Today, I’m interviewing Ka-Son Reeves, an artist with over 30 group and solo exhibitions in Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey. In June 2009, Ka-Son participated in a juried exhibition at Long Island University’s Salena Gallery in Brooklyn, New York, honoring filmmaker Spike Lee. He also displayed his work at the NAACP Centennial Convention in New York City. Ka-Son is the newest member of The Southern Collective Experience, a group of exceptional artists, poets, writers, and musicians.
Ka-Son, tell us about your work.
My work attempts to tell stories that celebrate the beauty in the simple moments that we all experience in life.
Well said. I think it takes a certain maturity (not saying I’m old, but I guess I’m getting there) to realize just how important those simple moments are. For me, your painting “On the Way Home,” captures a moment all us dads can appreciate. I remember sitting like that with my babies sleeping on my chest as I dozed, the diaper bag dangling nearby. I love that you’ve immortalized such moments on canvas. So powerful.
What was your journey? Who inspired you and set you on the path to becoming the artist you are today? Who and what continues to inspire you, keeps you going as a human and an artist?
My journey began with a love of drawing as a child. I used to draw any and everything I saw: Disney characters, Mighty Mouse, Toucan Sam and Dig’Em Frog whenever my mother brought home Fruit Loops and Sugar Smacks cereal. I was heavily inspired by all of the 80s Saturday morning cartoons and with that, all of the 80s breakfast cereals. There was something about the dark, moody background colors contrasting against the bright, vibrant colors of the foreground characters like Scooby Doo, Thundarr the Barbarian, Johnny Quest… Many of the cartoons by Hanna Barbera. All of that had a heavy influence on my love of color.
At the same time, I used to watch my father sketch portraits for coworkers and neighborhood friends when my brother and I stayed with him on the weekends. I remember being fascinated by what a pencil could do on paper. I would also watch my eldest brother, who was heavy into Graff art at the time, as he’d sketch out his “pieces” (short for masterpieces) in his room. I’d then get a pencil and paper and would try to draw my own portraits and graffiti pieces. I was probably around 8 at the time. The great thing was that they would both show me how to improve what I was doing… My father taught me blending and shading with the pencil, and my brother taught me line technique. I continued watching them over the years and over the years they helped me improve my technique. As a teenager my brother introduced me to alcohol-based markers with incredible blending ability. That took my art (largely graffiti at the time) to the next level. I consider myself self-taught but it was my father and brother who were my early teachers and technical advisors.
My transition into the art for which I am currently known began when I spent time in the Poconos in Pennsylvania. Well, the seed of it was planted in my head years before during a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY. I came across one painting that blew me away and just stayed stuck in my head ever since. It was a painting called “The Storm” by Pierre August Cot. That painting was the first painting I ever saw that showed me that it was possible for those bright, vibrant colors and dark, moody backgrounds that I loved in cartoons to be transformed into highly detailed, realistic imagery. It was in PA that the seed began to blossom by way of a vibrant art community in general, and an older couple in particular. They impressed upon me the importance of, as an artist, studying my history, and applying that knowledge in my own artistic expression. They became my mentors, then my friends, and eventually they became my family.
My influences today come from everywhere. Big influence… Bruce Lee. Not just from his standpoint as a martial artist, but also as a philosopher in the way of human self-expression. Another big influence: Hip-Hop. I am a product of the hip-hop generation, well less today’s hip-hop… more of what many consider Hip-Hop’s Golden Age, the mid 80s-mid 90s. Often when I paint, that music’s in the background. A love of art history is another large influence. For me it is a must to study the old masters, of which there are many… MANY. I feel I can spend a lifetime learning about the world’s many art movements. As an artist I feel that if I want to be great, then I must study the greats, then I must study the greats who the greats studied. Finally, my biggest influence is my family. I come from an incredibly creative family. We may not be successful like the Jacksons, but I’m telling you man, it wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized how inherently artistic and talented my family is. And I don’t judge it by success, or even by professional training… I’m talking raw creative genius… and I’m just a part of that.
What keeps me going as an artist is the belief that I can only get better. Not just better with technique, but better at expressing myself as a human being. What also keeps me going is my family: my wife, my daughters, my siblings, my cousins, and my true supporters. They all have a vested interest in seeing me succeed as an artist. They all think I am great. They all think the world needs to know it. I feel it is my job, my duty, to show the world they are right.
Wow, that’s some moving stuff. You have such rich memories of learning art from your family as you grew up. I think there’s been a bit of a breakdown of the family in this country, and art is a beautiful way to reverse that trend. I love that you mentioned Bruce Lee. I’m a martial artist myself, and I find the spiritual benefit as well as the indomitable spirit that come with training in martial arts are critical in helping me in my writing (not to mention it makes for some good fight scenes in my novels).
