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July 20, 2017

Meet The Artist Who Creates Kaleidoscopic Explosions Underwater

Text by Sadaf Shaikh

New York-based Kim Keever is popular for his submersion artworks that result from pouring paint into a 200-gallon aquarium filled with water

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Much like beauty, art also lies in the eyes of the beholder. What looks artful to one, may not speak a word of craft to another. Very rarely do the paths of abstractism and beauty cross, but when they do it produces a result so sublime that one can spend hours staring at it, revisiting it again to reinterpret its wondrous lure.

Kim Keever’s enchanting artworks are an ideal example of the aforementioned intersection. The New York-based artist is popular for his water submersion art where he unloads a precise amount of paint into a 200-gallon aquarium filled with water and photographs the resulting kaleidoscopic explosion. This is no mean feat for it involves using the right kind of light, pouring the exact quantity of paint and capturing the outcome at its zenith.

Excerpts from our conversation:

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Putting his heart into art
“My earliest brush with creativity was when my dad’s profession as an aircraft engineer influenced me to make little airplanes out of balsa wood and paint them with glossy enamel colours. Growing up, I continued to dabble in art but never took it seriously. As a college student, I studied engineering but realised all too soon that my heart was not in it. After almost finishing graduate school in engineering, I made a complete switch, became an artist and haven’t looked back since.

At the outset, I experimented with various techniques like etching, sculpting and moulding ceramics, but mainly stuck to drawing and painting. I reached a point where I didn’t want to paint anymore and try my hand at something else. I evaluated my options and photography stuck out like a bundle of glow sticks. I originally built models on a tabletop and photographed them with various lighting setups. This worked well but there was no sense of atmosphere so everything looked like it was shot on Mars. Eventually, it dawned on me that I could build landscapes, submerge them underwater and add paint for clouds. This was a big breakthrough for me and I have been working with water ever since.”

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The devil is in the details
“For many years, I stuck to constructing landscapes. Eventually, I realised I wanted to explore other projects so I did a series with dogs, birds and plaster heads. I kept having this nagging thought of simplifying everything and just dropping paint into water. After two years I finally gave in to the incessant murmurs of my mind and was amazed by the results. I have continued this process for over three years now and continue to be astounded by the results each time.

I use a 200-gallon aquarium filled with water since it allows me to capture large images with the medium format camera I have. The tank is of humongous proportion because my camera focusses on everything to create a smaller rendition. It is surrounded by various lights and at this stage, I literally pour paint directly into the water and photograph the random colours and shapes that appear.”

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Making short work of hurdles
“I would have to say that the most interesting part of what I do is the literal act of pouring paint into the water because no two occasions yield the same results. Though I try to mix things up with regard to my techniques and the colours I use, there are always wonderful surprises that I can never anticipate. Many people ask me if I get sentimental about the ephemeral nature of my art creations since the original artwork gradually dissipates and disappears. On the contrary, I rather enjoy its transitory quality since it is such a pleasure to browse through the images I take during a ‘pour’ and choose what seems different and interesting from all my options.

The most challenging aspect of my work is to get it out into the world. Over the years I’ve known many artists and they don’t have a clue as to how to market themselves. Neither did I, until about ten years ago, when I realised I was doing some really good work in the creative realm but was physically and emotionally drained from the part-time jobs I had taken up to keep my head above water. It wasn’t until I reached this point of jaded ennui that I decided to turn things around. I got in touch with the right people and tapped the internet to promote my art.”

Man after his own heart
“Picasso has always been my special artist, especially in spirit. I like Roxie Paine and his amazing constructions, right from the automatic painting machines to the full-scale aluminum trees. Cindy Sherman has a special place in my heart because her personal photos inspired me to redirect my energies from painting and sculpture to photography.

It’s incredible to know that my art inspires other creative souls. I’ve been asked to do a few album covers that I’ve really enjoyed conceptualising. One of them was Joanna Newsom’s album cover for Divers which involved a dozen of my images with her songs on the other side along with a video directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. I’m looking forward to making great strides in that direction and collaborating with more musicians – probably even designing movie posters in the future. As an artist, the hope to be bigger and better is all that drives us.”

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