The very majority of us just wake up and choose what the day will be all about. Will it be filled with joy or is it about time for negativity to take over? Will there be next level procrastination involved or are the forthcoming hours precisely timed and coordinated? And whatever the decision might be, it’s safe to say that it’ll be one based on the luxury position of actually having the freedom to choose between options based on company, loneliness and solitude. Unfortunately, that’s a very foreign concept to Canadian artist Kit King.
Currently living in rural Ontario, King has suffered from agoraphobia since many years already, a disease which makes it impossible for her to leave her own four walls without having severe panic attacks. And maybe that’s why her pre-dominantly monochromatic hyperrealistic paintings and images have this urgent, haunting and otherworldly quality to them. The work of the award-winning exceptional talent raises questions about identity and objectification as it challenges norms by shifting the status quo of the omnipresent conception of beauty. Lodown had the chance to hook up with Ms. King in mid-May..
“I never really made that decision - or had that intent - to dedicate my life to art. I still don’t think of it like this, even though it’s my career as well as completely consuming all of my time. I’ve been drawing and painting before I could talk, or walk. I’ve always been a creator. Art is like breath to me. It would be the equivalent of saying I’ve decided to dedicate my life to breathing. It’s not so much a question of dedication as it just seems to be a fact of life for me. I don’t know a life w/o art - nor would I want to. I’ve never studied art, it’s just been this natural progression, like anything else in life... as you move through it, you learn and grow. Because I’ve been doing this for so long, and never had any formal training, I was able to teach myself efficient ways to draw and paint. It was a lot of trial and error, and I found 1000 ways of what doesn’t work for me... but in turn found the best way for me to work to maximize time and results. For the type of work I do, I work relatively quickly. Of course adding the intensive detail in some of my works that I do is still more time consuming than other styles, but my life these days doesn’t consist of very much outside of art. My “days off” are when I create for ‚me‘... this is all the work I do that’s not for exhibitions, or social media, or companies, and my time to experiment with materials, styles, techniques. The work I actually like the most that I do never gets seen... unless you come to my home studio. Though my life sort of led me to create hyper-realism, this isn’t what I personally like to surround myself with. I’m more drawn to shape and texture. I’ve spent the last year trying to find ways to bridge this gap. If you were to look around my studio, you’d think it was occupied by several different artists. I think it’s your responsibility as an artist to not only leave room for chance, but to encourage yourself to experiment and push your boundaries. Expect to fuck up. Expect to make big heaping piles of shitty work that make you want to curl up in the fetal position in the middle of your studio floor, and question why you do this to yourself. Manage your time to allot yourself a couple of minutes to have a breakdown at least once a month and wallow in self doubt and pity as you look at your pile of “failed works”, and then get the fuck back up, and get back to work, and push yourself some more. For me there’s no point in creating if all I’m concerned about is making sure the end result of everything I do is perfect. Creating, for me, is all about the artistic journey and pushing my limits to see where art can take me.
The world you put on canvas is a very monochromatic one... which then changed through your collaboration with your husband Oda. I can imagine it’s not just a stylistic device to define this particular work as teamwork, right?
Right. I personally LOATHE colour. Not to paint it - I actually do not have any technical difficultly painting in colour, and find it’s sometimes easier to work in colour as far as getting something to look believable when I can work with tones instead of just values. But, I can’t stand looking at it. This sounds very peculiar to most people. But I don’t like the way most colours make me feel. I get overstimulated very easily, and colour takes my brain to less than happy places.However when my husband moved to Canada to be with me, and said he wanted to be an artist, I took on the role of his teacher. So I had to push past my issues with colour, so I could make sure I was giving him a well-rounded understanding of the medium. Being able to paint with oils in full colour is more complex than achromatic work. So we painted in colour... so he would be properly equipped to paint on his own and not be limited to a monochromatic palette. It’s also difficult because people are generally drawn to colour more than they are towards greyscale. The colour work sells better than black and white, and people are very quick to assume because I’m predominantly working in greyscale, that I must not know how to work in colour. So every once in a while, I’ll paint something in colour... (laughs) but it’s always reluctantly, and then I make it face the wall or cover it with paper when I’m done.
You’ve been struggling with agoraphobia for the last few years... how does this syndrome influence your art? Is it maybe one of the reasons why a lot of your work shows close-ups of your subjects? And how did this disease enter your life, if you don’t mind me asking? Is it something that prefigures itself through a slow process or did it happen all of a sudden?
