We are excited to welcome in Kit King in partnership with Gross Magazine for her debut RUN The Tangible Manifestation of Change. For this 1xRUN Thru we turn things over to our friends at Gross Magazine as they give us an inside look at the work Kit King with their latest issue VOL. II – Sink Or Swim. Read on for this new interview with Kit, grab her print right here and grab one of these limited edition copies of Gross right here…
Take a moment and imagine the amount of attention, time and detail it takes to honor every glistening pore and every soft wrinkle in the hyper realistic, and at times surreal, paintings of the admirably self-taught artist, Kit King.
No kidding, just take a look at one of her paintings featured here (best seen in person) and then come back to finish this introduction. Go look.
Cool, you’re back.
Kit has had a natural talent, perhaps inherited from her artistic parents, from a young age but never thought art was for her. The only class she ever flunked was an art class in high school because she could give a rat’s ass about being taught “how to art.” From selling drawings out of her locker to professional tattooing, Kit’s transition to fine artist may seem ordinary, but on the contrary, as it was a tumultuous, and entirely necessary, leap. Agoraphobia (look it up and inform yourself) is a condition that at first glance may seem like a hindrance; but blended with creative positivity, it has resulted in a beautiful marriage and a thriving career in fine art for this wondrous Canadian.
Gross Magazine: For some, dedicating themselves to art is a tough decision and seems far-fetched if it’s not in their family. For you, the daughter of two artists, was a career in art always the goal?
Kit King:When I was a child, I wanted to be a marine biologist, then a judge for a while, and as I grew older, I was interested in becoming a medical geneticist. Actually, being an artist was never on my radar; I just happened to fall into it when life took an insane detour for me. I didn’t attend art school like my parents. I was more into traditional academia. To be taught art just never made much sense to me, and even though my parents supported my creativity, we never discussed art as a viable career path. In fact, my father once told me not to make a career out of my passion because that was a swift way to murder it, so becoming an artist was never something I set out to pursue as a career. I imagined art would just forever remain my favorite pastime.
Gross: You’ve had a pretty natural entry into the art world with some notable pivots in your career. From young amateur to tattoo, and ultimately fine artist, what can you say about the transitions between dedications?
King:I’d say they never seemed much like transitions; it all happened unintentionally and I never planned for them. Without seeing it coming, I wasn’t aware a transition had taken place until I was already deep into it, and one day it was like, oh wow, I guess I’m a tattoo artist. Oh wow, I guess I’m a full-time painter.
I actually fell into both tattooing and fine art with sights to pursue something entirely different. When I was younger I’d draw a lot in class and my peers would tell me I should be a tattooer, which I dismissed. They’d ask if I could design their tattoos for them, and so I started selling these little flash doodles out of my locker to make some extra bucks in high school; and never thought much of it until my tidy life plan was completely derailed, and seemingly overnight went from honor roll nerd and band geek, to homeless, dropout drug addict. After years of insanity and seeing death’s door, I vowed to get out of the world I was in and make something of myself. I was going to get my diploma and then enroll in university to pursue a career in the sciences.
Well, I got clean and enrolled in courses at a drop-in center for homeless youth, which was in the downtown core right across from a tattoo shop. I had a very difficult time being down there and keeping my nose clean, so I would wander over to the tattoo shop to see if I could help out with cleaning and paperwork — not even to get paid — just to keep occupied and keep out of trouble while I was back in school. I’d doodle at the counter when it was slow, people would take an interest and I wound up learning how to tattoo from everyone who worked there. When an appointment would cancel, we’d goof around and they’d let me tattoo.
One day, the manager had to bail on his appointment and asked if I could cover … I did; and again and again, appointment after appointment, suddenly I found myself working there as a full-time tattoo artist. Next thing I knew, school was over. I graduated with honors and received a scholarship, but was booked up at the tattoo shop. It was meant to be temporary, but I fell completely in love with it; to be creative every day and to have people respond the way they did felt so gratifying. I’d go on to do that for seven years, until life took another ugly turn to where I could no longer tattoo or leave my home or be around people. Being completely devastated and not knowing what to do, I turned to art to cope. Years later, I was still drawing and painting each day, and while working on a piece, I was trying to figure out what to do with my life and it hit me. “Wow, I’m an artist.” It’s funny how things work out.
