Interview with Keven Carter

Here’s #2 in our series of our contributing Artist Interviews. 

1. How long have you been doing art?  I suppose the answer to that is I really don’t know for sure. I know that my parents put crayons and markers in my hands from the time I could close them around something. I know for sure that there was never less than a stack of paper in front of me so I could always have something to draw on. Was it all art? Hell no. It was a way to keep me out of trouble.

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2. How did you first get started?  As I mentioned in Q1, I always had crayons, markers, paper and pencils around me to keep me occupied from the time I could close my hands. From there I suppose a lot of encouragement goes a long way too.

3. What was your first commercial job?  First commercial job, or first job I got paid doing? I illustrated a few books when I was in high school, but didn’t receive any pay for it. Later I went on to do some illustrations for local Detroit music zines. I think the first one officially I was paid to do was a corporate identity for a start up computer service company that no longer exists.

4. When did you first start referring to yourself as an artist?  I still don’t refer to myself as “an artist”. I feel there is something pompous about the term that I can’t really get over.  As cliché as it is I feel like I should be wearing a beret and painting or something that you’d see in a cartoon. I refer to myself as a graphic designer, photographer, and the closest I get to that term I suppose would be “Artisan”… but I tend to just use the term Designer. Those two terms are a little less threatening and don’t have the same flaunting sound to them that “an Artist” seems to have. Maybe I need to get over that?

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5. What was the first piece of work you sold and do you know where it is today?   When I first started off in college I took an oil painting class and my teacher insisted that I put a bunch of my work in the student show. I really didn’t want to participate and I wasn’t ready to sell anything yet as it wasn’t up to my own standards. The instructor was persistent and I buckled to their requests. All of the work went to the show (not for sale). The show ended after a month and all of my pieces went “missing”. I left that school after that without even photos of my paintings and no money, but apparently they went to someone who really wanted them.

6. Is art your primary business or is there anything else that you do for living?   Times are really tough right now I think the world over, let alone here in the Motor City! I will literally do just about anything to make some money for my Family. I worked part time in a Custom Car shop for a while and also made Carbon Fiber one off hoods for high end racing Mustangs. I like to work with my hands and I get a good feeling from a hard days work. Currently I’m also holding down the fort as Mr. Mom to our new son Cass Victory.

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7. Are there any special works that you would like to share with our audience or perhaps some new ones that have not been published elsewhere?  Though I’m probably known better for photography and graphic design work, I love to paint, but I really tend to take my time on pieces, so there isn’t a massive collection of them. Painting take time to work on and it’s nothing that can be forced for me to work faster or harder. I just take my time and let them come along when I feel like it. I think that’s my favorite part about painting. I have a painting of a Cadillac that I’ve been working on for some time that isn’t finished. Maybe 2010 for the finished Cadillac painting.

8. What’s your media of choice?  I dabble in a little of everything. I think media choice is a matter of what I’m creating. I will fully admit that I love the idea of being able to undo on the computer which has changed me forever now. I wish in many ways that I wasn’t exposed to computers for artistic purposes, but now it seems like it is a necessary evil in what I do commercially.

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9. What are some other tools/supplies/mediums that you primarily use for your work?  Pens, Pencils, Markers, straight edges, brushes, Rapidographs, Sharpies, My cameras, a crazy homemade Light table, 3M enlarger, I’ve used coffee mugs to get circles from.  I like making my own textures out of everything that I can use for final application on the computer to distress work. It’s a big combination of low tech and high tech ideas used together.

10. What, besides your art, brings you creative fulfillment?  I don’t tend to think of what I do as ‘art things’, and ‘non-art things’. I suppose playing music is probably the next best thing for creative fulfillment to art. I play some guitar; years ago I played in a few different bands. Over the summer I completely renovated my barn (the speed barn) and found that I also got the creative feeling that I get from my art pieces. Same with my ’49 Ford and my roadster project (the “Gow Cart” ’29 Roadster); they are incredibly fulfilling in the same way as my art, and equally frustrating too. All of these things I can stand back and admire them at the end of the day and feel good. Though my son is less than 6 months old, I know he will also provide me with creative fulfillment as well.

11. What are your motivations for creating?  I would say my surroundings here in Detroit are enough motivation to create. So much is run down and destroyed; once beautiful buildings have been stripped and trashed and I feel I can feed off that as a motivation to stand up against that thought process as it’s so easy to destroy and very difficult to create. And probably much like when I was little, art has kept me out of trouble even as an adult.

12. How do you know when a piece you’re working on is done?  I don’t! I have a good feeling when something is close, but refinement can go on forever. I try not to beat myself up over a piece and convince myself that my energy is better used in other ways. Sometimes it all comes together quickly, and other times I can wake up in the morning and not find any motivation to work on something, so it’s best to not force yourself I’ve found.

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13. What are some of your artistic goals for the future?  Bigger pieces are one goal. I would like to focus more on painting large pieces and working in some new mediums. I would like to get back to doing more limited run Silkscreened posters (50 pieces only) I’d like to keep doing small runs and move on to the next piece rather then have stock in something for years to come. It helps me keep fresh and not grow tired of my own work. I’ve dreamt of doing a coffee table book of photos involved in the new generation of Hot Rods and Customs as well as the people who are making it happen. I have some ideas for apparel lines that I’m getting ready to launch.

14. What other artists or movements influence your work?  I’m highly influenced by the movements that came along with the Industrial revolution: Constructavist, Bauhaus, Art Deco and Pictorial Modernism is perhaps what I mimic the most in what I do, but trying to manipulate in a modern way. Artist that inspire me are A.M. Cassandre, El Lisssitzky, Alexander Rodchenko, and Herbert Matters. The one movement that I enjoyed the most was the Futurists who admired speed and machines, and if it weren’t for their equal admiration of death, war, and fascist views, I think they would have been the perfect art movement. I get super excited when clients come to me with requests for these styles of work. I feel like it’s my wheelhouse.

15. When you start a new design, no matter whether it is for work or your own personal portfolio, what is the first thing you do?  Clean up! I know its more customary to clean the space when something is complete, but as in question 12, I don’t tend to know when projects are done, so I also don’t clean up! Sounds funny now that I think about it, but it makes sense to me now.

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16. I know it’s probably hard to pick, but do you have a favorite out of the work that you’ve done?  I often tire of my own work after it’s complete. I don’t marvel at the work that I have done, but rather the work I can do. Every once and awhile I will come across something that I did in the past and want to keep in my personal portfolio, but that’s seldom.

17. What kind of projects are you working on of your own right now?  My free time has pretty much gone to the wind for personal projects. I have some plans for painting projects. I want to paint my old bullet riddled doors off my roadster in hopes to sell them for new doors. I also have a Taylor Tot from the late 30′s that I want to customize for my son, but I have a little time before he’s sitting upright to use it. I have still a lot of work to do on the interior of the Speed Barn, but I’m OK taking my time.

18. What advice would you give for artists who are just starting out?  To be a working artist, you need drive. You need to be constantly working on something all of the time. Constant practice helps a lot as well. School is up to the individual as far as if it will help you or not. There are plenty of people out there that never needed it, but even with lots of practice, it’s good to be exposed to other artists work and fellow students of art as well. I feel it was very beneficial to me.

19. And lastly, a fun question! All artists have their quirks. Name one of yours.  It’s hard to identify your own quirks as they are idiosyncrasy all unto yourself. To me it’s all normal. My wife tells me that when I concentrate very hard on something I either bite my lip or stick my tongue out between my lips slightly. Is that weird?




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