Kit King in her studio surrounded by pieces for "Dimensional Analogue" 2016.
The work of Canada-based artist Kit King is a study in contrasts: not merely the dark and light of her black and white pieces but also the contrasts between intimate and impersonal, hardness and vulnerability, openness and the state of being bound. There is balance yet tension. And it is the viewer who is invited, perhaps compelled, to resolve that tension—or decide to merely appreciate the question a particular piece may ask.
"Art helps me feel less alone. I can find solace in the solitude when I’m creating. Through art I am able to connect with my fellow man all over the globe. I can paint pieces and scatter them across the earth and fill this place with little pieces of myself." —Kit King
Kit King with her oil painting titled "Apply As Needed"
Julie Antolick Winters: You’ve been creating art since childhood, yet you’ve not had formal art schooling. What drew you to hyperrealism?
Kit King: When I was younger I saw the realism my parents could do and was always so impressed with it. I wanted to achieve the same level of realism—only the more I grew with it, the more flaws I saw in my work, and the more details I began to notice. I became a little obsessed with trying to render every tiny detail I saw. I didn’t even know hyperrealism was a thing. The more I created, the more I fell in love with it, and the more obsessed I became. Have you ever fallen for someone so completely that you could sit there for hours just combing every detail of their face? Looking and finding the tiniest scars and wondering how they got it? Or wonder if they were ever insecure about the “imperfections” that you find so beautiful about them? I suppose that’s me with my work. Entranced, in love and obsessed. Hyperrealism has a certain intimacy about it that I find so alluring.
Untitled - Oil, acrylic and pastel on 24” birch panel by Kit King
JAW: Do you derive more inspiration from concepts or emotions or from things you see?
KK: I would say I'm highly emotionally driven—it’s why I create in the first place. I tend to pour too much of myself in my art. If a concept is pulling me, it’s because of the emotion fueling that concept. Many of my more recent works have begun conceptually, but it’s never a concept devoid of emotion.
"Raw" - Collaborative oil painting by Kit King & Oda
JAW: What is your greatest satisfaction in creating?
KK: The escape it provides. Art has saved me. I’ve always been an outsider and turned to art to purge intense emotions I didn’t know how to express to others. When my social anxiety and agoraphobia came about, I didn’t know what to do but create. I just painted the days away as a means to get through them. I struggled a great deal with suicidal tendencies and as long as I was creating, I was okay.
"Dimensional Analogue" - Oil painting by Kit King
JAW: You are known for your paintings and drawings, but your website does have examples of your photography work as well. What, if anything, does photography bring you that painting and drawing do not, and what do painting and drawing bring you that photography does not?
KK: I was never into photography much but want to explore every creative medium I can. I honestly wasn’t expecting to love it as much as I do. The best thing about photography is it allows me to explore so much more, since I’m not spending weeks creating one single image. I’ve had some health struggles, and photography allows me to still be creative when my mind and body aren’t up to the strains of drawing and painting. My first few years doing this full time, I was working 16-hour days 7 days a week and did some damage to my neck, spine and wrists. I can’t paint the crazy hours I used to, but I sill long for those hours to be spent creatively.
I loathe the technological aspect of photography though—I’m seriously bad with technology and prefer hands-on raw materials of oils, carbon and clay. There’s so much I have to learn with photography that I struggle with, whereas with drawing and painting, there was never any struggle: it all evolved so naturally for me. So photography feels more like work, but I am loving the learning curve and newness of it. There’s something inherently different about photography than any other medium. There’s a truth to it, and I’m really intrigued by that. With drawing and painting, even hyperrealistically, it’s always my interpretation of an image, whereas photography will always be exactly that…a moment captured as it is. Yes, as the photographer you can control the image mood and feel, but there’s an honesty in what is seen there versus what I choose to see in a painting. Even my own paintings referenced from my photography are never the exact same: when I paint, I'm never thinking of matching the likeness but rather focused on certain aspects of that image, and when I’m taking a photo I’m more focused on aesthetics and content. My state of mind changes for each. Paintings equal “how does this make me feel?” Photography equals “is it visually appealing? Does it have importance?”
I’m still so new to photography but certainly want to explore it more, as art has taken on new meaning for me, outside of just being my personal escape. Now art has become more about what I can bring to this world to make it a better place, and photography is a perfect medium for me to explore and express this.
"Searching For A Connection" - Photo by Kit King
JAW: You’ve mentioned having experienced agoraphobia. What effects, if any, has the agoraphobia had on your art?
KK: To be honest, I don’t think I even would have become an artist if it hadn’t been for this crippling anxiety. I never once considered art a viable career path. Agoraphobia sort of nudged me on this path though.
Agoraphobia is incredibly isolating and emotionally heavy. When you carry these excess emotions, you need a place to unload them and try to make sense of them and the situation you’ve come to find yourself in. Art is perfect for this. My world suddenly became so small. These walls were now all I knew. But with art, I could go anywhere. Be anyone. Art helps me feel less alone. I can find solace in the solitude when I’m creating. Through art I am able to connect with my fellow man all over the globe. I can paint pieces and scatter them across the earth and fill this place with little pieces of myself. I can reach out to others and share intimate parts of my soul through my art. It can be difficult to express the pain you deal with when struggling with such an intense anxiety like this, but art allows me to say the words that are heavy on my heart that my voice cannot. Simply put, agoraphobia birthed the pain that fuels my art.
