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artist profile: Brant Kingman

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Artist to Artist Interview Between Justis and Brant

justis: Why don't we begin with you telling us a little bit about your background and how you started as an artist, how long you have been at it, where you studied?

brant: That's a great question because so many people wonder, "what is it that makes someone an artist?" More now than ever in my lifetime, the visual arts are very far out of the field of focus for the general public. For those of us in the arts, it's hard to believe, but the idea of being an artist would never occur to the vast majority of people. It certainly wasn't anything that was in my intention. I never dreamed of being an artist. It happened that I met a couple of very interesting people while I was in college that had a real appreciation of art, a much greater appreciation than I did. They introduced me to activities like theatrical readings of Shakespeare in the parks at night by candlelight. Or we read poems for fun! This was a novel idea to me. Samuel Taylor Coleridge's great hallucinogenic poem "Xanadu" made an incredible impression on me. You know it goes something like:

"In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
a stately pleasure dome decree
where Alf the sacred river ran,
down, down to the sacred sea?

We'd read stuff like that with Wagner cranked on the stereo in the background. We did this wild stuff that lit-up my imagination! One night I went for a drive with a good friend who was driving recklessly and was intoxicated. I was sure I was going to die. In the back seat of the car I found a little notebook and I started drawing to keep myself calm. Basically I used the art as a way to keep my sanity. Ever since then I have been drawing continuously. To really "get art," it is something that needs to come to you.

justis: If you had a sketch book right now what would you be sketching?

brant: Well, the main thing that interests me is drawing people. I love witnessing fleeting expressions that cross their faces. I love trying to capture something of their personality, maybe a glint of an eye, a twist of a mouth. I'm not interested in what things look like so much as I am interested in conveying a feeling. Cameras give a fine representation. I am interested in a line that has life- an expression that comes across, something sensual, something that reflects not only what I see, but my feelings and the joy of the act. Even in my most produced work, I hope to reveal some spontaneous gesture. I love work that reveals the trace of the hand. There is so much in life that is so refined, so perfected. It seems so impersonal to me.

justis: What did you mean when you said, "Art that reveals the trace of the hand", is that talking about the Artist's hand?

brant: Yes, I was talking about the artist's hand. I was thinking that...well, let me give you an example. I recall modeling a clay sculpture late one summer evening when I suddenly noticed the natural light had faded. I thought, "Wow, I need to go turn on the lights," and as soon as I had that thought a second one followed, "Wait a minute I don't need to turn on the lights. I'm doing just fine." So I stayed working with the sculpture just feeling my way, letting my thumbs push the clay, pulling it out with my fingertips. After a while I noticed something really strange about the figure I was forming. At first I couldn't tell what it was. Then I realized, what was strange about it was I could see it again. Suddenly there it was. I'd worked all night long on this thing and I hadn't even noticed time passing. As soon as I could see it again I stopped. That sculpture has the most uncanny ability to attract people's hands. It's like a hand magnet. Every time I exhibit it, I see people caress it. There is a kind of magic about the trace of the hand.

photo collage justis: There are a lot of symbols that appear on the surfaces of your work. And the objects you make tend to be that of the human form, often the female. Is that saying something about the experiences you have had spiritually, sexually? It seems to me that the women in your work are the good, and the men are fallen angels or warriors who have been crippled.

brant: Now that's a very interesting observation and it causes me to reflect a bit. Certainly I think there is a divine plan at work and the divine plan tends to promote creativity. Basically I think all of us artists are imitating the creative process or actually reflecting the creative process. My grandfather was a very wise man. He said there were only two things we could choose in life, to create ourselves or to destroy ourselves. In that our ultimate destruction was inevitable, he preferred to concentrate on creation. When you focus on creating, the only thing you can create is more creation. I think what I see in women is the source of creation. I'm not sure if I am remembering that or imagining that, or if I just like that. In the past year I have focused a lot of attention on creating giant flowers. These gigantic flowers may have certain sexual overtones to them but if you think what a flower is, a flower is the sex organ of a plant, and it is a very small part of the plant.

justis: But it is both sex organs.

brant: Absolutely. It is fabulous. I am actually combining human sex organs with the plant. We talk about the petals of the vagina. A women's sex is like a flower is not a new idea.

justis: Patse asked me to ask you about the Rain Forest people...

brant: One facet of being an Artist is making art. Another facet of being an artist is living. I have found the closer I get to an indigenous lifestyle the closer I get to a truly heartfelt life which has incredible meaning. The first time I went to see Machu Pichu, descending into the Uru Bamba Valley, something hit me. I couldn't tell what it was. I had an incredible crying spell. What I felt was that I was being reunited with the mother I never knew I had. It was such a profound sense of sad relief--kind of like awareness of a tragedy I never knew existed. I probably cried for 45 minutes to an hour. I was traveling with my wife. We were packed in the back of a microbus with about eight other Incas, goats, chickens, steaming cast iron pots, their colorful fabrics and fabulous features. I was balling uncontrollably. She was embarrassed. I don't think she knew what to do with me. I didn't know, and to this day don't know what happened to me. Could be, and probably is true there are places on earth where we feel certain things, where there is a certain kind of energy.

justis: Could be something as much as a magnetic pull coming up out of the earth..

brant: Absolutely it could be that or it could be that where we have not spoiled the earth, it speaks to us. We have to seek out that original voice. It is the only source of truth and it is getting harder and harder to find. The only thing I could figure in the back of that microbus was that my reaction was sparked by the shape of a series of mountains that rose from the valley floor. I kept seeing this kind of repeated point thing. All I know is that the earth said something to me there, something beyond my comprehension. justis: Or maybe your first experience on earth was as an Inca and it was like going home for you. brant: That's very possible. I have no explanation for it. Magic still occurs on a pretty regular basis in a lot of South America.

Brant Kingman will return to Moondance Arts in a later issue where he will expand on his journey as an artist. If any readers would like to ask him questions about this, please fill in the form.

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