Kim Keever‘s abstract photographs represent a real explosion of colors. Instead on a canvas, New York based artist pours paint into a 200-gallon fish tank and with a diffusion of light trough water, he creates dreamy landscapes that he quickly captures with a large-format camera. Paint moves in the most unexpected and mysterious ways forming clouds, blossom and surreal shapes with unexpected compositions that can hardly be achieved twice. His breathtaking panoramic photographs present an evolution of landscape painting embodied by the German Romanticists, the Hudson River School and William Turner. Keever’s artworks has been exhibited in numerous collections across USA, including: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn; Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, DC; Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virgina; Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, Virginia; Nassau County Museum of Fine Art, Roslyn, New York; Patterson Museum, Patterson, New Jersey; George Washington University Gallery, Washington DC; Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri and Elgin Community College, Elgin, Illinois.
I read somewhere that you actually studied Engineering, in which you hold a Master’s degree. What was the turning point for you to become an artist?
I never finished my Masters degree. I was two credits short. That was the real turning point because I was receiving an all expenses grant from NASA to complete my Masters degree but I just couldn’t imagine spending the rest of my life as an engineer. That being said, engineering taught me a lot about analysis and how to objectively make art.
There are elements of painting, photography and concept art in your work. What is your primary focus?
I would also add sculpture to the mix. My primary focus is to mix all of these aspects underwater and see where it goes. For many years I made plaster landscapes placed underwater with model railroad trees and handmade trees. It was a wonderful process but now I have changed to a much looser form of art. By just simply dropping paint in water and sometimes using various handmade sculptures to shape the flow of the paint, I feel like I have a lot more freedom in color and form. I have been working with this simplified process for the last four years and have taken over 35,000 photographs. I am still inspired every day to continue. I would say that my focus has become the creation of random beauty with a guiding hand.
Your work is highly innovative. How did you get the idea for such an interesting fusion?
Thank you. Innovation has always been a strong force for me. It took me a long time and many paintings and other works of art until I found my own voice by using water as a medium to make my art.
You started out as a painter. How has this influenced your approach to photography?
I loved painting but I reached a point where I felt like I couldn’t contribute anything to the history of painting. I would list James Casebere as an influence of change. I was impressed with his photographs of handmade models. I started out by making handmade models of landscapes and photographing them. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really get an atmosphere in the work. It was only when I started putting everything in a large aquarium that I was able to develop a realistic atmosphere. Ultimately, my landscape photographs came to look like Hudson River School painting. I hadn’t really intended that, it just seemed to come naturally. And now that I’m working with an abstract process where the flow of paint in water guides my final selections, I try to make the photographs look like paintings.
With whom do you think your art communicates better – classic art lovers or photography aficionados?
I’ve always loved classic art and I go to museums regularly. On a cross-country trip this summer I stopped at six museums. On the other hand, I want my work to be relevant so I’ve always tried to give it a contemporary feeling along with a classic look. I’d like to think of myself as someone who combines the history of art with the art of our times. That may seem like an obvious path, but for some artists I’m not so sure.
Do you consider yourself a groundbreaking artist?
Yes I do. I think the idea of using water as a “canvas” is certainly groundbreaking. There are more and more artists working in the same manner as myself.
Where do you find the inspiration for your impressive landscapes?
Though I always admired the paintings of the Hudson River School, they weren’t really an inspiration directly. I try to create landscapes that have not been seen before. Perhaps they are from a million years ago or a million years hence… Or even from another planet yet unseen.
Guide us through your creative process…
Once everything is set up I choose five or six colors for the day. No matter how I put them in the tank, they still tend to randomly flow about and create colors and patterns I had not imagined. The paint doesn’t really move all that fast, but there isn’t much time to really think about a shot, so if something is happening and looks good, I take a lot more photographs. I usually range from 10 to 100 photos. Next, there is a long process of trying to figure out which images are interesting and worth cropping more or less. This takes days and weeks and sometimes months to reach a point where I am satisfied with an image.
Would you say that your work is introspective?
I think you could say I’m an introvert making introspective photographs. Though I appreciate photographs of people in every color shape and form, I’d rather create my own forms. The cropping and shaping of the work is totally introspective, in that I’m always looking for images and forms I haven’t seen before.
Do you think that you are already in the privileged position where you are able to make spectacular art works without worrying whether it will sell or not?
If you are a sincere artist, you are always in that “privileged position”. Though I’ve reached a point where I am successful in various ways, I never made any work for the sole purpose of selling it. It’s too much trouble to continually think about making work that might sell and go out and sell. It’s so much more satisfying to try and create something new.
Your landscapes are often compared with works of the great 19th century artists, such as William Turner and the famous Hudson River school. Watching your breathtaking images, I came to conclusion that the presence of men in them is simply unnecessary and even unwanted. Did I get the message right?
Yes, I’m glad you noticed. I actually had one person come up to me and ask me if I was a misanthrope because there weren’t any people in my work. I was quite shocked, but I explained that I was more interested in the beauty of the landscape itself and I really didn’t need to put people into my work.
Is there a chance that we may see Kim Keever’s portrait photography in the future?
There is a series of heads on my website under the title “Figures.” These were meant to be self-portraits of myself as a prehistory sculptor. I was making images that would have self-destructed over time because they were not ceramic or metal. In other words, I was making self portraits of myself if I had lived 10,000 years ago or more.
Who are the artists that mostly influenced your work?
I would say Picasso has been the most influential. When I saw the video of him in his late 60s making a painting on clear plexiglass, I was so impressed with the joy in his eyes that I knew that’s how I wanted to feel when I reach that age… And I definitely feel that.
What do you think about the New York-based artists from the sixties and seventies – Warhol, Haring, Basquiat…?
I always wanted to meet Warhol but I was too shy. I think all three artists have made exquisite contributions to the history of art. They found their own way of expressing themselves fearlessly without depending too heavily on the work of others. They came to make their own way. Making good art requires one to be fearless in spirit and brave in terms of managing your life so you can keep going.
How would you describe New York’s art scene of today?
It’s the best place in the world to be an artist. It has become very diverse, and that is a good thing. It makes it much easier to go in your own personal direction and not be connected with a specific school of art. At this point I am more concerned with making my own work so I don’t look at as much art as I used to though I duly enjoy going to art fairs. I will see the art fairs in Miami this December.
You have been New Yorker for decades now. Has the city changed a lot during these years? For better or worse?
Wow, has it ever changed. I’ve been here since 1980 and when I got here it was a place where most people would say: “It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.” It really was somewhat of a wreck and very few people believed it would ever make a comeback. That’s why the real estate was so cheap at that time. I was lucky to get my own little piece of real estate which gave me enough room to live and work for a pittance. I live in the East Village and it is now quite beautiful, but in those days it really was dangerous. Everyone I knew got mugged. Eventually I got mugged. It was a scary situation. The streets that are now packed on weekends with pedestrians and traffic were all but empty in those days.
Did you ever consider changing New York for some other Art capital of the world? Paris, perhaps?
I am happy to be in New York. I think the days of the Paris art world disappeared after World War II. This way I didn’t have to cross the ocean and learn French. I often think of moving to the Miami area or if I am lucky enough, getting a second home down there. I love warm weather, palm trees and swimming in the ocean.
Vukota Brajovic for Fashionela.