Welcome to the magical world of Kevin Sloan, an American painter who was born in Iowa but calls Colorado home by way of many other cities around the States. His work can be called Contemporary Realism, which he explains is like painting reality with a twist. Kevin agreed to let me pick his brain about some of the imagery in his work like animals, clocks and teacups. He shared a few details about how he starts his day and what he hopes to communicate through his work as well as a few of his favourite restaurant gems in Denver and some insight into the city through the five senses.
LO: Tell us a bit about yourself.
KS: I’m currently living in Denver, Colorado. My partner and I moved here about 1-1/2 years ago from Santa Fe, New Mexico where we’d lived for about 11 years. I was born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa. However, after leaving Des Moines at age 18 for college, I’ve lived all over the United States. Here is the list: Philadelphia, Tucson, Phoenix, San Francisco, New Orleans, New York City, Key West, Ft. Lauderdale, Santa Fe, and now Denver. It would seem from this list that I like to move a lot, but much of the motivation for these many residences over the years is a love of travel and curiosity about new cultures, environments, etc. My version of travel just involved my taking all my stuff with me each time I went somewhere! In addition to love of travel, I love being outdoors, hiking and experiencing nature in its less refined state. I love reading, but lately find it hard to find the time to read as much as I’d like. The same is true for cooking – baking specifically. I love creating baked things like pies and cakes, but again, the studio takes so much of my time that it’s a special treat to spend time in the kitchen – usually when friends or family come over.
LO: How long have you been painting? Is it your full time career? What do you love most about being an artist?
KS: I’ve been painting since high school, so I guess that’s about 37 years. Once I started in high school I never stooped. Painting, exhibiting and selling my artwork is now my full-time career and gratefully has been for nearly 20 years! I still find that hard to believe since so many artists never get to this point. I love that devoting myself to my art allows me time to refine and explore my personal, visual vocabulary. The more I create paintings, the more I see there is to learn and explore. This adventure is so challenging and yet satisfying I can’t imagine not doing this every day.
LO: Talk about the significance of some of the themes in your art:
Animals: I choose to work with animals because they are sentient creatures like us, but don’t come with the “baggage” that painting a human figure would. When working with animals it doesn’t matter what gender they are, what race, age, etc. I find this liberating because I can focus more on the story I’m creating, not the “baggage”. Sometimes the animals represent themselves – in other words, when a bird is entangled in electrical cords and the story is about the conflict between nature and modern technology, the bird is clearly representing itself. However, I recently painted a squirrel standing on a pile of dice, holding even more in its hands and a bee is buzzing in its ear. This painting is called “The Investor” and the squirrel is a “stand-in” for a human. It’s a way to use the animal as a metaphor for human behaviour.
Clocks: Clocks quite simply represent time – time passing and the idea of movement or change in the painting. Time and its incessant passing is a constant background noise to our experience and to picture it in a painting reminds us of this basic truth. Also, when I’m dealing with issues of threat to the natural environment, the clock speaks to the idea of urgency, that time is passing, there’s not much time, etc.
Teacups and other pottery: The teacups and ceramic imagery has multiple meanings in the work. Sometimes, when it’s balanced and heavy upon the head of some poor beast, it represents modern, old-fashioned “civilisation”. All the prejudices, fears and rules of the past come together in these precious, elite little cups and saucers. Other times the ceramics speak to fragility and the delicate nature of the natural world and the human-made world. These beautiful cups and vessels are delicate, fragile and easily broken.
LO: What’s your daily routine like?
KS: I tend to rise fairly early, generally with sunrise or in the winter, before sunrise. My morning starts slowly with a lot of coffee, reading the newspaper, hopefully exercising in some way and then eventually finding my way to the studio. In all, from the time I wake up at around 6:00am it’s about 3 hours until I’m working in the studio. My breakfast tends to be either yogurt and fruit or lately, steel-cut oats with almond milk, walnuts and fresh fruit. Yum!
The studio is about a 15 minute drive from the apartment. After arriving, most days I try to take about 10 minutes and meditate to settle my mind, focus on the day ahead and help to create a mental and spiritual space between the outside world and the world of the studio. I generally stay at the studio until 4-5:00pm. During those hours, I’m working on my painting, answering emails, researching things online like images I might need, possibly taking a break to pack and ship some prints that may have sold, etc. I work all the time while I’m at the studio although it is a variety of tasks which suits me since I tend to have a slightly short attention span and need painting breaks regularly.
