In one of the weirdest week's of weather we've seen in a few years, and another reason for rich people to scream “let's go skiing” on social media like we give a crap, we got a decent day to see Gallery Stroll. --- If the past few months of Stroll have felt like it's been running on fumes to you, you're not the only one to notice as much of the events being added to the map consist of landscape painters. No insult to landscape painters, many of them in Utah are fantastic, but there comes a point as a patron where after seeing the same golden fields and rustic barn in the distance from various perspectives, you start falling asleep on your feet.
Luckily this month there was a lot of fresh blood and newer concepts added to the mix, including a brand new gallery going by the name KOOK Convivium, which took over the small spot next to Green Pig Pub on 400 South that's changed a couple times in the past few years. Inside were the works from repurposed designer, Kevin Arthofer, for their inaugural run on Gallery Stroll. Today we chat with Arthofer about his career and artwork, along with photos you can check out here.
Gavin: Hey Kevin! First off, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Kevin: I’m an artist and a hydrologist. I am a Libra. I grew up in the Chicagoland area. I love Utah and most of all I love staring at the rocks and landforms of Utah. It’s a good thing we have coffee because I will talk for a while here.
Gavin: What first got you interested in art and what were some early influences on you?
Kevin: I was always up early in the summer as a kid for swim practice. When I’d get home it would be too early to play with friends so I’d sit in my basement and make different types of artwork, but mostly just tinkering. All of my grandparents are big tinkerers in one way or another so I got it from them. Personally I was fascinated by natural landscapes, especially rocks and river courses. So nature was the earliest influence besides my grandparents. Several years ago I began to express my view of nature through art, and this is when I think I finally became genuinely happy with my artwork.
Gavin: You received your Masters in Water Resource Engineering from the UCLA. What made you pursue that degree, and how did UCLA treat you?
Kevin: About 8 years ago I moved to Utah and I was doing everything I could to learn about the long story of water in the West and eventually became an employee of the State of Utah Department of Natural Resources. The DNR keep records, publishes studies and make maps. I decided I wanted to learn the most technical tools in understanding earth systems and UCLA was that place. Most people don’t know this about me, but my specialty at UCLA was is in snow-melt hydrology, an area of study that cares immensely about physics to attempt to predict the water supply into the future. UCLA blew my mind. The computing and mathematics required was extremely advanced. The abstract computing I found myself in lead me to become a hydrologist as well as an abstract artist.
Gavin: What was it like for you taking up that vocation and building up your professional career?
Kevin: As a hydrologist, I see things that most others cannot immediately see, like the mathematics governing the way solar radiation reflects off of a snow surface. I always try to illustrate hydrology when working as a hydrology consultant. I enjoy working with other professionals who share his or her vision and we solve a problem in an integrated approach. I provide clients with an understanding of the problem, and then a suite of water solutions. In a unique approach I am developing in practice, I believe built tabletop 3D models should be used by the hydrologist, just like they are by other professionals like Architects and designers.
Gavin: How was it for you as a designer to take the work you had created and make it a form of art?
Kevin: This is a great question. Taking design prototypes to art is the best part of what I get to do. Often my work starts as a huge idea, something so big it can be paralyzing, in a good way. For design, it is the problem solving and prototyping process I love. Sometimes this process can lead to good art. Can I share a dream? I have dreams of one day having a “garden of ruin,” where my prototypes go to ruin and maybe from that ruin, be reborn into art some day. Maybe it will look something like the Island of Misfit Toys from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Ask anyone who knows me, I often leave failed prototypes around for years, I find the failure beautiful.
Gavin: What eventually brought you out to Utah and what made you decide to stay?
Kevin: Honestly I moved here because I wanted to look at rocks and landforms -- to take a real close look. I’ve been connected to Utah for about eight years now. And the same rocks I’ve looked at have kept me here. Quite often I feel like I have actually taken on attributes of the rocks I have observed. I don’t feel like I am a particularly rare earth material or precious metal, just an ordinary piece of Earth’s mantel, and from this view point I get to watch the people now. I like the vantage point of a rock.
Gavin: When did you start looking at making a career in exhibiting your works as pieces of art?
