Interview: Kit King

Kit King is a Bahamian Canadian contemporary artist who has been the subject of solo and group exhibitions in galleries and museums nationally as well as internationally- showing throughout Canada and the US, as well as the UK, Australia, and the United Arab Emirates. King has participated in numerous art fairs such as Scope Miami, Texas Contemporary, The Hampton's Art+Design, and her work can be found in permanent collections- both private and public- worldwide. King has won several awards for her hyperrealistic portrait paintings including being a three time people's choice winner of Canada's Portrait competition -The Kingston Prize. 

Often working in large scale, King paints and draws emotional and intimate representationalism works that undress the cultural layers that determine worth and shape identity within the social stratum. With a combination of hyperreal rendering and textural abstraction, the subjects in King's work serve to shift the status quo and challenge norms, while deconstructing the preconceptions of the many roles within cultural levels.

Playgrounds a solo exhibition by Kit King coming to Athen B. Gallery in Oakland California August 12th confronts the void between body and mind, by physically manifesting the mental form, and examining how we see figure through conscious thought. The exhibit offers a realization of a “truer” form that captures both the physiological and psychological aspects of our humanness, in an effort to bridge the gap between the two. 

When did you first start exploring the figure in your work?

I suppose ever since I was a child. Recently my mother brought over a bin of all my old paintings from when I was younger, starting with some of my first works. Amongst the chaos of smears and colours was a reoccurring element I noticed- this sort of pillar with a round ball on top. This pillar and ball started to develop over the years to have hair, arms, feet. Through my teenage years I focused more on portraits, and it wouldn't be until I was in my mid 20's that I would delve further into figurative works. They began as an extension of the portrait, until more recently.  

What would you say the work in the "Playgrounds" exhibition is about and what inspired this series?

For this show, I wanted to break down the human form to create a new (and brutally vulnerable and honest) body of figurative works that examine how we see the naked figure in a more relatable way. Not how we've seen it in centuries worth of artistic depictions or how we see it in advertisements and films, and not 'naked' in the way of 'absent of clothing', rather 'naked' in the raw sense we see and experience our physical forms when we examine it through our own conscious mind. A series of figurative works seen thorough the mental gaze. An examination of the gap between body and mind. I actually started a whole different body of work originally for this solo, and ended up scrapping it entirely when I fell into a major depression, the next day my younger sister was over and watching some Netflix docu about body image. While I was in the back trying to brainstorm a new body of work that resonated with where I was at that moment, the woman from the docu asked "what are the first words that come to mind when you think of your body?" I heard my sisters reply and was so saddened by it. She asked me what words came to my mind, and though her response was about physical appearance, and mine was more an existential disconnect, my response was no less disheartening.  It struck me how disconnected we all are from our physical selves, I wasn't alone in my answer and nor was she. I took to social media and asked people their words... and the response was overwhelming... I knew I had to touch on this. I was inspired by thecuriosity of how large of a role this could be playing in our metal health, and how we see ourselves as people. How much of how we see our bodies affect who we are? Who we become? If our physical self can be held accountable for playing a role in our cognitive self, then why do we continue to separate it from ourselves? Examining our relationship to our bodies to reveal the soul I figure form- What would this look like? 

Who do the bodies you are depicting belong to and what is their story?

The bodies belong to myself and my loved ones. But they aren't meant to be. They are meant to be everyone, as their stories are ones we all share. I took to Instagram and asked everyone what the first words were that came to mind when thinking about 1-their bodies and 2- their minds, so I used models I had available to covey the stories of those who commented on my post. There were literally thousands of responses and I read every one of them, and so I took the stories that overlapped. (For example, "Vessel" was written more than anything else, and so I painted my visual depiction of the figure as an empty vessel. A body we would normally associate with mass, was converted to a hollow shell. Like this skin suit I imagine we could just crawl inside and wear). Within this show there are a series of self portraits that catalogue my struggles with anxiety and depression and that disconnection between my mind and body- especially in those low times, when I was painting for this exhibit. My husband who has struggled with body image issues since I met him- feeling detached from his naked self is amongst the works as well. My sister who in this day is ridiculed for her body, being called "fat" or "manly", when in another life she would be the epitome of beauty. (It just goes to show the ever changing beauty standards). My mother who when I ask her about her body just picks everything apart and separates it into all these pieces she dislikes about herself. All these stories are all the same- how we see our bodies as separate from ourselves instead of us ourselves. They aren't paintings of myself or loved ones- they are paintings of all of us- of anyone out there struggling with this same disconnection. 

Can you speak a little bit about why the figures are rendered without certain parts? 

For starters, I wanted them to remain anonymous, so they could be more relatable, so I knew none of the works would have faces. Also there's something to be said about quite literally separating the mind from the body with none of the works having heads- to me this points out the absurdity in our thinking- how we separate our "self" from our bodies, when they are a vital part of us- not something separate from us. That being said I also wanted to find a way to present figurative art in a new way in order to gain a new perspective on how we examine the human form. If we see the whole, we are less likely to examine it for what it is, since we are so used to seeing it this way. For some of the works I found parts of the body that challenged my perception of reality- how I thought of these shapes vs what they really are- and instead of manipulating the shape to become something else, I simply removed parts to give the illusion of unreality. The effect is not realism, and not surrealism, but more like 'fragmented realism'- just these segments of reality that challenge us to examine what we think we know. 

What do you hope the viewers take away from the show?

I would absolutely love if people took away what I have got from creating them... a sense of clarity. A deeper appreciation for our physical selves. 

We are all fighting this same war, yet feel so alone in it.

There's something that changes your perception about the human form when it's suddenly an art piece... for this body of work all the same elements we hate about ourselves are there... but we view artwork differently than we view ourselves. I didn't paint "perfect bodies" I painted our "flaws" and what I learnt while doing this is how incredibly beautiful they really are. Our bodies really are works of art. 

If people walk out of this show with a new respect for their bodies and the people they interact with, that would make my soul smile.

Share a piece of advice or a favorite quote that helped you in your career as an artist so far. 

"Fuck it". (Can I say that?) Hah this is the thing that resonates in my mind after every bout of self doubt. It's so simple to become overwhelmed with worries and opinions and question if you're doing things "right", if your "good enough" and what's everyone will think. It's a vulnerable place to be- to be an artist and bare your naked soul to the world. And so there will be moments of intimidation and apprehension. Ultimately you just have to say "fuck it", and remember why you started. Say "fuck it if this show tanks". "Fuck it if no one likes it". "Fuck it if I mess up this painting". Why? Not b/c I don't care- this is my whole world after all, I care deeply- but "fuck it" b/c whether this was my job or not, I would still be doing this. And I will still be doing this even if every person disliked my work. "Fuck it" b/c if this show totally flops, I'll still be in the studio painting again the next day.

When you pick up that paintbrush or crayons as a kid, you aren't there wondering if the whole class will like it, or if someone will buy it. You're doing it b/c you love it. So fuck it, be your younger self with that crayon and have fun. Life will be full of hardships no matter what- it's life. Might as well take all the good you can get and not tarnish the joy of art with insecurity.

Fuck it- bare your soul and don't look back.