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From Street Art to Contemporary Art, an Unusual Path in the Market

A conversation with the artist KAI

Kai, how did you become an artist and when? Are you from a family of artists?

I’m not sure if I ever planned to become an artist. My dad is an artist and my mom is a photographer, but I think it kind of just happened. Growing up, my family moved a lot. Things weren’t always easy. We didn’t have a TV. We lived a simple lifestyle. One constant was my dad’s art books. Whenever we moved, he brought them along. So, if I wasn’t playing sports or drawing, I had my nose buried in those books. My first official piece was Morons. I created the piece to encourage my father to quit smoking. At the time, I had a real fear that this bad habit would cut his life short. The artwork resonated with him. He quit smoking and gave me a few hundred dollars for the painting. He asked me to use the money to help others the way I helped him. I did what I had learned from the books, printing posters by hand and placing them up on random walls. And, that’s how I became a street artist.

What brought the “Beaux-Art de Paris” experience? What were the best and worst moments?

My decision to attend l’École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts was driven, in part, by ego. I was at the dinner table with my family and we were discussing art. My father and I were arguing about which artist had a larger impact on the history of art as a whole. At some point, I said, “I think I know a little better than you, Papa. I’m currently at Cal-Arts.” He laughed and responded, “You’re in an art school in America. If you really want to study art, go to Paris, the art epicenter of the world.”  So, my father and I placed a little wager whether I would be able to get into Les Beaux-art de Paris. I applied and was selected as one of three American admits. I was also the only American to study there for the full year.  I loved studying in Paris. It was the hardest, but most beneficial, year of my life. I had no money. I lived in a tiny “maids-room” with no heater and not much to eat. But I’ve never learned so much. I spent all day in class and night in the classrooms, not only to learn but because the school had central heating.  I learned all the fundamentals needed to make art with my hands. It was the exact opposite and an incredible complement to what I had learned at Cal-Arts because all the theories and philosophies of art were lived and experienced as a practice.

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Kai’s studio

Can you highlight five key moments in your career?

Several years ago, I traveled the world on less than $8,000 USD, creating street art just for the love of art.  Meeting Bernard Markowicz and putting together my first solo show at his gallery, Markowicz Fine Art, in Miami.  Having Le Touquet honor me and my art in their Artist Hall of Fame. Creating my Imaginary Friend (or, IF as its better known), which is the centerpiece of my current work. The final moment is not really limited to one occasion, but really, anytime I’m able to inspire or elevate someone through my art. It’s my favorite thing about being an artist.

We noticed the city of Le Touquet in France honored you in its Hall of Fame. Can you tell us how that happened and what it meant to you being so young and being recognized as a “famous” artist? As a Los Angeles artist, what was your connection with Le Touquet and its museum?

Le Touquet invited me to put street art up in their city and inducted me into their Artist Hall of Fame. I was actually able to add my handprints to their growing ring of honor. 

Why is the concrete medium so important to you? Do you see a link between your art and the ART BRUT movement?

I love working with cement. There’s something magical about taking dust, adding water, and being able to create something permanent. I’m a street artist at heart. But, the context and medium of my work is very important to me. The use of cement keeps me grounded. It’s a red thread from my early efforts to my recent works.

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Kai’s studio

How did Covid-19 affect you and your art?

Covid-19 forced me to take some time for myself. It was my first substantial timeout in five years. It gave me the time to reflect and study what is happening in the art world. It gave me the opportunity to think about where I would like to go next.

What are your next steps and projects?

That’s the question, isn’t it? What’s next? I’m excited to share something new and different soon. I have several projects planned. But, inspiration strikes all the time.

So, keep your eyes and heart open!

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