Artwork Spotlight

Artwork Spotlight: Kaius Kirby’s “Mother”

In the Artwork Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights a specific work by an artist in the community. These works could range from short stories to visual art to music and more!
Today, Kai Kirby (they/them) will be sharing their piece “Mother.” Kai took the time to participate in a Q+A with The Layered Onion, but before we share the dialogue, here’s a little bit more about Kai:

Kaius Kirby is a disabled, mixed-media, working artist in west Chicagoland. Currently their work focuses on vessels that can be meaningfully “encountered” by the disabled body. Their works are brightly colored (for low-vision), textured (for stimming), and unmounted (for low mobility).

Kai Kirby, Mother. Puffy paint and glass. July 2021.

What is the name of this piece?

“Mother.” I call it that because it is my first piece that I created out of textured pointillism style that had real potential to it. I was kind of in awe after I created it. I was creating while in pain as a meditative act and making something new.

How did you approach creating and thinking of pointillism?

I was kicking around with materials last summer and had created a couple of masks in pointillist style. I put dots on a bunch of weird stuff – I created a lizard head. The style is something that could be done incrementally – it was more flexible. I could do it while in bed with pain and could pick it up and start it again – working with limitations of myself. I could put it down if I was feeling fatigued.

What is the medium? It looks like it has texture – what does it feel like?

I work in children’s puff paint – the stuff used to make camp t-shirts (laughs). For the glass at the base I use found and recycled glass. I go to thrift stores and garage sales or source from friends that are throwing things away. Using seconds is important to the work as it is tied into how disabled people are viewed and given seconds in society. 

I want pieces to feel just as interesting as they look. I encourage people to touch them at my house (and whenever the gallery isn’t looking). This piece is a little slick and in places raised higher and thicker. You can trace the circles and feel it go concentrically out. I think of the yellow part as a water dragon – kind of curled out almost like a tail.

How did you settle on the use of a color? My favorite color is yellow, so I’m a fan. The colors also seem to promote harmony. How do you get color to turn out on something like this?

I contemplated for a while mixing my own paints, but have been sticking with children’s puff paint. I really like the limitation that the children’s paint forces upon me – I have to use really jubilant colors and work within a limited color palette. It forces me to make sophisticated and interesting material that isn’t considered sophisticated by default.

What’s it like to create a tactile piece of art like this?

This piece took so long to make – around a month. It was a tough month. It was a vessel of suffering, which is such a contrast to how it looks. There are layers to peel back. Whenever I finish with a vessel, all pain and suffering is poured in and I’m left with a whimsical piece. It’s a gift for myself at the end – like a congratulations!

It’s really interesting to see people interact with the piece without knowing the history. Looking at it and figuring it out, you can’t tell – that’s what pain is like for a lot of people. We walk around in our daily lives and unless someone asks or is really attentive, they can’t tell what is going on inside.

I love the concept and phrasing of “encountering” a piece of visual art. What led you to the space where that was a key influence for you?

I wanted to use that word because I was using words like seeing or touching – a phrase that limited someone to a particular sense. It seemed to exclude someone that couldn’t see or touch – I wanted each person to be included in the experience of the work. It’s an inclusive word to use. 

You can engage with the piece to the level that you want – you can say “cute vase!” or spend more time with it and get to know it.

What other kinds of texture do you use in your work?

Mostly puff paint, though I’ve dabbled into googly eyes and children’s craft materials. I made little monster balls. Occasionally I will cover things in resin – for the wet look or to really seal things. That takes a long time though.

Anything else you would want to share?

When I think about this piece, I don’t share everything about it every time and I think that is okay. Similarly with mental health – I don’t tell everyone everything all the time and that’s ok. Not everyone wants to encounter a piece the same. Sometimes when people ask how you are doing it is more of a passing phrase. It is ok to share these layers of itself. Honestly – The Layered Onion (laughs). Really healing for me.

What a piece that resonates. You can check out more of Kai’s work on their Etsy shop. Thanks, Kai!