An Interview With Kelly Tunstall and Ferris Plock AKA KeFe On Their New Show "Amongst Friends"
San Francisco-based artist duo Kelly Tunstall and Ferris Plock also know as KeFe, prepare for their collaborative solo exhibition Amongst Friends at Hashimoto Contemporary NYC. The gallery's Assistant Director Raul Barquet spoke to the artist couple about their work, collaboration and inspiration. Read the interview below.
Raul Barquet: How long have you been creating art collaboratively and apart? What prompted you to start collaborating on art together in the first place?
Ferris Plock: The first exhibition I had was at a small cafe in the Lower Haight in 2000 or 2001. I think the first time Kelly and I collaborated was at a space called Gallery A.D. in San Jose, must’ve been 2006. I had already seen her characters and thought they might be from the same universe my characters were from. Her beautiful elvish ladies seemed like the kind of ladies my monster dudes daydreamed about.
Kelly Tunstall: I’ve been painting and drawing as long as I can remember. We started dating and figured we should try working together. If it was horrible, we were prepared to be honest about it and we would continue working solo. Anno Domini gave us a big wall to paint and it was great, and working together was smooth. And so, we keep going. Sometimes together, sometimes not. I considered calling this show “Third Person” because it feels like that.
RB: The concept of coming together to create a “Third Person” is really interesting. Could you describe the planning process for one of your collaborative KeFe pieces? How much of the work develops as the piece is being made?
KT: Sometimes planned, sometimes not. Usually we have a good idea of the composition of a piece. But we both tend to work the same way when we work together, which is to do background, rough in big shapes, add color, and then all the little detail. People ask if we take issue with anything while working, these pieces are a dialog, but visually, constantly evolving until it looks right. We don’t discuss much once a piece has started, it’s still a very smooth process.
FP: We usually are thinking of groups of paintings all together. A storyline that kind of has a general theme through it. It really does help us to have several pieces going on at a time. A large conversation seems to keep momentum going. We do a good amount of sketching these days and we make sure to write everything down. We tend to drink way too much coffee and start spouting ideas. If we don't write shit down, well, it's difficult to go back and try to remember a single idea when we’re shooting out ideas. Ideas from themes, titles, colors, scenarios, characters, etc. It's usually one of my favorite parts. Sometimes just thinking of an image is enough. We only end painting, if we’re lucky, 10% of our ideas for an exhibit.
RB: A wide variety of media is put to use in your work including but not limited to metallic leaf, ink, watercolor, acrylic, and aerosol. What is the allure of mixing media, and do you find it helps or adds to the challenge of creating as a duo?
FP: I think our mixed media has gotten more mixed as we experiment. We are always picking up random things to try. If you look at our work and only see our nerdy characters then you are missing a lot of the fun. We'll go to an art store and just hang out like mall kids, ”Hey... what's this stuff?" - "I don't know... get it" That's how we've found a few things. I didn't go to art school so I guess I was never told not to put this stuff with that stuff. I didn't take a class on charcoals or a class on gouache. I feel like every medium has its limitations and my ideas/vision sometimes requires something from somewhere else.
RB: Kelly, you mentioned this earlier but in addition to your collaborative work you still make work individually. How do you manage to balance your collaborative and solo practices?
KT: It’s pretty natural, and since we’re parents, it keeps the whole thing very balanced. We go away and evolve, and come back with new things to work on together. We are really good collaborators, love to work with many mediums, many people. I love to learn, get nervous out of my comfort zone, it keeps me fresh. It’s a great thing to add, I found some new foils I got in Japan recently and used in the show.
FP: We balance between solo stuff and collaboration stuff pretty intuitively. I mean, It’s fun to play with others but, it is also fun to go be by yourself and draw cats hanging out in Victorian monster houses.
RB: Ferris, how has skate culture influenced your work?
FP: Hard for me to quantify how skateboarding has influenced my art. Skating and art were both given to me at a very young age and I never wasn't doing them on some level. They were my outlets and therefore they were both things that fed me and nurtured me. Art saved me... Skating saved me first... Hip Hop saved me too... I go back in my head and don't remember a time where I wasn’t pushing around on something... I mean... I got my first super legit board when I was 9 (Santa Cruz jammer) (chain link fence)... I certainly did not think I'd get anything out of my art other than happiness and a place to escape.
RB: You both focus greatly on creating characters, can you tell me a bit about the repeating characters in your work?
FP: We are both stylized character artists. Sometimes, I think we're painting our escape/parallel universes. Sometimes, I think our characters are place holders for exploring a new process. We talk about our characters as if they are alive and of course we want them to look good and we want them to be comfortable. The characters are important, they help tell our stories, carry out our themes.
KT: I try to make everyone different. I’m really having fun getting surreal with skin color, with body parts morphing. An external expression of the interior, if you will. I’ve always enjoyed drawing the clothes, that’s my sweet spot. I’d be happy forever doing just that. People in my life come into the pieces, but I don’t have a lot of control over that unless I’m really trying.
RB: Kelly, winged and finned creatures often find themselves in your work interacting with the more humanoid characters. Can you tell me more about these animal counterparts?
KT: I think they’re just evolved humans. The eyes are big so they can see better, maybe more colors with all the extra irises, like deep sea shrimp, and on the side of their heads, like deer. I allow bodies to evolve to meet needs or sometimes it seems to be advanced costuming. I don’t think mermaid suits or wings are far off, I’d be cool with having some that looked like this.
RB: You often include an installation component in your exhibitions. What importance does installation serve to your practice? Do you have any exciting elements planned for “Amongst Friends”?
FP: I like to add an installation component because I have been to hundreds of shows at this point. I like to add something different, I like to make myself think outside of 2-D paintings. You gotta give your brain and your art different expressions so you grow. I learn from my mistakes, I learn from my different forms of expression, they all feed each other right? A different perspective on your own work is healthy I think?
KT: We do have some surprises.
RB: Speaking of your upcoming exhibition, what can people expect from your latest body of work?
FP: I have been working on making my version of a Mengu which is a samurai's facial protection. Again, tinkering, collaborating with friends, learning and keeping it interesting for myself and hopefully for others. A small installation can add environment and context. I don't know, kind of like shading it can add a little depth to a concept.
KT: We’re bringing a good variety of work. Large, small, but very bright, and Ferris has samurai Beavis and Butthead, Godzilla and Mechagodzilla. To me, interpersonal relationships are getting really abstract, so these pairings are studies of interactions. Seems simple but even to talk to a stranger or, so I hear, hitting on someone in a bar is really frowned upon. Since some lives lived in a virtual sphere, it felt good to freeze scenes, immortalized, to explore the closeness.
Kelly Tunstall and Ferris Plock’s “Amongst Friends” opens February 2nd with an opening reception from 6 to 8pm at Hashimoto Contemporary NYC. The exhibition runs until February 23rd. Photos courtesy of Shaun Roberts.