In The Studio with Kevin Palme

1. Tell us a little bit more about yourself, your background school/teaching and how you found your way to Asheville?

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I grew up in NJ about an hour from New York City and attended Wake Forest University as an undergraduate. The art program there was small but had great professors who pushed me to refine my craft and my inquiry into my work. After school, I moved to Portland, OR for a couple of years and got to spend a lot of time hiking and taking in a different part of the country. We loved it there but ultimately, the rainy season was a bit too long and we moved back east to Savannah, GA where I attended the Savannah College of Art and Design for my MFA in painting. At SCAD, I met great artists and instructors who really helped me understand what my work was about and why I was making it. Following our time in Savannah, we moved to Asheville, in 2003, and have been here since. Asheville made sense for us for a lot of reasons, it was a midpoint between the north and south (my wife grew up in the southeast) and we had both gone to undergrad in NC. We had a few friends here who sold us on what a great town it is. It is not too large but offers some of the advantages of living in a city. But maybe most importantly, Asheville has a great reputation as an arts town. There's a rich history here as we live just 20 minutes from Black Mountain, the site of Black Mountain College. Its influence can still be felt today in the thriving and vibrant art community here.

2. Describe your process and why you've chosen ice cubes to paint.

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My process is more traditional than I used to imagine it would be. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work with a few professors who really understood traditional painting and how many of the masters approached the chemistry of painting. Additionally, I had the chance to teach Art History for a few years at a local community college. Both of these experiences led me to question my own methodology and approach to painting and gave me a deep appreciation for traditional materials and techniques. So, I paint using formulas derived from Renaissance era painting to create transparent layers of paint to create complex and jewel-like color. That said, I don't work using only natural light or strictly from life and I use drying agents to help move my process forward.

I build, stretch, and prime my own canvases because I view those beginning stages of working like building the foundation of a house. It's a very physical and tactile part of the process and I really enjoy it. Typically, each canvas gets four to six layers of gesso to begin to create a good working surface that buries the canvas texture. Then, several layers of transparent paint are applied in increasingly refined and smooth applications, always careful to use good chemistry, to create a minimal field of color and atmosphere. At this stage, I am establishing a visual sense of depth in the picture plane while reinforcing the flatness of the surface. It's a dichotomy that I employ and one of my traditional holdovers from classical painting; the image is flat but is an illusion of depth. The ice cubes are painted during the latter stages of painting and I work using the light rather than the shadows. The negative space provides the darkness and I am adding light. This idea of painting the light is both practical and ideological for me. Working from photos that I have taken, I work broad areas of value and add increasing detail, beginning with larger brushes and ultimately ending with very small brushes. Often, I glaze back over the top of the ice cubes to bury them into the atmosphere of the canvas and then repaint them, almost as if I painted the back half of the cubes and then the front half.

3. Your work explores the temporal nature of existence. What are your thoughts on life as it relates to art and the meaning of it all?

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I began painting ice cubes a few years ago after a conversation with my wife. I had painted minimal abstraction for several years and was considering a shift in my work. I landed on ice cubes for a couple of reasons. Formally, ice offers a great challenge in terms of values, pattern, and painting a representational image of a transparent and translucent object. Subjectively, ice is a great metaphor for a variety of ideas and can take on numerous meanings depending on the viewer reading the work.

A major part of the reason that I am painting ice is the temporal nature of life and the idea that ice is fundamentally temporary. It melts and changes forms really quickly so the idea of painting it is interesting to me in that I am laboring over a mundane and temporary subject. In the paintings, ice can be a metaphor for a person, a building, a society, the environment, all of which are temporary even though we sometimes take that for granted and treat life as though it's permanent. The fact is that life is always changing and these paintings capture a moment in time; in that way, they become memorials or at least memories.

4. Do your children influence your art practice?

I have three daughters and while I would love to say that they influence my work, I am not sure I could say that fairly. They often make suggestions about what I should paint or what color I should use, and I am always ready to hear their feedback. While they may not directly impact my work in an overt way, they're an important part of who I am and must subconsciously affect the work. They do sometimes come to the studio with me, especially during the summer, and paint while I work which can be really fun.

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5. What does beauty mean to you?

Beauty is really important to my work and has been for several years. Of course, beauty is extremely subjective, but I still feel like its worth pursuing in my work. As I was learning art history in more depth as an undergraduate, I saw so much work that seemed to deal with an anti-aesthetic as a challenge to the conventions of the artworld and to taste. That certainly has its place in the artworld, but for me, my work is a means of establishing a connection with a viewer based on something beautiful. In that sense, it is an act of hope or compassion when I make something that I hope is beautiful.

6. Do you have any suggestions for emerging artists that are coming out of art school?

Work hard, be disciplined, and if possible, find a community of artists. One of the most difficult things about leaving school and beginning a career as an artist is that there aren't assignments or a community to keep young artists producing. It can be challenging to come up with ideas and deadlines. Set up goals to make a certain number of pieces in a given time or to work for a specific number of hours each week and stick to it. I am fortunate to work in a group studio where we hold each other somewhat accountable. Ultimately, there are no consequences, but the expectation is that we will be there on a regular basis and will be pushing hard to create new ideas and new work.


7. Tell us something interesting about yourself!

I wanted to be a brain surgeon and thought I would go pre-med before deciding to major in art but couldn't see myself studying that much chemistry.

8. Where do you see the progression of your work heading?

I never really know where the work is going in the long term. I think I'll probably paint ice cubes for at least a little while longer because there are so many opportunities to take the work in a variety of directions that I don't see myself getting bored with it. Most importantly, I see myself continuing to push my ideas and practice to keep improving. My goal is to treat art-making as a lifelong path where one work or one series of works leads to the next so that over a long period of time, a thread emerges and defines my life's work. And hopefully, at the end of it, the work is still getting better.

See Kevin Palme's paintings in person at Kai Lin Art as a part of Magic through June 16th
12:00 - 6:00 PM Wednesdays - Fridays
12:00 - 5:00 PM Saturdays
& by appointment

404 408 4248 | INFO@KAILINART.COM