Vancouver based artist Kirk Gower shares with us how he developed his graphic style of painting and how social media has influenced contemporary art.
Could you describe your creative practice in 50 words or less?
My practice explores queer identity. The paintings I create often begin as sumptuous, highly rendered, and decorative works of art. Then, I superimpose graffiti-like content over the composition. By splattering on gobs of paint, introducing neon colours, and using gestural strokes, I deface the image and disrupt the message.
What inspires your contemporary approach to painting with the neon colours and graffiti-like gestures?
I first developed this approach during my 4th year studio practice course at Emily Carr University. At the time, one of my professors identified that there was a disconnect between what I was trying to do and what they were seeing. This resonated with me and how I felt in my own life. Out of frustration I smeared thick paint and painted my head in bubble gum pink and electric blue over the stylized figures on the canvas. I found that this was a way for me to get my point of view across. In my current practise there is a wide range of symbols that I use. It can be something I saw tagged on a bus stop, or the side of a building, a childhood drawing I made, an absent minded doodle, but at the core it still is very spontaneous.
What are your thoughts on how modern social media culture influences contemporary art practices? Have social media filters influenced the symbols and shapes used to disrupt your landscape and portraits paintings?
Social media has certainly changed how people construct and view identity. I think that constructing identity has become much more complex. This has had interesting impacts on portraiture. I think it is both easier and more difficult to control image in contemporary times. Many people obsessively curate their public personas and it seems to be much more pervasive than ever before. Even though portraiture in its most traditional form still exists, it no longer carries the same weight that it once had. Social media has changed the power of art. There is so much visual content being injected, obscured and warped in our lives. Images are exaggerated and create strong narratives through social media, whether that be from photoshop, filters, apps, emojis etc. What I try to do in my work is exploit these techniques to create a modern portrait while using what is considered a very traditional medium - oil paint. While artists have always been manipulating their work in similar fashions, I try to remind people that what you see is fabricated.
Can you speak to the ways your paintings subvert meaning and hierarchy?
I use oil paint to speak to this in my work. I like working with the very medium that has such a
history and hierarchy in the art world and using it to deface my images. The first layer I create feels very precious and elegant. Oil painting has such an ability to draw a viewer in with a romantic allure. Then, I use the same medium to superimpose content that is usually comical, bright, queer or sometimes grotesque. It's typically quite camp and evokes strong reactions from viewers.
What was the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
I would say there are two consistent pieces of advice that are my go to.
Perseverance - Show up, put the time in and do the work no matter how many times you are rejected.
Be vulnerable, the work has to be sincere.
What is the studio tool you cant live without and why?
Odourless mineral spirits. I mostly use this as my medium for oil paint. I like how thin I can get a layer of oil paint using it. A little goes a long way. Sometimes the colours can look a bit dusty, in general the dissolving nature can create some really nice effects.