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Mixed-Media Artist Kenn Kotara Charts Hidden Terrain in His Asheville Studio [Q+Art Interview] cover

Mixed-Media Artist Kenn Kotara Charts Hidden Terrain in His Asheville Studio [Q+Art Interview]

Editor’s note: This interview was originally published on ArtsvilleUSA to promote tourism in Asheville, NC. Read the original interview with Kenn Kotara here.

Kenn Kotara creates landscapes without sand, sky, water, or grass. The Asheville artist’s mixed-media work charts territory you won’t find on a map or with help from a compass. Instead, Kenn’s kaleidoscopic abstractions map out human systems of understanding, like language, geometry, and science. With a background in architecture and graphic communications, Kenn creates “blueprints” of human knowledge, tipping his hat to the poetry of unseen structures and organizational systems. In his ample Asheville studio—“the size of a double-wide garage”—Kenn guides visitors through both familiar and uncharted territory.

Q+Art is an artist interview column designed to support the art and artists of Asheville, NC. In this month’s interview, we speak with mixed-media artist Kenn Kotara.
(c) Kenn Kotara

“[My work] highlights how mapping, originally used for geographical purposes, has expanded to describe various systems beyond physical geography, neuroscience, politics, [and] climate,” says Kenn, who has maintained an active studio practice in Asheville since relocating to the thriving arts community nearly three decades ago. “Creative individuals have visited and moved [to Asheville] for years due to its landscapes and moderate weather,” he says, explaining the region’s longstanding popularity with curious travelers. “Many people believe the area has special energies, drawing creative people to immerse or bathe themselves within these invisible forces.”

Visitors will undoubtedly find some of those invisible forces hard at work in Kenn’s studio. Layering symbols on top of an underlying gridded structure, Kenn creates contrasting realities that mirror the nuances and limitations of human knowledge. Much like real life, the underlying organizational system—or grid—melts into the background of the finished piece, like invisible scaffolding that holds the story in place.

Want to see Kenn’s studio in person? Art Connections offers customized tours to groups or individuals who want to experience the thriving arts scene in and around Asheville. Schedule a tour by contacting Art Connections here.

In Today's Q+Art Interview…

Kenn Kotara discusses the benefits of stepping away from his studio, the crucial missing pieces of a standard arts education, and his upcoming project investigating urban spaces, Mapping Organisms.

Q+Art is an artist interview column designed to support the art and artists of Asheville, NC. In this month’s interview, we speak with mixed-media artist Kenn Kotara.
(c) Kenn Kotara

What does success mean to you as an artist?

Kenn Kotara: Success comes in a variety of ways relative to my studio practice: showing up and being authentic working in the studio, completing a written statement or proposal, securing gallery representation, having work acquired by notable collectors, selling a work of art, and ultimately, creating a revenue stream that enables an artist to work full time at their practice.

Is art school worth the money?

KK: Yes, if and only if the student is interested and open to a well-rounded, comprehensive, creative education. The art school experience offers a broad platform for analog or face-to-face critique, dialogue, and networking with faculty, students, and visiting artists. The disciplined student will recognize this influential environment as a crossroads of information and the synthesis of disparate issues and ideas.

What do you wish you had learned in art school but weren’t taught?

KK: The business side of art—administration, marketing, finance—is rarely taught as a stand-alone course. I view this as a disservice to young, aspiring artists working toward a career as a professional artist. In my experience, administrative aspects of management, finance, writing proposals, and gallery relationships are usually only mentioned in informal conversations or short workshops at best. Combining aspects of arts administration into the theoretical and conceptual-based curriculum would offer greater insight into the non-creative side of the practice.

Artsville USA
Q+Art is an artist interview column designed to support the art and artists of Asheville, NC. In this month’s interview, we speak with mixed-media artist Kenn Kotara.
(c) Kenn Kotara
Q+Art is an artist interview column designed to support the art and artists of Asheville, NC. In this month’s interview, we speak with mixed-media artist Kenn Kotara.
(c) Kenn Kotara

What role does the artist have in society?

KK: Artist’s roles are changing with the technological times. Therefore, artists should consider exterior forces driving viewers to their work or away from it. I consider artists to be philosophers (aesthetics) swimming in the waters of theoretical and subject-matter concepts while producing imagistic reflections and transformations of reality. With this in mind, I view artists as visual authors creating portals to a variety of issues dealing with nature and human nature.

What do you do to maintain your mental health?

KK: I work at maintaining a balanced life. My studio practice requires a serious time commitment, both physical and mental. Scheduling downtime, away from the studio, and daily exercise counters the non-stop flow of creative thoughts. Cycling, jogging, and yoga are some of the physical activities while reading (non-art books), guitar, and meditating fulfill my non-art life.

How do you deal with the ups and downs of the market?

KK: My studio practice is diverse, creating differing bodies of work, both two- and three-dimensional, using various media, along with lectures, workshops, and some teaching. This, along with maintaining galleries in different metro areas specific to certain works, counters some of the downward market trends. Income, or revenue, is split up into categories such as business operations, salaries, and investments. The investments cover the really hard times or downward economic trends.

(c) Kenn Kotara
(c) Kenn Kotara

What does generosity mean to you as an artist?

KK: Generosity means giving back to the community, utilizing my skill sets to work with entry-level and marginalized students interested in a creative career or a creative life. I volunteer teach young black students the foundations of art, offering insight via my experiences and an outlet for their creativity. Generosity also materializes in the form of being a paying member of local museums and art associations, patronizing fellow artists' events, and giving, even small amounts, to educational institutions maintaining visual art programs.

What are you working on that you’re excited about right now?

KK: Mapping Organisms is a new project that investigates the metaphorical connection between cities and living organisms as dynamic and interconnected systems. Continuing a practice into how space is interpreted and manipulated, 51 paper maps from cities in each U.S. state are transformed into topographical elements visualizing the complexity of infrastructure, urbanization, and geographic features.

Why should we visit your studio in Asheville?

KK: My abstract work connects with diverse audiences due to its structure, organization, and interpretive underpinnings. I would like to invite those individuals or groups interested in this creative and theoretical process to my studio. It is an opportunity to enter into the world of a practicing artist with over 200 exhibitions and artworks in permanent collections around the world.

(c) Kenn Kotara
(c) Kenn Kotara

Kenn Kotara: Website | Instagram | Facebook | LinkedIn | Book a studio tour

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of Kenn Kotara.

Want to be featured on NOT REAL ART? Email editor@notrealart.com with a short introduction and a link to your online portfolio or three images of your work.

Morgan Laurens

Morgan Laurens (she/her/hers) is NOT REAL ART’s editor in chief. Morgan is an arts writer from the Midwest who enjoys saying “excuse me” when no actual pardon is needed. She specializes in grant writing and narrative-based storytelling for mission-driven artists and arts organizations. With a background in printmaking, pop culture, and classic literature, Morgan believes a girl’s best friend is the pile of books on her bedside table.

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