Kay Gasei is a Hackney based mixed media artist who attempts to explore symbolism, myths and narratives with characters set in timeless spaces as a means of understanding his own intellectual and ontological journey. We were delighted to have a catch up with Kay to speak about his journey as an artist, inspiration behind his work and his experience of winning the Kate Bryan Soho House Residency award. Enjoy!
Hi Kay, you're a busy fella so thanks so much for taking some out to chat to us. Firstly, what inspired you to become an artist?
First off, I’m going attempt to write the answers as I think them to be more organic as if it was live. But! Erm, I’ve always drawn and been into the fun things and how they’re made or developed, furniture, sculptures, music, artwork, all the things contribute to me expressing my version of things.
Completely agree its a more organic response, rather than overthinking it, which we can all be guitly of! You’ve got such a strikingly distinctive style, I could immediately see your work and identify it as your own. How have you managed to develop this style over the years?
Ha! That’s cool to hear, like everyone I copied and made pastiches of my favourites and then depending on what I was working on or towards, tried to change the visual language to better express the motive. So my fashion artwork versus my self-initiated work versus commissioned work to me look wildly different but I suppose the kid with made up alien language understands all the made up dialects lol. Did I answer it?
Yes perfectly! Following you on social media one of the things I really like about your work is the lack of literacy content. You completely leave the interpretation up to the viewer leaving an almost more organic response with the work. You’re not necessarily looking to read the literacy accompaniment that comes with the piece like we find ourselves so often doing. Essentially the work speaks for itself. Why do you think this and is it important to your work?
So I usually don’t know what I’m exactly going to make until it’s happening, I’ll have a main theme, maybe or think of a topic to latch onto but the details are always more organic and so I think if I’m discovering my own work, I want the audience to get that same feeling. I was talking to a friend who is an artist as well while she was tattooing me, Dessy Baeva! Check her out by the way. But we were rifting on art and the world and the like and idea of yugen, very cosmic and yellow submarine like, but the oneness of everything and such and sometimes you get feeling of yugen or ecstasy when you just finish a piece or as its about to crescendo and you’re in the flow. Allowing someone to get the artwork in their own time as the visuals and underlying themes and their own reflection of what they think they see and thinking about what the artist might want them to see, with all that percolating in their minds. I think best comes from a lack or minimal use of distinct descriptive language, leading the witness or spoiling the surprise??? So the short answer is, let them get what they think they get, life is a feeling process lol.
'Life is a feeling process' - great quote. Can you talk to us about the characters in your work, how do you choose who to illustrate and can you talk to us about your relationship with them?
I have 3 recurring characters, one is a boy or mainly appears as a boy/teen, but I’ve drawn him younger and older, and his name is Od (if you know, you know). He usually shows up in pieces exploring epistemology or the universe, the usual self-discovery pretentious malarkey. Whereas the couple, are there to explore the feelings and relationships or the idea of them, how they manifest and propagate or degenerate. I try not to make them to specific but unless there is an obvious theme in the work, I try to keep their cultural identities ambiguous.
Anyone who follows you on Instagram will have seen how incredibly busy you’ve been recently between the Other Art Fairs and of course congratulations on winning the prestigious Kate Bryan Soho House Residency Award. Could you tell us about how the last few weeks have been for you taken up residency here? Also, with having such frequent footfall coming in observing and speaking about your work, has this affected the way you look at your practice at all?
Yeah since July it's been kind of crazy. Nothing has settled and I haven't really had time to stop and see what I'm doing lol. A lot of freestyling is still happening and trying to learn the dance if I can use that as a metaphor. The Soho Home residency was not part of the award, so came as a surprise when I was asked to be the first artist in residence, in Sloane Square of all places. The public element of it isn't such a bother to me -regularly,- as talking to people is easy and adds to my procrastinating ways lol. I wouldn't say its affected my practice in terms of ideas or aesthetic, but knowing I'm being watched adds a minor mental pressure to appear busy even if I'm letting an idea incubate and percolate which is part of the process too but a less theatrical part.
What materials do you use and why are they important to your practice?
I want to say I use it all, in a perfect world that would be the case. Realistically though, I always sketch out thumbnails the old school way, pen and paper but depending on the who the work is for, it could be ink along with watercolours/charcoal or acrylic with pens and pencils, oil sticks but this is rare. More oft than not now, its mainly digital for expedience and because of the nature of editing work.
Could you tell us a little about your studio habits at all, how do you find a state of flow or comfort zone to be able to produce your work?
Weirdly enough it relates to the images I sent you but can’t be used, I somewhat of an exhibition, I don’t like working feeling restricted, so minimal clothing. It does take a while for that flow to kick in, like anyone you want what you’re about to engage in to feel as organic as possible and getting to that stage mentally without inhibitions or apprehensions does take a while to clear your mind. This is probably more essential when it is self-initiated work while with commissioned projects, the urgency itself is a good catalyst for productivity, cutting the fat to find the best outcome which isn’t superfluous in anyway or has irrelevant details.
In today’s day and age where we’re inundated with distractions, it’s maybe harder than ever to switch off and focus solely on your creative production. So following on from the question above would you have any advice for someone who is struggling to find that creative flow?
Erm, I’m easily distracted and a serial procrastinator, but I’d say the sooner you start sketching or writing ideas down, the more you’ll cultivate a creative mental state that’ll excite you enough to want to get to the final piece. From first-hand experience, the longer you wait, the easier it gets to push things back.
After such an incredibly busy few months for you, we have to ask, what’s next on the cards for you Kay?!
Ah man, by way of not jinxing potentials until things are signed, i's dotted and t's cross etc, I'll have to leave out some stuff but I've been invited to exhibit work at the Miami Art Basel in December which is pretty cool and I've contributed a piece to charity auction to raise money for refugees, which is equally cool! 1, for the cause and 2, my artwork being auctioned, didn't really know it was a thing I wanted but feels surprisingly novel lol. Erm, 1 confirmed solo show next year, a couple group shows, continue learning japanese, crack on with tattooing practice and signwriting and whatever else I can fit in to not sleep.
Kay, thanks so much for taking the time to speak to us give us such a great insight into your practice.
You can follow Kay's work on Instagram here.