*Feathured photo: The River, quilt, 104 x 204 x 12 in, 2017-2022, courtesy of Venus over Manhattan, copyright Basil Kinkaid
Basil Kinkaid, an artist originally from St. Louis, Missouri (USA), class of 1986, trained at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, CO, majoring in drawing and painting. He currently works in Accra, Ghana.
Kinkaid’s practice ranges from collage, to fiber art, encompassing drawing, photography, installation art and performance.
Favoring the use of salvaged materials with an emotionally charged history and past, and drawing on family history and traditions, Kinkaid creates sculptural quilts using primarily the collage technique.
Recently, in October, his first solo exhibition was held at Venus over Manhattan, a gallery that first exhibited “The River,” the largest work the artist has made to date, a monumental sculptural quilt that Kinkaid himself describes as, “It’s the most ambitious fiber work I’ve made to date. This piece has a very special place in my heart”.
How did you approach art and what was your training path?
It’s in my bloodstream. Art approached me before I knew what art was. At a young age, I’d flip through the encyclopedia and draw the pictures I saw in there. My initial scope of art was mainly drawing, but as I went through school I started to see graffiti, which got me into the idea of style — having a distinction of my own, and using art to express myself — and I honed that idea through high school, college and beyond. After my BA, when I had to structure my practice for myself outside of the academic setup, that’s when my ideas expanded and I started finding my own voice. Everything before that was technical training.
You are “a post-disciplinary artist who explores the fixity of conditioned and self-imposed constructs”. This sentence encapsulates, correct me if I am wrong, the essence of your research and your path as an artist. Can you explain the assumptions of your research in more detail? What is the goal, in conceptual terms, of your art?
My practice is a spiritual and emotional investigation. I recognized at a very young age that my core nature was not in alignment with the conditioning of society. The boxes that I’d been coached into didn’t fit the nature of my being. I’ve since used my art to understand this core nature and craft a reality that affirms and amplifies my truest expression. As such, my art is more of a spiritual medicine than an intellectual pursuit.
The post-disciplinary attribute you’re highlighting comes from being someone who wants to explore the bounds of experience with different implements — through different mediums. It takes more than just one art form to accomplish what I want to achieve, and I’ve trained all these different mediums so I could resonate with, or respond to, these different emotive and spiritual prompts.
Your background is in painting and drawing. How and why did you come to experiment with textile materials and techniques? Why quilting? What significance does it hold for you?
My painting and drawing definitely plays into the quilts, in terms of color, structure, composition—even in using opaque and viscous impasto or a washy thin application. The layers of painting and the movement of drawing is translated into the fabric. But more to the point of, Why Quilting? After school, I largely rejected the Western canon in terms of its approach to learning and living and looked to my family for guidance. I looked at my family to see what cultural products and dialogues we were engaging in, and that led me to Quilt. I decided I was going to filter all my drawing and painting through this medium and started using fabric as paint. The structural qualities of the fabric led me into more sculptural explorations with the material; now I enjoy seeing the synthesis of my mediums and methodologies and am continually in awe of the strength of fabric, and collected fabric. It has an innately greater depth for emotional and memorial content than paint…Clothes are lived in, loved in, experienced in.
In 2020, you moved to Ghana from the United States. How does this new chapter in your life influence, shift and grow your practice?
I set up a studio in Ghana, but I maintain a residence in the US. I expanded my practice there for the sake of experience, imagination and to have new stimuli: the sun on my skin, wholesome food — the things impact your spiritual bearing and energy level and in turn impact the work. The way that I live in Ghana is hyper disciplined and hyper focused. There’s no way it couldn’t have a positive impact. Get up, workout, go to the studio, eat, sleep, repeat. I created the ultimate training ground for myself where the work could be the leading motivation without distraction. Working in these intervals of blinders-up focus followed by calmer tides has been a game changer for my productivity and health.
Can you tell us about the works exhibited in the 2021 exhibition The Rolling Fields to My House at Galleria Poggiali in Milan? What is this body of work about, what theme does it explore?
This work is an entry point into my realm, and was the first in a series of three shows (followed by All in One Feeling and River, Frog and Crescent Moon) that focuses on homecoming and self-reclamation. The Rolling Fields was the first time I showed my drawings in the company of my quilts and embroideries, honoring my first medium along the ones I’ve grown into. In that vein, the work also shines light on trust and exploration — the drawings guided the outset of my embroideries and continue to lend themselves to ever-bigger ideas. They’re all maps and blueprints: guides.
What, in your experience, are the most challenging aspects of being an artist?
I had to give up on trying to fit in. It’s difficult to try to operate like other people.
Are there any contemporary artists that you feel are close to your research and language?
If I answer this question I’m going to end up listing my friends. They’re the ones who speak my language and whose practices I respect: Kennedy Yanko, Damon Davis, Yoshien Kuo…
Current and future projects?
I’m honor-bound to a code of silence until 2023, but my solo exhibition, “River, Frog and Crescent Moon” is up at Venus over Manhattan until October 8. Check on my website, basilkincaid.art, for more updates.