I’ve always envied quiet people. The type of people that absorb rather than spew, the seemingly solemn ingestion of everything around them. There is a thoughtfulness that surrounds the eyes, a focused energy that scoops in every detail provided. Don’t get me wrong, quiet people are not emotionless zombies–quite the contrary. They display a marriage of curiosity and wisdom, the silence attached to thought.
Kevin Caraway is this special kind of quiet. He embodies the stillness that comes with observation and continuous thought. He has a soft articulation with his words, and speaks in such a way that you find yourself leaning closer, wanting to catch every word. We sat down with Kevin and discussed where he draws his technique from, the artists that inspire him, and how Sioux Falls could continue to grow. Take this time to reflect on how you approach your own learning, and the impression you leave behind. ~Amy
What is the path that has led you to where you are today?
As a kid, I was always drawing and doing things creatively. My mom encouraged it, so I grew up doing this kind of stuff. I went to school for it, at University of Sioux Falls, and I studied under Ceca Cooper. Bryan Holland was there when I was there too, so that was pretty awesome. After I graduated I quit for four or five years, and came back to it in the past year or so and started making things again.
Has being an artist always been an end goal for you?
Not really. I mean, when I chose my major [Studio Arts] it was kind of just a default thing to pick. I stuck with it, because it’s always been something I had a talent for. I can remember as a kid, drawing on our garage walls and doing really big pieces. It’s always been a really big part of me, part of who I am.
Did you grow up in Sioux Falls?
Kind of. Up until I was nine I lived in Wichita, Kansas, and then we moved up here after that. We moved around the country for a little bit for a few years; I lived down in Austin for a little while. I’ve been back for about fifteen years.
What type of mediums were you working with as you were growing up?
Until I got to college I just used graphite pencils. I just drew. I didn’t start painting until I went to college. When I was in school I did a whole lot of collage and assemblage. I built a lot of things with found papers and found materials. I really dug guys like Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, that school of art.
What were you drawing inspiration from? What types of images were you producing?
A lot of my stuff was non objective, I’d say, in that I wasn’t drawing a subject a lot of the time. Most of the time when I would put something in, it would be a figure or nature–a lot of animals and people. For the most part I was just making geometric shapes and stuff like that.
What kind of projects are you working on right now?
I’m doing a lot of paintings that involve surrealist techniques from the ’30s, like automatic drawing and automatic writing. My fumage pieces are from that school, that same group of artists developed that technique.
Can you talk more about that? Your fumage process.
It’s by a surrealist artist, I think he was Austrian. His name was Wolfgang Paalen. It was just a process of drawing with a candle or a lamp, anything that creates smoke, just to sketch in initial forms. Then the process is to go over those with paint and to build up the things you like or that stand out. I use an old oil lamp. The smoke leaves a residue, and then you go over it enough times for it to show up. I spray a drawing fixative over the top of it to make sure it doesn’t smudge, otherwise it will come right up. Which I haven’t played with, it would be fun to put that down and then do some reductionist stuff by taking it off with an eraser or something. A kneadable [eraser] pulls it right off.
What other types of things are you working on?
I do a lot of illustration, privately. I’m still in that surrealist school, so it’s all kind of crazy imagery. I’m doing a lot of graffiti characters; that’s really fun. I work a lot with Solomon Carlson. We draw quite a bit together, bounce ideas around.
How did you meet him?
Through Exposure. It was the first show that Exposure had, and he came into my studio pretty late, towards the end of the night. Everybody had kind of cleared out, but he showed up and we just started talking and… I don’t know. We just clicked right away. (Laughing) BFF immediately. He does all the sci-fi stuff, video game stuff that feeds right into all the cartoon illustration that I like to do, so yeah. We get along famously.
It’s a good marriage. Have you ever collaborated with people in the past? Or is this a new thing for you?
I did. I did a mural down at the Riverfest last year with a group of people. It was awesome to have people walk by and getting a nice response. There was this lady, middle-aged, and while we were painting this canvas, she mentioned that we should really just be painting the wall. And I thought, right on. We should be. That gives me hope that people will be more responsive to public art, and murals and large-scale work. That’s something that Solomon
and I talk about all the time, how there’s a real lack of it here. There’s only really a couple of murals around town, and most of them are faded. I think it would be great. It’s artwork, it’s in a public space. Anyone can enjoy it. That’s something I would like to move into, but slow steps.
How are you challenging yourself?
Probably in how much I’m producing. Developing my smaller illustrations into pieces, that’s pushing myself to an extent. My new pieces are pretty big, 6ft by 4ft. I always worked in large-scale when I was in school too, though, so it’s not foreign to me. It’s out of my recent comfort zone, I would say.
How do you find opportunities to show your work?