Kit King working on a massive drawing titled "Uninhibited"
JAW: Bodies, and body image, are featured prominently as subject matter in your pieces. What do you most hope that viewers will carry from your work?
KK: I just want people to never feel alone or ashamed. These are such horrible feelings unnecessarily pushed on us more and more with the direction this world is going. I’m an outsider looking in on this world, and I can see it’s not meant to be like this; humanity is headed down a terrible road, and I have a hard time just standing idly by watching it all unravel. I just want to be a teeny glimmer of hope in someone’s day, and art is the best way I know how to do this. In a world where we are constantly told we are not good enough, I want people to hear my voice saying, “yes, you are.”
Studio photo of Kit King with her painting "In Flux"
JAW: In addition to your work as an individual artist, you have created a painting partnership with your husband, Oda. How has this partnership evolved?
KK: My husband moved from America where he was a tattooer, to be with me here in Canada. He always wanted to be an artist, and so I showed him everything I had taught myself, to help him pursue his dream. This was two years ago now. We actually fell in love before we ever met while discussing a collaboration we wanted to do. When we did that first collaboration, we knew in that moment we wanted to spend our lives with one another. It was an immediate connection like I had never seen. I don’t work well with people at all, but it was just magic with him. Our hands just danced together on the canvas, and we were so in tune with one another we didn’t need to communicate much. The biggest struggle now is that he no longer needs my help to paint, and since having him in my life, I no longer need painting to quell my pain (since he does a great job of that), and so we have evolved to have two separate artistic voices now. He really wants to focus on the meditative practices of the creative field and content linked to our earth, where my work now is high energy/emotion/anything but meditative, and focused on pain and human struggles and exploring sexuality. So there’s a dichotomy with the energy there. We had met because we actually drew the exact same thing and I thought he was ripping me off (until I saw the time stamp and that he had done his first), so back then we were right on the same page as far as what to paint; it wasn’t a convergence of our ideas, but more just the exact same idea (hah). We’ve taken a step back from the collaborative work while we both explore our new directions a bit, so we can see how they can naturally come together rather than forcing something there.
"Hyperaemia" - Collaborative oil painting by Kit King & Oda
JAW: What might our readers be most surprised to learn about you as an artist?
KK: That I never wanted to become an artist. I was an honor roll kid that flunked art—the only class I have ever failed. I tried to take an art class in high school, but I flunked it for not showing up. Turns out I had zero interest in “learning” art. I never cared to study art at all, so I am completely out of the art loop.
When I was a kid I wanted to be a marine biologist, then in high school a judge; then I wanted to become a medical geneticist in my early adult years, but the anxiety threw a wrench in that. I’m more into science than I am art. I can’t even make my way through an art tutorial on YouTube or a DVD. (I tried to watch one with Oda once and it was painful!) I just don’t believe in “teaching” art. It’s one of the only free things we have on this earth. I think the institutionalisation of art has clouded so much of art’s essence and purity. When you’re a kid you create for the joy it brings you. You don’t care about colouring in the lines until someone tells you to stay in those lines…I have no interest in that.
Kit King & Oda censoring a collaborative paintings for the Facebook nipple police. This piece was shown at beinArt Gallery in 2016.
JAW: What excites you about the work of other artists? Are there particular artists whose work you find inspiring?
KK: Since I’m so new to the art world, every day I discover a badass new artist out there, and it’s too hard to say just a few names. But I’m inspired by any artist who uses their work to challenge the status quo. Art that’s more than just a pretty picture—art with guts—that’s what inspires me. I like the artists that don’t paint things that will sell fast because they look nice and are playing it safe. I like the creators that show the ugly truths no one wants to speak about. That level of bravery inspires.
Kit King working on her piece "Eat & Dick" the for "Flesh & Bone" show at beinArt Gallery (2017)
JAW: Is there anything you’d like to tell our readers about what you’re working on now or what you have lined up for 2017?
KK: I have a couple solo shows coming up in San Francisco and Montreal, some art fairs and more global group exhibits. You can find it all on my website, www.kitkingart.com.
Expect to see more experimenting and evolution. No matter how hard I try to stick to one theme or style for a cohesive body of work that makes for a pretty portfolio, I can’t help but be pulled to examine a multitude of mediums and ideas, so I’ve sort of given up on that notion of a clean tailored gallery…so get ready for some messy, explorative honesty.
"Dichotomize" - self portrait with graphite & charcoal on paper by Kit King
This interview was written by Julie Antolick Winters for Beinart Gallery in 2017.
Julie Antolick Winters is a writer and editor residing in the state of Maryland, USA, in a small city near Washington, D.C. Julie cowrote the introduction for Black Magick: the Art of Chet Zar and co-copyedited this book and Kris Kuksi: Divination and Delusion for Beinart Publishing. She has also been conducting artist interviews for the Beinart Collective & Gallery since 2010. In addition to her work for the Beinart Gallery, she edits science articles and books, writes poetry and practices the art of negotiation with her son.