Wall Hop & Brass Brothers Films have teamed up to bring you exclusive & Intimate insights into the creative process of some of the world’s most incredible artists. We start the series off with Kevin Champeny, a sculpture and mosaic artist who’s work creates a conversation between the subject & the pixels that create the subject. The sum is greater than it’s parts and Champeny’s work embodies this idea. Kevin’s work has been featured in Mental Floss, This Is Colossal, Artsy Shark, Design Boom and many others. Take a look at this fantastic work & be sure to check out the video!
Please tell us a little bit about yourself
I am 40 years old. I live in the New York City area. I grew up in a small town called Beloit in Wisconsin and I attended Beloit College. I studied Art, Art History and Education, I moved out to New York City with my, now wife, after we graduated. It was always my dream as an artist to move out East and I have never been happier. I am also the production manager and co-owner of Jellio (www.Jellio.com). We make whimsical products based on childhood memories. My biggest claim to fame is designing and making the giant Gummy Bear Candelier that was hanging over Carly’s bed on the iCarly show on Nickelodeon.
What is your background with art?
I started drawing before I could speak. It is always something I have done, I am fairly certain that being an artist was never really a choice for me. It is my passion, it is what motivates me to get up in the morning, it is what helps me sleep at night. Art is a very essential part of my being. I am unable to shut it off.
I was a very fast learner and a Junior High School teacher let me teach some of her classes when I was about 13. She also helped me get into college and was an incredible mentor. She also encouraged me to follow my passion in all mediums and not to be stifled by the art worlds proclivity for labelling. I am an illustrator, painter, designer, sculptor, I am an artist. I focused on drawing until the age of 17 and started painting in my late teens and sculpture was something I found a strong passion for in college in my twenties. I had done all of these things throughout my childhood but college gave me a bit more direction with access to unlimited studio time.
How would you describe your work? How have others described it?
I would say obsessive, detailed, time consuming labor of love. My pieces, no matter the medium, are painstaking adventures into tedium. I love the challenges each piece presents to achieve the final message or look. I tend to dive into the work I do without regard to the scale or potential complications. I’ve gotten a very small amount of critiques from other people or artists. I work alone and don’t actually have any friends who are artists themselves (which, I am told is very strange). I don’t actually know what most people think of my work, at least not honestly. I’m told that they enjoy it and people like it when they purchase it, so I don’t really have a handle on what other people think of my work, I find it tough to ask, if they want to to tell me, I’m sure they will. I am on a bit of a creative island by myself most days.
You have a variety of sculpture work & mosaic work – how do these bodies differ for you?
They differ for me in a variety of ways. Firstly, by medium. What I mean is, I approach each project with the same intensity as any other. The medium helps dictate the direction of the particular project and I tend to just roll with the punches as they arrive. Secondly, I have a tendency to work on “projects”. When I discovered clay as a viable medium to work in, I started to think about all of the things I could make. In college, I was broke, and created a series of hundreds of ceramic masks inspired by my studies in Italy and love of the absurd. I used the mask project to fund my education:
The hand wound wire trees came out of a challenge from my Art teacher to go home with a spool of copper wire and a roll of copper sheet and to come back in the morning with a finished piece. I came back the next morning with a hand wound and tooled long stem rose. I began taking orders shortly after and those too help fund my college education. The trees came out of desire to see what I could create with wire and they just got larger and more complicated.
Each one of my “projects” helped create entire avenues of design and form that are still indicative of my work today.
What are your inspirations & how do you choose the material for the specific mosaic / sculpture?
I love stuff. I’m a very organized hoarder and keep literally hundreds of thousands of parts for my work because they also serve as inspiration for new ideas. I have labeled bins full of just about everything imaginable, from old puzzle pieces to rocks, copper, toys, candy and more. Sometimes an idea sparks the desire to use a particular material, other times the materials shape the final piece.
Talk to us about your creative process – from ideation, to material selection, to execution – what does this process look like?
Each piece is very process driven. The initial image, theme and pixels usually have to be determined first then its just finessing everything in place. I very much know what the final piece will look like, getting there is the challenge. For example, in “What Remains” The overall theme is created; Life and Death. Then the subject or overall image is then chosen; a skull. Then the pixels are chosen, I chose flowers as the pixels and hand sculpted about 30 different flowers. The flowers are molded and cast; I make my own silicone molds and then hand cast in color (nothing is painted) in various forms of resin. I photographed a skull and printed it out on a large format printer and visually broke down the image to about 40+ colors that determined what colors to cast in. It took over 35,000 castings to create “What Remains”. The flowers are then painstakingly glued on by hand to create the final piece.
Who are some of your favourite artists & biggest influences?
My biggest influences are M.C. Escher for his amazing drawing and design sense, Chuck Close for the shear scale, detail and experimentation, Dale Chihuly for his amazing design work and ability to play with color,and Kris Kuksi for his overwhelming sense of detail.
What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as an artist & how have you dealt with them?
Disproving the “starving artist” stereotype that haunted me through my childhood. How could something I was so passionate about doing be my downfall? It never made sense to me. I set out at an early age to disprove that idea. Every job or career that I have had, is or was related to art in some way. I embrace the commercial aspect of what my abilities allow me to do as well as the deeply personal and thought provoking aspects of much more “traditional” pieces. I have a skill set that allows me to create just about anything I want, I intend to exploit that ability as much as I can.
What have been some unique challenges that your materials and style of artwork present?
Logistics. How do I create thousands of parts, in a timely manner, cost effectively and apply them as well in a way that doesn’t look haphazard? These were the first obstacles I had to overcome. Most of my castings are from recycled materials. I am able to capture the over flow of other casting jobs to create the mass quantities of molds and castings needed to create each piece. I have also learned to work fast, very fast. This combination solved the cost and timing issue, it took several years to do, but I have the hand of it now.
Can you talk to us about some of the most surprising or rewarding experiences you’ve had at art shows or with viewers of your artwork?
I had “What Remains” published in a book called “Wild Art” published by Phaidon Press. I was so proud to have a piece chosen by them to be included in such an eclectic collection of artists.
I participated in the “Faberge Big Egg Hunt” in New York City in 2014. It was so much fun to do.
I created a cool piece for Movado watches to honor Derek Jeter. It was a massive piece and its whereabouts are actually unknown to me. I am still very proud of the piece but I wish I knew where it ended up.
What would be your ideal project be- if time, money, and materials weren’t a factor?
I would love to create a mural on the side of a building using all of the garbage collected around the area and create a beautiful picture of children playing in a pristine manicured park. It would take quite a bit of time and work, and permission to do, but I have dreamed of that piece since the time I lived in Brooklyn.
What can we expect to see from you next?
It’s hard to say. Most likely, slightly more complicated mosaics, with messages that will be much more controversial than the ones I have created up until now. I never stop working, so I will always have something new to make and new materials to find.
Wall Hop presents Making Art New York | Kevin Champeny, Yonkers, New York
Check out more of Kevin’s work on his Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram.
Interviewer: Rob Green