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An interview with Dave Kinsey

An interview with Dave Kinsey

Dave Kinsey is an American contemporary artist who remains to this day a large inspiration for I Love Ugly. Critically acclaimed and revered by his peers and audience the world over, Kinsey's contemporary style is heavily inspired by early 90s street culture and he has had the opportunity to work with the likes of Nike & Apple through his BLKMRKT project. 

We recently caught up with the Navada Mountain-based artist about inspiration, influence, and his thoughts about the current state of art and fashion. 

ILU: You were one of the very first artists to inspire me when I began I Love Ugly. I felt that I could connect with your drawings and paintings on a very unique level and by trying to replicate your characters it could help me get on the path to develop my own style. So for this I thank you. What are your thoughts on being a visual artist inspiring me to start a clothing brand, a brand that continues to draw inspiration from your work? 

DK: Thanks Valentin, that's amazing and equally inspiring. I love what you've built with your brand, so I'm humbled by that. The fact that I can share my work and affect someone across the ocean relates to my own experience and journey being inspired by Colors magazine and Tibor Kalman back when I was in art school. It's pretty remarkable — a sort of continuum of inspiration or a collective creative consciousness. 

ILU: Please tell us how you began your journey as an artist and why you chose that path. 

DK: I've been making art since I can remember, but it all hit home when I realized its potential just about the time I hit art school. Art school was a real motivator, along with street and skate culture. Being immersed in all this at the same point was good timing for me because I really needed something to send me on my way. There was this raw energy with stuff happening in the '90s with everything sort of converging I guess—the prevailing music, skating, the neo-graffiti/street art movement, etc. I worked a lot of shit jobs growing up, so I decided that once I got out of school I was going to start my own thing, and BLK/MRKT was born from that desire. I'm fortunate that I've been able to lead an artistic life, but it's been a lot of hard work. 

ILU: I Love Ugly has grown significantly throughout America, particularly in Los Angeles. We are actually thinking about opening up a store in LA. Sometimes I feel that people from LA can subconsciously connect to I Love Ugly because of the Kinsey influence that comes through in our brand. I also frequently hear that LA is becoming more culturally inclined and on the forefront of artistic trends on that side of the world. From my understanding you have left Los Angeles and are based in a more remote part of the world. How has this transition effected your work, and do you feel that you’re ‘missing out’ on anything from not being in LA? 

DK: First, congrats on your success, seriously, that’s awesome. And thanks for that idea—being a part of it, even on a subconscious level, is amazing for me to consider. I feel very connected to LA, having been here for over a decade, and it has its great qualities for sure—there definitely is a bustling cultural scene going on. I still spend a lot of time there, but I currently live in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, about 4 hours north. It’s pretty wild with bears giving us visits, etc. 

It’s hard to put into words how my new environment has affected me, but it's been transformative on all levels—artistically, spiritually, mentally. A sort of shedding of my old skin, so to speak. I like to feel that my work is continually evolving, and having fewer distractions has been a great asset. I find myself equally busy, but I'm now able to engage with a more singular focus. After having a “brick & mortar” design studio and gallery for almost 15 years, I’m enjoying the break from it. The move wasn't planned—it was totally circumstantial—but I went with it. I don't feel I'm missing out on life in LA, especially since it's right there. I can be there on a whim if the cabin fever starts kicking in. I love the juxtaposition. And, of course, the internet makes it possible to be almost anywhere in the world and be virtually connected. 

ILU: I have always been intrigued with how most of your paintings have people in them, is there any particular reason for this? 

DK: I think the first thing that set it off for me was taking the bus with my grandmother to downtown Pittsburgh in the '70s. I was really young but I remember it as being like a scene out of Alice in Wonderland — I just got off on checking out all the different people. Then when I got to art school in '89, I started spending a lot of time in the urban environment skateboarding, doing graffiti, going to shows, hanging out, painting murals, etc. and I still had that interest; observing people in and of the streets and tripping out on the melting pot of humanity. Even the homeless people in these wildly precarious situations had charismatic but tragic qualities. They'd be smoking crack, fighting, fucking—hell, I even saw a dude die right in front of me one time on the sidewalk. I started drawing these characters as a way to filter my feelings about the disparate and tragic lives of these human beings. In this, I also see a relation to “normal” people that is less exaggerated, but still implicated, especially in our love/hate relationship with nature. 

ILU: Our design team continues to be heavily inspired by your work as a painter. Do you think in today’s world there is any direct correlation to the high-end fashion industry and street art? As around 10-15 years ago hip-hop and graffiti had a massive influence on street wear. 

DK: Absolutely. I think all forms of culture ultimately feed off of each other—a sort of cyclical energy that reflects the mood of the times. 

ILU: Have you ever been approached by any clothing brands to do a collaboration? If so, how do you pick what brands you work with? 

DK: I have, but I only engage with brands I personally connect with. Actually, about 10 years ago Robert and Jonas (RIP) from LRG approached me to do my own signature line, but I felt that I had too much on my plate at the time to do it right. I also didn't want my art to become a slave to itself, if that makes sense. I felt it would've killed my intimate relationship with it. So now I have BLK/MRKT Original, where I just focus on doing what's best for the image of the brand itself with no long-term dependence on my fine art. It's the perfect set up. 

ILU: Being regarded as one of the pioneers of street art, do you feel like there is a pressure to feed that earlier fan base with what your career was built on, or do you feel that your fan base has to evolve with what you are putting out? 

DK: Needless to say, I would love my fans to grow with me, and it seems like many of them enjoy seeing my evolution—and for that I’m grateful. At the same time, I do still have that core base that also likes my traditional characters and line work (my wife included). I like to take a lot of chances trying new things and pushing my comfort zone while revisiting things I've done in the past, so I think it's all good. I look forward to sharing my work with new generations as well. 

ILU: As one creative speaking to another - when you wake up in the morning, is your work one of the first things you think about? 

DK: Actually, my first thought is usually "Who the fuck is licking my face?!" Oh right, the dogs! When the coffee kicks in I start to put my day into perspective. Living in the mountains is weird too, because the schedule is looser and includes random things like chopping wood. It's def cool. 

ILU: I’m sure I’m speaking on behalf of a lot of people when I say thanks for continuing to do what you do and inspiring us all. If you could give some advice to anyone creating or wanting to start doing something creative/artistic, what would that be? 

DK: Thank you for the support. My advice would be: live it, breathe it, become it. There are few rules in life that can't be unlearned—play the game how you wish to play it. 

Check out Dave Kinsey's recent Solo Show @ the FFDG in San Francisco. 


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