Translating Art to Ink: A conversation with Kevin T. Kelly and Jon Flannery

In 2015, BLDG revamped our print shop and began charting a new direction for collaborative printing with some of our favorite artists. Kevin T. Kelly is the first artist we've brought to the table. Not only was he born and raised in the great Commonwealth of Kentucky, his creative mastery inspires us to do more.  

We interviewed Kelly and BLDG printmaker Jon Flannery about this collaboration and here’s what they had to say:

BLDG: Kevin your paintings are crisp and you emphasize the formal aspect of painting. How do you create form, line and composition?
KK: Form comes from the drawing and that’s all figured out ahead of time. From a formal standpoint, the emphasis is on the drawing and not the painting. You could say that I’m a guy that draws with tape. That’s how I get hard edges. Every line has to be taped twice. It is crazy, that’s why I don’t do many landscapes because every line has to be taped twice. I loved them when they were finished, but I hated them when I was painting. 

BLDG: Jon, why are you excited to work with Kevin on the print release?
JF: Kevin's work really lends itself to silkscreen printing. What he's doing with tape in his paintings, the screen emulates in print. Every line is sharp since he lays each shape down one at a time, so our processes are very similar in that respect. I'm excited to take the paintings to a new level of finish. The paint has a subtle coated texture from the gloss paint and the canvas underneath, so it'll be interesting to see this completely flattened out version on paper. It seems flatness is always the focus whether Kevin's working on large paintings, or his colored pencil drawings on film. With the flatness comes intense color, another strength of the printing. So the evolution of the work into silkscreen just feels right.

BLDG: Kevin tell us about your technique. How does your process unfold?
KK: I’m not an intuitive painter. Everything is process oriented, so I was looking for a process that I could jump into and establish a system where those images could be adapted to different formats. Usually I start with an idea and build a collage from old magazines, comic books, etc. I built a library of these images and they would spur ideas, like a couple kissing. Then from the collage, I would make a black and white drawing, then a prismacolor study. Then I do an actual small scale painting on paper, in acrylic on Bristol board where I locked in the idea of the painting. That way I had a roadmap of where I was going and nothing was left to chance. In the past few years, I’ve gotten to the point where I just draw. I might even go where I’m painting directly on the canvas without doing any kind of study.

BLDG: Jon what’s new about this collaboration? 
JF: Taking this painting into the print format allows us the freedom to go in a slightly new direction with it. We can play with the colors from more of a big picture angle, and really fine tune. Kevin's very open to refining and injecting new ideas into the pieces for print, so it's cool to have him to bounce ideas off of. The variation between the underwear layer in each print will be especially fun to see over the span of the edition. This is a great example of taking a static piece and making it kinetic, the split fountain used gives each print a unique "fingerprint." Outside the standard edition, we'll experiment with the same layer's color and finishing for variant editions. So when it's all been run, we're both leaving with new ideas for going forward, not just reproducing an existing piece. This process is great for quick experimentation that can really accelerate innovation, versus creating various different paintings.

So there you have it. Two of the city's finest translating art to ink.