Kevin: Well for years I was exploding with creativity and shared it as widely as I could on social media, at events and with friends and colleagues. Like anyone who has gone through a creative explosion, it can be disorienting and beautiful too. It takes organization to sell art, the process of creativity can go on forever and it can be shared freely. And it should be. Selling artwork marks the end of a process for me. It helps me organize my thoughts about each and every piece. It’s a thrill when someone likes something I’ve created enough to buy it. That is really cool. I love that.
Gavin: How much of a transition was there from making pieces as concepts and potential projects, to making pieces strictly for show?
Kevin: The current works, “Future Primitive” are on display at the brand new KOOK Gallery. In a shameless plug, everyone should go see KOOK and what we are doing there. We talked earlier about hydrology and my career there. We also talked about prototyping. So this question is a great one. Some of my best artworks in my mind came directly from trying many things and failing many times. When I realized I could make artwork for the Future Primitive series that fit the design process I enjoy, I created a large body of work consisting of several iconic western animal heads. I’m quite happy with these works because they involved an amount of rigor to create while still being playful pieces. In addition to the pieces at the show currently at KOOK, the heads are hanging around the corner at the Impact Hub SLC and also at my studio space, Soul Poles in Park City.
Gavin: A lot of the materials you use have been re-purposed or recycled in some fashion. What was the motivation behind using those kinds of materials in your work?
Kevin: Experimentation. Experimentation with those materials. And also as experimentation with environmental messaging giving a structural form and voice to what many consider old “waste” material. Also, sometimes, making art from underused or re-purposed materials leads to interesting aesthetic. Can I tell a story? For sourcing materials to be repurposed, my favorite thing to stumble upon is a material cache of several uniform objects that don’t have tape or some gross glue all over them. Everything found usually has tape or tape residue on it. I just mentioned my studio at Soul Poles in Park City, well when I was introduced to those guys there I had been collecting potential art materials I found interesting and essentially hording trash items for years. Bryon at Soul Poles said, “Well we have several uniformly long bamboo rods that we can’t use for our poles” and we need you to make art out of them. And then I woke up this morning.
Gavin: What's the process like for you when creating a new piece, from concept to final product?
Kevin: I talked a little about this already. The process can be messy but I always find the mess beautiful. For process, I may first draw something in thick black Sharpie. Then, comes the first of several handmade cardboard prototypes. The sharpie provides the line, and the cardboard provides the first glimpse of the form. Depending on the project, I’ll design prototype different aspects that may be challenging for getting to the final piece. After I get the general line and 3D form work done, I usually marinade leaving the prototypes and drawings around for days, sometimes for years. It is the next step that is unpredictable, usually a relationship with another artist, engineer or designer that leads to a final vision of the piece and where it may go.
Gavin: Do you find yourself changing it a lot while you work or do you try to stay with the original plan?
Kevin: Well there are usually about ten prototypes to a final piece, at least. So I change a lot of the aspects to each piece I suppose, but it all seems to fit with original plan drawn in thick black Sharpie. Once I’m happy enough with the progress of a work, I allow myself to improvise widely.
Gavin: Some of your work is for galleries, but there's a good portion of it that has been utilized outdoors. Which do you prefer working in and why?
Kevin: My outdoor work is fun because it usually is a do it yourself (DIY) version of something that already exists in the real world. I once made Dracula’s Garden, by taking typical xeriscape and mixing it with Batman or something. This was in Silver Lake, Louisiana. I heard the original Dracula lived nearby so I named that garden after him because obviously I channeled him for some reason at that dark time. Another piece I did outside was take advertising billboard vinyl and through paper folding exercises came up with a fold pattern for a Plant Wall Pocket. It’s a simple fold pattern. I hung that on several chain-link fences and transplanted nearby succulents to it. That was another gardening exercise more happy than Dracula’s Garden.
Gavin: Tell us about the artwork on display for this Stroll.
Kevin: The Future Primitive series re-imagines an object of cultural fascination, the trophy head, in an abstract impressionist recreation. I used precision cutting tools to design and build modern, geometric interpretations of a carnal pastime. By utilizing precise cut, wood slot construction of up-cycled materials each figure is done without figurative reflection of minimalist romance and symmetry, aims to pique the interest of contemporary western inspired living. It is also splashed with tons of color and because I am usually most concerned with form and line, playing with paint as freely as I did here was an evolution for me as an artist.