What advice would you offer young artists who would follow in your footsteps? What pitfalls should they avoid, and what do you think the future holds for artists and art?
My advice for anyone wanting to create art is to just simply do what they love. Just have fun expressing yourself. Believe in the work you create, or better, create the work you truly believe in. Truth in a piece of art is, to me, what makes the greatest art. To trust in yourself and your own story. As individuals we all have a story to tell. A story unique to us because deep inside, as much as we as human beings are the same, we as individuals are one of a kind. I believe that. There are plenty of people out there whose art or whose story may appear similar to mine, but the truth is, no one can tell my story better than me, just like I can’t tell someone else’s story. Once an artist embraces that, then that artist can truly begin the process of expressing their art, their Self, to the world… and I believe there are those in this world who can appreciate, if not greatly relate to, such a story.
I’m not sure I’ve reached the point in my career where I can actually tell another artist what to avoid… I think my journey is still in its baby stages. But what I will say is that cliché of staying true to ones self, true to one’s self-expression. But also be a student to your craft. Respect your craft. Master your craft. Do justice to your potential. Push yourself, challenge yourself and your abilities.
Another thing I would say is don’t short-change yourself by thinking that art begins and ends with the present. There is a history to this… we, who make the choice to be artists, become part of that history… I feel that history, just like any history, needs to be recognized, studied, respected and appreciated. I was rebelliously ignorant of the history when I was young… learning about it as an adult truly accelerated my artistic development.
I guess one more thing I’d say is, there are a lot of people out there in the art world with supposed power trying to dictate and determine what is good what is great, what is the next big thing and I say man funk that, following that direction will do nothing but place an artist on that lonnnnnng list of imitators and wannabes. My wife mentioned to me a quote she came across that said, “there are too many Basquiats and not enough new artists.” Bruce Lee, spoke of something similar when he said “Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself… do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.”
The Future of art?
My hope for art’s future is a return to the past, when there was a bit more respect, reverence and appreciation for art and the artist, and I’m talking not only visual, but also the literary and performance (music, dance, acting etc.) arts. Going back to recognizing how vital the arts are to a civilized humanity, and thus supporting the continuance of it… and that reverence and respect goes not only for viewers and critics, but also the artists.
My hope is to also see an end put to any ideas of the artist as a lazy boho using their life of leisure and hobby to hustle and con cash out of “real” hard worker’s pockets. Ending the idea of only giving reverence AFTER someone else, usually someone in a position of supposed power and authority, says, “this artist is great over there. Buy that artist’s work for blah blah ridiculous dollars.”
And I think it’s happening already. People are getting tired of BS art. We all know the kind… the kind that you look at and say, “come on man, this is bullshit…” People are beginning to use their eyes, beginning to use their minds, and are listening less and less to the stupid ass “greatness” pitches that accompanies BS art. Well, at least I believe they are… I hope they are.
Great advice. I think that no mater what the medium, an artist must stay true to themselves. Scary business though, I think a lot of people want to copy what is successful, with hopes they too can succeed. It’s good you point out how important it is to tell your own story, even if we’ve heard that advice before.
So what’s in your future? Are you working on anything right now?
I just finished a painting that will be used at the cover for my brothers’ latest Hip-Hop album. Both the painting and the album are called “The Inauguration Of Ko-Lition”.
Before I started painting, I wrote a book of poetic verse titled “A Poet-Whore, Pimped By Pain.” After that was published (in 2008 by Whimsical Publications), I totally stopped writing and started painting. Now, I’ve found myself writing again, and a second book of poetic verse is in the works.
I’m also in the process of creating a series of paintings that I hope will best express what it is I want to say as an artist. And what it is I want to say can’t fully be expressed in words, but it will, I hope, continue to move people.
I think trying to truly express ourselves through art is a lifelong goal that we may come close to achieving, but it always stays just out of our reach. Maybe it’s one of the many things that perpetually fuels our creativity (at least it fuels mine).
Where we can find your work, website, and FB page? Can we purchase prints and originals of your art online?
You can check out my website at http://www.artofkason.com. There you’ll be able to check out all of my latest pieces, see the events I have coming up, and also purchase signed prints of my work on photo paper as well as canvas.
You can also check me out on the social media front with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube @ artofkason
Ka-Son, it’s been a pleasure talking to you. I hope my readers enjoy your art as much as I do.
Thanks so much man for taking the time to talk with me. I truly appreciate it.