the studio for a few years after graduation. But as far as my current and recent mural work – that is, mural work that is an extension of what is happening in the studio – that work started accidentally, in early 2009. I was asking someone in the front office of my then studio building about a management issue. I happened to have in my hand a flyer for an upcoming gallery show. The person at the desk that day turned out to be the building’s owner, and also a developer, who then asked for a flyer and later came to the show — wondering if I’d be interested in painting on a wall. I was!
What do you love most about being an artist in Los Angeles?
Proximity. To expanse, opportunity, enthusiasm, and optimism; to the beach, the mountains, and the garden; and to excellent taco trucks.