Dave Kinsey: The Shapeshifter
(and All His Secret Forms).
From the streets of LA to the Sierra mountains, the artist-designer delivers the Mixed Tape #55 cover art from his downtown studio, rocking the higher altitude evolution.
As a young man tapping into the burgeoning skate culture, it was the burner piece on the freeway in downtown Pittsburgh that started it all. “I think what attracted me to it was its massive presence, the anonymity of it,” Dave Kinsey. Now, the soon-to-be 43 year-old master-collaborator has done murals for the Standard Hotel, designed vodka bottles for Absolut,
and logos for Pharrell Williams. His design studio BLK/ MRKT, which he started with OBEY artist-designer Shepard Fairey, does lifestyle branding for Adidas, Heineken, and Mountain Dew with street credibility that most Madison Avenue agencies have a hard time getting.
wave of ease.
His collaborations have made commercial headways, and I’m a big admirer of his skills and techniques, but equally curious to know what Kinsey wants to communicate with his personal work. Having relocated from downtown LA to his studio in the Sierras, it is in his fine art that he lets us in on the secrets. Laden with an intense emotional energy that is
simultaneously chaotic and cohesive, they are perhaps the true reflection of the artist’s own character and background: “I think I tend to express things in my painting that I would otherwise not generally discuss,” he says with an air of mystery. “I do feel a wave of ease or release when I complete a new work.” Intrigued, I try to find out more about the man behind the art.
thinking outside the box.
People tend to associate your art with a movement that includes Shepard Fairey and other urban “street” artists. This movement quickly gained momentum for working outside what is considered the traditional confinements of art – can you tell us how that got started?
This was around the same time that punk, hip hop and skate culture started resonating with me. I feel that I was drawn to these genres due to their raw nature of self-expression, the honoring of originality, and what felt like a rejection of traditional rules. At that time, these things were an alternative lifestyle to the norm, and the art became a visual declaration of that new energy.
You have a background in graphic design – can you tell us how that has influenced your art?
My creative process is informed by my experience as a designer mainly in the area of logistics. I know how to get from idea to finished piece more efficiently. I also feel design is an inherent component of art to some degree, so I utilize some of the same thought processes to fulfill my vision—color, composition, and how a message can be presented visually. The elemental make-up of images in my work is indicative of the way I feel about the world around me; there's a lot going on all at once, which I try to convey with all the visual layering and chaos within my pieces.
Art vs. advertising.
You seem to make no distinction between art and advertising, is that true?
No. I happen to be involved in both worlds, but there is definitely a place and time for advertising vs. fine art. What I have said is that I feel most advertising can be done a lot more creatively to include more artistic elements. Advertising is primarily visual, and I think a lot of it is visually insulting to the viewer. That’s part of the premise that I founded my design studio, BLK/MRKT. Some of my personal artwork has been translated to the commercial realm – on a wine label, for instance – but, generally, my design work for advertising is very different from the artwork I create. It is interesting to remember, though, that before modern advertising, art was the advertising for churches, dictators and kings.
How did your design studio BLK/MRKT come into being?
I started BLK/MRKT in 1997 with fellow designer Shepard Fairey. We really wanted to change the rules of the current mainstream advertising landscape. Big companies aimed at the youth market just weren't speaking to their demographic in the right tone, and the visuals were completely “off”. Artistic elements, as I stated before, were basically obsolete in advertising, so we decided to make striking visuals the primary focus of everything we created. It took a couple of years to get clients to take the risk, but once they did everything came full circle. When BLK/MRKT was formed we became a magnet for like-minded people: designers, painters, directors, even musicians. We started up in the relatively small city of San Diego, California, so it was easy to congregate.
The cool thing is, almost everyone who worked with us ended up going on to doing great things, so the sharing of ideas and energy spread through the people we came in contact with as well. It’s humbling, because we were basically able to create the world we wanted instead of working for an agency or something like that.
Pie in the sky.
You have worked with many interesting and creative people - who would you love to work with in the future?
Frank Gehry. I feel his work is transcending the times. I also feel he’s not letting the status quo or financial pocket packing influence or compromise his vision, so I respect his integrity.
It was an outlet for me to go into my own world, traveling through my imagination.
In what way was the artist in you discovered or nurtured in your childhood?
To be honest, I can’t remember ever not drawing; I actually never even thought about it despite it being an everyday activity in my life. It was an outlet for me to go into my own world, traveling through my imagination. When I got into art school though, everything changed when I realized I could make a career out of doing what I love.
Some artists need music in order to work, what do you listen to while working?
Yeah, I'm one of those artists, and music is one of the most essential components of my creative process. I have very eclectic tastes, so depending on my mood it can vary from classic rock to jazz, hip hop, and indie-rock, even classical at times.
What's your favorite album cover of all time?
Oh, that's a tough one, there are so many greats. I'd say Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" because it's so iconic and visually effective.
Thanks for the chat, Dave! Stay tuned for the cover art that Dave Kinsey created exclusively for the upcoming Mercedes-Benz Mixed Tape #55.