(laughs) Oh, this may lead to a very long answer. I don’t mind talking about it at all. I think there’s a stigma that comes with it. When you see someone with agoraphobia in films or shows, they are generally depicted as insane. It can be hard for people to understand who don’t know about it, so first I’ll explain that although agoraphobia is defined as a fear of open spaces, this isn’t the case for everyone struggling with it. For me, I have great difficulties leaving my home. It has nothing to do with being outside, so much as it’s being away from my comfort zone. I actually love the outdoors. But the further I am from my bed and a bathroom, the more panic floods in and my mind and body goes into flight or fight. I was homeless and living on the street as a teenager, so I’m sure psychologically this has something to do with not wanting to leave my home now... but it came on very suddenly when I was about 20 years old. I felt ill one day, and lost a ton of weight and was hospitalized for a while. When I returned home I found myself anxious to leave... in case I would be sick and not close to a bathroom or bed. This anxiety when leaving the house got worse instead of getting better, until I found I could no longer put my hand on the front door without having a full blown panic attack. I had no idea what anxiety even was, and thought I was dying - which of course made everything worse. I very quickly found out the power the mind can have on the body. I think this is why I’m drawn to create intimate portraits and figures. I fell back on art more than ever when first learning to cope with this newfound anxiety. It had got so bad that not only could I not leave my home, but I could not be around people. I found myself completely isolated. I had to quit my job and had no idea what to do. I was devastated. So I did the only thing I could: paint. My art became very introspective, and people were calling my work “dark art”. It wasn’t intended to be... this was simply my state of mind, you know. When I met my husband, Oda, you can see my work changed drastically. It was far less macabre, though still to this day there’s a large psychological aspect to it. Even though it’s my “job”, I use art as a means of working out some of my inner dialogue and demons. It’s how I make sense of the world around me that I’m detached from, and in a sense how I make myself a part of it again. Very simply, I know I wouldn’t be the artist I am today if I didn’t struggle with agoraphobia... for starters, the sheer amount of hours I’ve put in my work wouldn’t have ever happened if I wasn’t confined to a room for 24/7 for years with no interaction with the outside world. Secondly, it’s opened me up immensely. It’s provided this foundation for me to explore this metaphysical realm that I examine through my work. I feel more intensely having experienced what I have with anxiety, and I put that into my work. It affects my work right down to my colour palette - or lack there of. Like I said earlier, I get overstimulated with colour, and overstimulation is a curse of my anxiety... but it’s this seeing everything so intensely that allows me to view art and create like I do. I see the physical world differently than I did pre-agoraphobia, and art is the visual world that makes the metaphysical tangible. So it’s very difficult to see it as a negative thing when addressing how it’s affected my art.
Just recently you released a seemingly surreal series titled “Form“... is photography a field you’d love to explore a bit further?
Definitely. I love how I can manipulate reality through paint, but there is something so pure about photography in that it forces me to examine reality. My state of mind working with these two different mediums is quite different, and photography gives me something drawing and painting does not. The “Form“ series is actually not limited to photography, but I’ve not been able to show the other works for it, as they are for my upcoming solo-show, and must remain hush hush for right now. But I can say that through it I’m exploring not only form, but how form functions in these different mediums.
Your work raises questions about gender, sex, objectification and identity... would you say that society these days is more willing to deliver answers - regardless how absurd they might be - or is it getting even more reserved as we seemingly head backwards while embracing a new kind of bigotry and conservatism?
Oh, I need to be delicate how I handle this question, I may go off on a neverending tangent. I feel like I’m in backwards land constantly when addressing these issues. On one hand it would appear we’re making progress, yet on the other hand it’s worse than ever. I will say society is definitely handing us answers in terms of these issues, but there seem to be so many competing narratives. When trying to dissect and break open these boxes, we’re actually creating more boxes and just shuffling people about rather than truly freeing them. It’s a bit of a shit-show. I’m trying to remain positive and think that it’s this exact chaos and madness that will - hopefully not long from now - make us go “what the fuck are we doing”?! Sometimes it takes something ridiculously absurd to show us what the reality is. And we are definitely getting a better look at what’s really going on these days. With these “answers” we’re getting, we’re finally really “hearing” people for the first time. And as much of a shit show as it is, this is the first step towards overcoming the obstacles surrounding these topics.
You’ve mentioned your forthcoming solo-show earlier... please fill us in on what it’ll be all about.
I’m working like a maniac on my upcoming solo “PLAYGROUNDS” that’s happening this autumn at Athen B Gallery in Oakland, California. I decided to scrap the last six months of work I’ve done for it and start over. I wanted to take a more honest approach, and it’s a bit of a milestone for me personally... because I’ve been struggling with trying to create work that others expect to see from me, but that I also resonate with and would actually want to hang in my own home. I generally hate what I put out there, and this series will actually be difficult for me to let go of. There’s only been a few works I’ve done that I had a hard time parting with, and so it’s huge for me to produce a solo-show worthy of works that I’m this connected to. I’ve had to overcome a great deal - personally and emotionally - to be able to produce this body of work. So it’s an exciting time. As soon as that’s over, this fall/winter I’ll be starting it all over again with my works for my next solo in MTL. Really hoping I can get some time between these to do some new work with Oda. We have a ton of ideas for collaborations that we’re both itching to experiment with. Basically I’ll be living in the studio for the rest of the year, ha. I already stocked my art drawers with snacks, and ready for art hibernation.