Kim Kyne’s Sugary Works Help the Existential Medicine Go Down [Interview]
Editor’s note: an earlier version of this post ran in 2021. We’re publishing this update in honor of our 2023 exhibition, Sugar Rush, which includes work from Kim Kyne.
“A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,” chirps Julie Andrews over a jaunty melody in Mary Poppins’ most infectious tune. Originally inspired by fears surrounding the polio vaccine, the snappy song became lodged in public consciousness almost immediately—and so did its sweet sentiment.
It’s a lesson multidisciplinary artist Kim Kyne takes to heart. Her campy, bubblegum-colored works are pure, uncut sugar, designed to sweeten bitter medicine. “By using punchy colors and playful, simplistic imagery, I’m able to make peace with hard truths,” she writes in her artist statement. Though vaccine fears are back with a vengeance in 2021, Kim’s hard truths hew closer to modern existential dread and self-awareness than any sort of needle panic.
But it’s existential dread dressed in modern meme culture and broken up into bite-sized chunks. For example, Kim’s painting Existential Bread (below) woos us with bright colors and delightful punnery, even as its titular subject flashes us a jelly-smeared frown. Similarly, her neon installation Trashcan Girl captures contemporary youth culture’s particular brand of absurdist self-loathing. It’s an image most of us can relate to; a pair of spindly legs, splayed, and flung over the side of a dented trash can.
Modern life makes us feel like yesterday’s garbage, Kim suggests: useless, redundant, and overlooked. Still, the LA-based artist finds a safe space to express her anxieties in a world flush with people who also identify with Oscar the Grouch. “Applying a lighthearted aesthetic emboldens me to access and share my vulnerabilities,” Kim notes. “At the same time, it also softens the blow for the viewer, allowing them to digest unwelcome realizations they might’ve avoided if presented more starkly.” In short, there’s nothing wrong with taking two lumps of sugar with your next cup of existential dread.
Scroll through to read Kim’s interview, then head over to NOT REAL ART’s May 2023 exhibition, Sugar Rush, to view her submission, “Existential Bread.”
In Today’s Q+Art Interview…
Kim Kyne discusses LA’s fertile artistic ground, the importance of free will and self-awareness, and letting artistic expression grow out of bad experiences.
Which books, art-related or otherwise, belong on every artist’s shelf?
Kim Kyne: Every artist should read The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, A New Earth by Ekhart Tolle, and Letting Go by David Hawkins. Each of these books will leave you a different person than who you were when you picked them up. Letting Go has been particularly essential in engendering emotional growth.
What are you trying to express with your art?
KK: I have two objectives with my work. One is to learn more about myself, and through that, help others learn more about themselves. I believe that the relationship with self is the most important one you can have, and if you don’t know yourself, you aren’t truly living. The majority of people rarely exercise free will, and if seeing my work triggers an awareness of self or personal reflection, then I’ve succeeded.
Aside from that, I simply want to express my fun, playful nature and hopefully bring joy to people.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received? What’s the worst?
KK: Non-specifically, the worst advice I get is when someone convinces me to follow their guidance rather than listen to my internal voice. The older I get, the more I realize my body communicates with me constantly. I’m learning how to trust my intuition even when it doesn’t have any logical basis.
The best advice I’ve ever received is, “If it isn’t a hell yes, it’s a no”. It’s immensely helpful in evaluating whether to accept a freelance assignment. Something I came up with myself is, “If it’s not a good vibe, it’s a bad vibe.” Sometimes I get weird feelings about things, yet continue on. There’s no trophy for finishing something you shouldn’t have started in the first place.
What's your biggest barrier to being an artist?
KK: My biggest obstacle to artistic success is myself. Procrastination, not believing in myself, and using work as an excuse for lack of time and energy are hurdles. Some habits I’ve employed that help overcome these things are going to art openings to inspire myself, journaling daily, EFT tapping therapy, and exercising most mornings.
What does generosity mean to you as an artist?
KK: Generosity as an artist means using my talent to give to others. I create live art at events to raise money for charities and give my art to friends as gifts. I also accept projects even when I'm very busy because I see the value in the end result and how it will make someone feel. Recently a friend told me that the portrait she commissioned as a birthday gift made her friend cry (tears of joy!). That was worth much more to me than what I was paid monetarily.
What does success mean to you as an artist?
KK: Rather than a destination, success is a state of mind. Material wealth is not a marker of success but a means to a life with less restriction. To me, what matters is the legacy I leave behind. I am successful when I am growing as a person, doing the best I can with what I have and imparting my knowledge and care to others.
What role does the artist have in society?
KK: It’s the artist's role to help people see and understand in a way they couldn’t before. Kerry James Marshall’s work is so impactful and important because he’s revealing the humanity of Black people in a way that wasn’t previously presented.
I also think that given our current state of society and the rise of mental health awareness, the artist can play the role of a remote therapist, unbound by time and space. My “Trashcan Girl” piece has gotten attention because people can relate to that depressed, self-loathing feeling, and in relating to one another and realizing, “I’m not the only one,” healing takes place.
What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
KK: My worst job was being employed for a well known fast fashion brand that shall not be named. I arrived thinking I was getting the chance to design beautiful and original handbags but quickly learned that I was expected to replicate the work of high end design houses with less than a tenth of the budget while evading legal repercussions. Though it was mentally draining, it led me to seek artistic expression as a coping mechanism, and if I had had a fulfilling fashion design job, I may have never explored painting, drawing, and ceramics.
What’s your relationship with money?
KK: Growing up, I saw that my parents were good people and that they struggled with money. In my mind these two things became merged, and I adopted the belief that good people are poor and rich people are bad. There’s also the pervasive myth that creatives are broke. For the past few years I’ve been down a rabbit hole of reading all the self-help books I can get my hands on. As a result, I’ve deprogrammed the limiting beliefs that kept me from receiving financial abundance. I’m making more money now than I ever have and I have no shame about it. Money is a way to take care of myself and take care of others. The only shame in wealth is hoarding it selfishly.
What are you working on that you’re excited about right now?
KK: I’m creating a series of ceramic objects that utilize language and typography. It’s very intimate and feels like a physical diary. Though I have some reticence about showing work that is so revealing, I’m excited to share it.
What do you dislike about the art world? How would you change it if you could?
KK: It makes me sad when I meet artists who are cold, elitist, and gate-keepy. It’s bad enough that we get it from the institution. It doesn't need to be perpetuated on a personal level. I make it a point to be warm to others and try to share what I know as long as someone wants to hear it!
How does your geographical location affect your work and/or success?
KK: LA is such a good fit for me for multiple reasons. The weather and color suits my personality. I like how expansive it is here. There is space to breathe and move. I can go hiking and to the beach yet I still live in a city. I even have an affinity for the outdated donut shops. On a professional level I think the work I make is more suited for LA. I feel that I can make humorous work without being seen as a joke.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist.
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