Solomon throws me a bone. (Laughing) Darin Kaihoi let me put a piece in an employee show at Coffea. He’s awesome. His wife [Anna Youngers] is a phenomenal painter. She just blows me away. She’s easily the best painter in this city. But yeah, I don’t really do a lot of promotion. I don’t market myself, to a certain extent. I try to do it more, just being a little more business minded about that. That’s something I don’t like doing that’s out of my comfort zone. Like this, [the interview] is way out of my comfort zone.
You’re doing great.
What’s a typical day like for you when you’re creating?
I work mornings at Coffea, and I’ll usually get off early afternoon. I’ll try to come down to the studio in the evening for a couple of hours. As far as a schedule of what I work on, it’s really random. Just whatever I feel like at the time. I have a lot of projects going on at once, so I rotate things quite a bit. That’s just a way of putting things out of sight and out of mind. Being able to come back to it with fresh eyes and look at it and reevaluate problems instead of pushing through a piece. I think that leaving time to let something gestate is important to the process, at least it is for me.
You mentioned that you do your illustrations for yourself, that they’re more private, more personal. Do those ever include commission pieces?
It’s personal. That’s really how I got back into making things. I got my studio [at Exposure] to develop those things I was working on privately. I had hit a point where I wasn’t making anything, and I wanted to start making art again, and I started drawing. I would get about 10 or 15 minutes into a drawing and get frustrated and just saw screw it and throw it away. Couldn’t finish anything. I got to a point after researching some surrealist things with the process there, I made it a goal for myself to fill a page with information. It didn’t matter what it was, if it was scribbles, letters, images, whatever. If I hit a point where I didn’t know what to draw, I would just make shapes. Keep the pen moving. That comes from automatic drawing, and stuff like that. So, I got to a point where I had all these sketches that were nonsense, my brain throwing up on the page. I really enjoyed them, so I really wanted to push those into larger pieces.
You can’t come up with every idea by yourself. It’s important to have a community of people around you who may not be making the same things you’re making, but they still have suggestions about how to make what you’re making, better. It’d be foolish not to listen to other people who are willing to give their input into the process. That’s why I like going to critique at Exposure. People bring stuff in and get feedback and it’s awesome.
What are you plans for this year?
Solomon and I are trying to do some collaborative shows going. This summer I’m trying to convince him to go West River with me so we can go paint in the alley. It’s public space! It’s been awesome for Rapid City. I’m shocked if Sioux Falls wouldn’t at least think about the idea. I think it’s been brought up to City Council before, but I’m not sure. It’s awesome. It’s a public space where anybody can come and create something and walk away from it and other people can come and enjoy it. It’s super cool. I’m trying to convince him to go out there and do some stuff with me. I think that’s important. We have two art scenes in this state that are on polar opposites of each other. Why isn’t there some connection between the two? That just doesn’t make sense to me.
What other types of things do you think would be beneficial to the Sioux Falls art community? What would you like to see?
More public artwork! But public artwork that comes from local artists. If you look at the sculptures on the Sculpture Walk, they’re bringing art to the community, but some of them are outside artists. Not all of them, but a good majority. The mural that was painted at Whittier, those guys were from Kansas City. You can’t tell me that there aren’t artists in our region that could paint that. They didn’t have a technique that was outside the means of Sioux Falls. They just projected an image on the wall and painted it. You can use local artists to do that. The community should be able to get behind people that they know better than total strangers from 700 miles away. But, what do I know?
Why do you think they outsource so much?
I don’t know what it is. Maybe there’s not enough local artists that promote themselves that they would be available to do it.
Who are some artists within Sioux Falls that should have more focus brought to them?
Annie [Youngers] is really good, I think she shies away for the attention though. Shaine Schroeder is awesome. He painted that mural outside of Bros. He works really hard, which I respect. That’s super cool. Marc Wagner is awesome. Everything that I see of his, I am just blown away. It’s his process too, not just the image. It’s how he goes about making his images, it’s really fun. There are tons. Sharon [Wegner-Larsen]! Her work is solid. Sioux Falls is getting better, there’s more young artists making work, incredible work. Just to be able to look around and see that is great.
What is one of your favorite art shows you’ve seen this year?
To be honest, I really liked the curated one at Ipso. The Americana was so much fun. A wall of jackalopes! Just all this folk art; I think that show was really cool. Any show that Marc does is really awesome. He did Doodle Drag, which was pretty cool. I thought that was a really neat idea for a show. Shows that let the artists be present and creating while there are people there to see the art. Studio 301 was super sweet.
Do you have any advice for someone who wants to pursue art in a more professional level?
Make something everyday. You have to work all the time. If you want it to be a job, and you want to be successful at it, you have to do it every day. You don’t take days off. Really, that’s what it is. A lot of people want to make something just when they feel like it. A lot to times I don’t feel like making anything, but I’ll at least sit down and sketch something or practice letters or something like that.