Gavin: How did you discover this new gallery called Kook and how has it been working with them?
Kevin: Nick Adams and I have talked about many creative endeavors together. He is a really great guy, who hand-makes makes long board skateboards locally in SLC (3RNG Long boards) and curates this community. When he shared the idea of a gallery based on the concept of “Slow Food” (locally sourced and slow moving food), the Future Primitive heads became a really good starting point for our relationship at the use of toxic glues, resins or paints. A KOOK. The goal is to feature other artists that have a contemporary style or process. KOOK will include visual artist as well as performance art. I also suspect random art installations and concepts will pop up in KOOK for days and weeks at time as temporary exhibits meant to excite people about spacemaking in SLC. KOOK is focused on the art it exhibits and the art of Slow Food, but it also aims to be a place for creatives of all types in SLC to convene. I would love to see spoken word performed at KOOK one day.
Gavin: What are your thoughts on our art scene, both good and bad?
Kevin: My biggest gripe is a general sense that the art scene is not any good here. Let me put it this way: For the amount of people we have in SLC, we have a ton of artist that are out there doing it. If the art is bad here, than I say make some new art and talk to KOOK about doing a show for your work. The good is that there is really good art in SLC in my opinion. I see it is all over the place. The City itself has very interesting public art choices, that are often unexpected. I like that and seeing that. I would love to get involved there too in Planning + Artwork. Related is that on street lamps, around downtown, there are cast metal indicators of the street. Take a close look, that kind of metal fabrication is from early 1900s I would guess. That is badass. I know there are all kinds of Jurassic technology machines in SLC like those that made the streetlamp metal just waiting for creative people to find them and turn on the machines again. I want to find one of those machines and use it for artwork creation in a community makerspace.
Gavin: Who are some local artists you like checking out or recommend people should look for?
Kevin: I really like what Soul Poles does for its bamboo ski poles, each pole is a piece of art, handmade right here in Utah. I think what 3RNG Longboards is doing is great too. For fine art, I like what two gals by the names of Tiana Birrell and Jena Schmidt are doing. They currently have work on the stroll at the Alice Gallery. Ronald Linn has some great work there as well, some self portrait photography with his face obstructed that are gems. Tiana and Jena have work at the Impact Hub SLC too. That is where I met them.
Gavin: What's your take on Gallery Stroll and the work they're doing to promote local art?
Kevin: I am thrilled to be a part of Gallery Stroll this summer. I think it’s great to have people in SLC attending the Galleries in SLC. On stroll, I get this buzz feeling that people are actually out for the art, but maybe it’s just summertime and people are happy because the weather is so nice. I hope locals take full advantage of Gallery Stroll this summer. I’d love to see you out and chat over some brie.
Gavin: What can we expect from you and the gallery going into next year?
Kevin: For the KOOK Gallery, we would love to see you there. The doors aren’t always open during business hours so contact me or the gallery directly and we can schedule an appointment time or I can share an upcoming event we have planned. For me personally, in 2015, I have a project that is extremely technically oriented that will explore data visualization of water data, created into architectural grade models, design forms and projection art. This I believe is happening at the Finch Gallery in 2015. I also have interest in working the University of Utah on an aspect of the water/human infrastructure initiative, iUtah, they are doing in connection with many other groups in the west that is funded by the National Science Foundation. I did my first Live Action Role Play (LARP) with some unsuspecting high school students to illustrate an ecosystem in balance at the Leonardo for the Mind Riot event, and I’d like to LARP again soon. I get to be rock.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Kevin: I plugged many peeps already, but yeah, I’d like to plug Bryon Friedman at Soul Poles and the mission they have there of creating sustainable ski poles. Also Matt Hunthammer for building community around soulful skiers and riders. #soulpoles #qualityshafts. KOOK Gallery and Nick Adams at 3RNG. #kookconvivium. The Alice Gallery for some interesting art at the Family of Things show till July 11. Mod A-Go-Go is pretty rad spot for events and local artwork. I think they have a Modern Lamp Design Contest currently I want to check out there.
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