I also volunteer for a non-profit arts organisation – PlatteForum – which is an artist residency program in Denver as well as a community outreach program. It creates a safe and nurturing place for underprivileged youth to interact with the resident artist and get some exposure to visual art. This takes some time out my week on an occasional basis, but for the most part my weekdays are spent at the studio.
LO: You have an exhibition on from May 8 at the MA Doran Gallery, Tulsa, Oklahoma. Give us a bit of insight into this show. What can we expect if we’re in the area?
KS: I’m included in an invitational exhibition at M.A. Doran Gallery in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This is an annual survey of contemporary realism. I have two paintings in the exhibition and am in the company of some highly respected painters working in this genre. Contemporary Realism as a genre could be described as painting things we all know and understand in a realistic way but with a twist. In other words, not just a bowl of fruit or an idyllic landscape. There is usually some other element or unexpected juxtaposition that takes it out of the traditional definition of realism.
LO: I spotted your work on saatchiart.com. Do you have any advice for up and coming artists who wish to try to sell their work online?
KS: For the past year or so, I’ve been selling limited edition prints of my work on Saatchi Art, an online gallery. The benefit to me has been that Saatchi has a global audience, one I could never reach on my own. As a result, I’ve been able to sell my prints to collectors all over the world. That has been amazing. The main difference between an online gallery and a brick and mortar gallery is that online you can only see a photograph of the artwork, not the real object. For this reason, I always encourage artists to get the highest quality reproduction of their work possible. In the end, that is what the potential collector will see so it had better be good.
LO: You’ve created a surreal, enchanted world through your work. Do you find painting is an escape from reality for you? What do you hope your work will communicate to others?
KS: I create a world in my paintings that runs parallel to the “real” world we all inhabit. This comes very naturally to me and I find it is a way to point to the curiosities and foibles of the “real” world in a way that no other form of description could do. It’s not so much of an escape for me but rather a presentation of a slightly altered reality, the way a dream can be.
My hope is that by using metaphor and allegory I can get a little closer to the heart of the story I’m creating. If I wanted to speak about the environmental disaster following the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico a few years ago, I could paint pictures of birds covered in oil, etc. To me, that is editorial cartooning and doesn’t transcend the obvious images we had all seen. Instead, I chose to paint a pelican, based on an image by Audubon, and instead of his beak closed as in the original, I had it open and full of all sorts of things from clocks to food to other birds. It was a way for me to speak about distress, chaos and something really unexpected and wrong, but at the same time hopefully create something with a poignant beauty. I don’t want to add more images of misery to the world, but at the same time I feel I must in some way speak about the rapidly changing world we live in. My hope is that to speak about these issues in a more poetic and less literal way, a viewer may actually spend a little more time with them.
LO: Give us your top 3 Denver restaurant recommendations and why they’re great.
KS: Denver is in the midst of a restaurant boom! It’s wonderful to this happening with new places opening each week. Sadly, our budget doesn’t often allow us to enjoy all of them as much as we’d like, but I have a few favourites:
Linger is situated in a former mortuary and has a terrific menu of global street food as well as an amazing view of downtown.
For cheap and easy Mexican food, I love Benny’s – Combo “S” is my favorite – a grilled chicken taco, carnitas smothered chile relleno, rice and beans. Delicious. It’s noisy and relaxed and when the weather is good you can sit outdoors along the sidewalk.
Lastly, more Mexican food – Pinche Tacos, which started as a food truck but became so popular they opened a restaurant (and now have two). They only serve tacos, chips, salsa, beer and tequila. Everything is so fresh and the some of the combinations of ingredients are simultaneously odd and perfect. It’s a very small and fun environment, but don’t go there hoping to have a serious conversation; it’s so loud you’ll be screaming. It’s just around the corner so it’s a standby.
LO: If you think of Denver and hear the following, what first comes to mind?
Sight: Trees everywhere – big ones covering the streets like a green, leafy tunnel.
Sound: Canadian geese flying overhead or in the parks, honking and making all sorts of chatter.
Smell: Right now, lilacs and cut grass.
Taste: Funkwerks Tropic King beer or chips at Pinche Tacos.
Texture: Dry air and minimal humidity so it feels like you can move more easily through the world!
LO: What are you working on at the moment?
KS: Until the end of 2014, I’m focusing all my energy on a major museum exhibition opening in March 2015 at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. I will have about 20 paintings there, all related to bird imagery. In conjunction with my work will be an exhibition of selected of Audubon prints from the museum’s collection which I will help to curate. Because I often work with Audubon’s series, “Birds of America” in my work, this is a very exciting and rare opportunity to show with an artist I greatly admire.
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