Exploring the Worlds of Humanity and Culture: Interview with M.K Komins

By Sarah Mills

For the past decade, artist and illustrator M.K Komins has been passionately committed to the pursuit of creative excellence. Based out of Philadelphia, she draws inspiration from the politically vibrant, collective consciousness of its artistic community. Her work uses a combination of hyper-stylized, dreamy realism and boldly saturated colors to explore the worlds of humanity and culture.

Former creative director for avenue u design in baltimore, maryland, she now works as creative coordinator for elysium marketing group. With a vast and diverse range of skills, her professional experience spans from music poster commissions to large-scale creative collaborations with companies like lord & taylor and the special olympics.

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Were you always interested in art?

Without question. As a kid, I used to sit dangerously close to our TV and try to draw cartoon characters as perfectly as I could before they left the screen. In first grade, I got in trouble for "tracing" a picture of Jafar from Aladdin and handing it in as an original drawing. When my art teacher refused to believe my cries of innocence I had my first creative epiphany. I realized if I could make adults think I was so good at drawing I must be lying about it, I could probably have a career as an artist. I also learned you can't always trust the judgment of adults, and sometimes knowing your truth is all you have when the grown-up world is against you-- both lessons that have guided me into my development as an artist and a woman.

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In your bio, you talk about the influence your creative community has on your work. Can you tell us more about that, specifically how they influence you?

Besides going to Parsons, moving back home to Philadelphia a year ago was the best decision I've ever made for my career. This city has the warmest, collaborative and artistically supportive community of working creatives I've ever experienced. It sounds trite, but "the City Of Brotherly Love" is a perfectly befitting nickname for Philly, and it's nowhere more evident than in our art scene. There are countless artist-run galleries and collectives here, tons of spaces dedicated to showcasing local work, our Mural Arts program is globally unprecedented and to put it simply, I'm in love with this town. When I was working and living in New York, I felt very small and was consumed by the constant anxiety to be winning at something and everything all the time. There's no room to be still finding yourself, or a work in progress even though everyone is all of those things all the time. The pressure to act like you're doing way better professionally and financially than you really are was highly oppressive. Maintaining an impossibly high social currency can be poison to your self-worth, which equated to a sort of creative death for me. I will always love and appreciate my time and education in New York because I cut my teeth on some deeply important creative rights of passages there. If you want to learn how to take a self-esteem beating, face rejection, be broke as hell and still have the desire to drag your ass to the studio the next day and keep making work, move to New York and become an artist.

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Besides your art community, where do you draw inspiration from?

Inspiration can be such a tricky thing to quantify for me, because I feel like the source of it is always evolving and I'm taking it in on a constant, often subconscious basis. Truthfully, I'm inspired the most by pop culture and my daily interactions with other people. Whether it's passionate political conversations with my family or waxing poetic about the philosophical merit of competition-based reality TV with my friends, my work is simply telling stories of humanity. I think the reason why I gravitate to portraiture and figurative work is that I genuinely admire human beings. We're so complicated and messy and difficult. We destroy what we love all of the time but we still have an innate sense of humanity that propels us forward to try and connect with other people and create art. I majored in illustration in school and what I learned the most is that being an Illustrator means you have to make art that is "subtly obvious". That concept carries over into my fine art as well and once I stopped obsessing over what kind of artist I was meant to be, I gave myself room to just make what made me happy. I've learned that inspiration really finds you when you give yourself room to grow as an artist. This past year I've come to just embrace my conflicting desires to be both bottom-scrapingly lowbrow and sophisticated high art.

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You have an extremely bold color palette, what drew you to such bold and saturated colors?

I'd love to have a profound answer to this question, but the truth is I just like them. I think when we are children, everyone draws and we aren't afraid to use the brightest colors in the crayon box and make bold, vibrant messes. Most people stop making things as they become adults and the ones that do often refine their tastes and palettes. To a large degree, I think I just never did that. I've never fully let go of my sense of whimsy or creative adventure and I'm not being hyperbolic when I say that the driving desire to make art has saved my life through some very low bottoms. The work I make as an adult and the process with which I make it isn't precious. I'm interested in beauty, but I don't have a much of a desire to make light, subtle things, so I think the subject matter and style sort of inform the harshness and vibrancy of my color palette. There's so much delicate, detailed, feminine work in the art world right now and while I absolutely see it's value, I just don't want to be another artist painting soft, pretty women.

What does your studio practice look like?

It's pretty exploratory. Lately, I've been developing a style of working that combines digital painting and traditional art mediums where I paint in programs like ProCreate or Photoshop, print on large scale canvas or giclee and then manipulate the printed pigments with destructive chemicals like acetone or bleach. The ink reacts sort of like watercolors and can be wiped away or redistributed on the image. Then I go back into it with oils, acrylics, colored pencils, and other mediums to add in detail. Fusing digital and analog methods of image making is a quest I am deeply passionate about right now and, I think, a pursuit whose time has come in the fine art world.

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What has been your favorite moment in your artistic career so far?

Hm, that's a toughy. There are a few projects in the works that I can't publicly announce yet that have got me pretty freaking excited, but I'm about to travel to London for 10 days in October to show my Florida, USA series during The Anti Art Fair with Creative Debuts. I have work in 2 shows in LA later this fall and winter as well so I think just being able to travel and bring my work to a wider audience has been super rewarding. I'm tremendously grateful to be in this position.


What are some goals you are working towards in your career?

Too many to count. My original career goal was to be a concept artist for someone like Pixar and to illustrate children's books. The latter is something I'm actively working towards and the former is something I would love to do eventually. Personally, I don't know if I'll ever stop wanting to explore, grow, and get better as an artist. I hope I never get complacent in my quest for creative evolution. I love spending countless hours on a piece and feeling like I've done a good job, only to immediately see new work by another artist and think "Oh sh*t, that's way better!" That feeling used to crush and derail my process. But once I accepted that being an artist means staying constantly open to new ideas and self-improvement, I learned that I needed to frankly, get over myself by thinking I would ever be the best. I had a class at Parsons taught by this great illustrator Mike Perry who was tired of hearing a bunch of 20-year-old, privileged kids in an overpriced New York City art school complain about how unfair the art world is telling me something I'll never forget. He said that your career is just an escalator; there would always be someone behind you and there would always be someone in front of you. Stop trying to be the person in front of you. Just stay on the damn thing and you'll get where you want to go.