Gross: We read that for a while you painted a lot of babies’ portraits as a means to pay the bills when you left tattooing and first started working full time as a fine artist. Share the difficulties in balancing commission work that pays the bills versus painting freely. How have you progressed? Any tips? Do you think you’ll ever stop painting just to pay the bills?
King: Oh boy, those baby portraits (laughs). So yes, after I was freshly out of the tattoo industry I would draw and post on social media, and people would message me asking for a portrait of their daughter, niece, or cousin’s new baby for a wedding gift. I had no income and no clue what to do, so I’d agree and more people would ask, until all I was doing for 16 hours a day were portrait commissions. It got to the point where I was making a decent living from it and didn’t need to do that many, but I knew I had to keep creating to sort of save sanity in those dark times. As a solution, I taught myself to paint with oils and started to balance out enough commissions to pay my bills while leaving my extra time to paint freely. I’d post my new oil paintings and people started asking if they could purchase those.
As time went on I began to do more of my own work, but when it hit me that this was my path — to be an artist — I wanted to see how I could elevate myself and my art while leaving the commission work behind entirely. I soon realized there is no painting freely if it’s your career. It’s a delicate dance between you the artist and everyone who will come in contact with your work. I’ve made it to the point where I do not take commissions anymore, but my greatest struggle as a fine artist is finding that perfect balance of selling works without selling my art soul and murdering my passion. I’ve been doing it for a few years now and it’s working out financially, but it’s so much more difficult than I could have predicted; and it is something I am constantly navigating, adjusting and trying to figure out — like perfecting a recipe.
Embrace the chaos and find that balance that allows the natural current of things to flow while also pushing yourself. Remember, the more you put in, the more you get out. WORK FOR IT. MAKE SACRIFICES. Tell the world to fuck off while you get your ass to work, and then continue to bust your ass until people can’t help but notice you.
Gross: How do you and your husband, Oda, work together? Share some collaborative successes and failures, including what you have learned over the years.
King: It has been an insane journey with Oda. For starters, I am a huge loner and prefer to work alone; so it was this massive, life-changing moment when we discovered very early on that we worked so well together, which was a first for me. Fresh in that honeymoon stage, it’s all either of us wanted to do, so we — perhaps too eagerly — said “Fuck our solo careers! Let’s just do this!” Some were incredibly supportive, while others did what they could to break us apart. We held strong and built something wonderful together, but just as people tend to do, we both grew and it wasn’t in parallel directions. We were, and still are, trying to find our individual voices in art, and we started to notice that our separate voices weren’t mirroring one another anymore. We knew that by forcing only collaborative work, especially while on different pages, it would not result in the best work we could do. We’ve taken time to try to find ourselves individually so that when we do collaborate, we can find a way to pair the strengths of our independent voices to create strong, unified work.
Over the years, I’ve learned the importance of remaining true to your soul’s countenance — that’s what art is, right? — the face of your soul written in paint and it’s apparent when it’s not genuine. I’ve taught myself to set my pride aside and accept that the full-throttle collaboration course didn’t pan out as we had hoped; to just be open and honest, and accept that we are both unique and flawed individuals with different voices and that’s okay. Your greatest successes can be seen as failures if all you see is how things didn’t go, rather than observing the wonderful course the universe carved out for you.
Gross: We understand you struggle with anxiety in the form commonly known as agoraphobia. This seems to fuel your creative productivity with your work, serving as a therapeutic solution. What can you say to others who may be suffering from anxiety? Have you taken measures outside of painting to help ease the strain?
King: Oh yes, when you never leave, you become ridiculously productive (laughs). I have explored all venues to overcome this anxiety and depression rubbish — everything shy of hypnosis. I’ve tried inpatient therapy, hospitalizations, outpatient therapy, psychologists, psychiatrists, exposure therapy, meditation — gah. I’ve tried it all. I had ups and downs, but ultimately nothing has been effective. The only thing that quells the pain and provides solace is art. Art is how I escape without having to leave my home — I just mentally check out. It’s not only a passion, but how I occupy my mind, and how I navigate my struggles with anxiety and depression. Ever since I was a kid, if there was something going on internally that I couldn’t make sense of, I’d hide away and draw until it dissipated or until I figured it out. Anxiety can feel like a prison, but art is one of the only truly freeing things in this world; take advantage of it and create so that you may grow from it.