YS: You’re a high school painting teacher, and an artist early in your career as well. What first led you to painting?
KP: I was the token art kid for sure. My older brother and I were always drawing as kids, but I felt like he was so much better than me. When it came time for college, I followed in his footsteps and pursued a degree in graphic design. I graduated cum laude but struggled with a love/hate relationship with design so I decided to not make a career out of it. For a while I considered going back to school to get my MFA to teach design at the university level, that way my job would be teaching, not designing. Becoming a high school teacher was a practical decision. I thought that if after 5 years I still like teaching then I would go back to school and get my MFA.
For my current position, I was hired on as a painting teacher but didn’t really know anything about the subject beyond the intro classes in art school. I had no teaching experience and knew absolutely nothing about technique or theory. I have spent the past three and a half years simultaneously teaching myself and my students how to paint. I decided to take painting seriously when I came across a coffee-table book of Andrew Wyeth three years ago. I read it cover to cover in one sitting and at the end naively thought “I can do this.” Well, I can’t. I actually suck at figurative work. But I did have an epiphany that I wanted to and could legitimately pursue art as a career while reading this book. I’ve been working toward that goal ever since.
Who or what are you most inspired or influenced by?
Per Kirkeby, Daniel Richter, Hernan Bas, Goya, Richard Diebenkorn’s Figures, Matisse, Vuillard and Henry Rousseau all come to mind when I think about painters. These men have all had a different influence on my work at some point. Although, when I discovered Kirkeby, his work had such a profound effect on me that I stopped hacking away at figurative work and changed directions completely.
My work and the way I’ve been able to articulate what I’m doing has been influenced by what I read as well. Those who inspire me include: Annie Dillard, Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry, Marie Howe, Brother Lawrence, the Jesuit order’s spiritual exercises and Vigen Guroian.
Do you feel that teaching art to high school students has an impact on your own work at all? What is the balance of teaching/painting like?
Definitely! Being a teacher has helped me become a better communicator. Kids ask lots of questions. They put me in a place where I need to explain in non-discursive terms what I’m doing. Sometimes they get it, sometimes they don’t.
In order for me to pursue painting while being a teacher full time I have to structure my work day and I have to create space for myself to pursue painting.
What is your studio like? How much time do you typically spend working there?
I would love to have a studio! For now, I do the bulk of my work in the mornings in my classroom before school starts. I also paint when I get the time in the evenings and on the weekends at home. I probably spend about 3-4 hours a day working on this painting stuff.
How do you get started on a piece? What is your process like?
I start with notebook sketches of nature: landscapes/trees/textures/plants/etc. When I begin painting, I pull from these drawings and try to recapture that initial sketch by working only with line. Once the lines are laid out, it’s a matter of figuring out my pallet and what colors go where. Often, I am not happy with the initial work so I rework color and composition to get the depth of space I’m looking for. Each painting is a sort of puzzle. If I overbalance the elements then it becomes infinitely boring, this was a hard habit to break coming from a design background. Good design composition is not good painting composition.
What do you feel that you need most as an artist?
Support. I’ve got my wife, who is by far my biggest advocate. I’m figuring things out as I go.
What is the best advice you’ve been given, or what advice would you most like to offer to students as they discover an interest in art, and pursuing it?
Never get so attached to a work or an idea that it can’t change for fear of messing it up.
Also, make stuff. All of the time. Get good at your craft and then promote the hell out of it.
What do you find to be the most fulfilling or exciting thing about pursuing art?
I am just now beginning the process of putting my work out for the world to see. I’m curious to see where this path of pursuing my art career will lead. I find that art is a very tangible thing. I can see what I have done, whether a work was successful or not. The process of making something is in itself fulfilling. Needless to say, teaching isn’t so tangible.
What do you find most challenging?
Networking. It seems like we always have something pretty major going on during the weekends. I have a 2 year old son and we have another baby on the way this winter. I don’t have much time on my hands to socialize at other artists’ openings.
Do you have any upcoming projects or shows?
Yes! I have a few pieces in a group show at The Frisco Gallery in Frisco, TX until December 3.
Find more at kevinperkins.us!
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