November 9th, 2016

Jesse Gussow

I have been a big fan of Ken Keirns works for a couple years now. The first piece I saw was “Garden Party”. I loved the mix of realism and the over exaggeration of the characters. His attention to detail in every piece is flawless; it pulls you right into the piece. You feel as if you are actually part of the work, and that the characters are interacting with you. I haven’t come across a piece of his that I didn’t want to add to my personal collection. He is one of the best artists working right now.


Where are you from?

Flint, Michigan.


How did you start your art career?

I’ve always made art, but when I wanted to start making it as a living I didn’t really have a good idea of how to go about it. When I was painting in the 90’s there just weren’t many places that showed non-traditional art in my area of Michigan. I would sell pieces in shops and small galleries but there didn’t seem to be much going on. I moved to Chicago in 2001 and found a lot more places to show and there was an art scene, which was really fun.


If you weren't an artist what would you be doing?

I worked as a web designer for several years before I focused on painting. I would probably go back to that… well, that, or become a toy designer.


How would you describe your work?

I mostly focus on portraits of women, and anthropomorphic animals. The women are usually melancholy and the animals (mainly monkeys) are usually mischievous. The figures are semi-realistic, slightly exaggerated and there’s always a little pop culture thrown in.


What materials do you use when making your art?

I mainly use oil paint on hardboard.


What is the process for creating a piece from start to finish?

Usually I start with a scribble, based on a pun or an interesting idea. I flush it out into a drawing, transfer it to a board and start painting. There are usually tons of revisions, and I typically have to abandon it 7 or 8 times before I come to peace with it and finally wrap it up.  I juggle several oil paintings at a time and they are all in various states of completion.


You feature monkeys predominantly in a lot of your work. What is their significance to you?  

The monkeys started out as a fun way to terrorize my best friend in college. He hated them, so I put them everywhere around the house. I started painting them around that time. They are fun to work with and eventually evolved into characters that I could tell stories with.


I am a big fan of your Sesame Streetwalkers series. How did that series come to be?

That’s funny. The original Sesame Streetwalker was made in 2011; she was wearing a fur wrap made from Oscar the Grouch. I had been kicking the idea around for some time. I collect vintage toys and I’m a big fan of using pop culture references in my work. Also… I really love the Muppets, so it’s a fun way to incorporate them into paintings.


Are your female characters modeled after any particular people?

Not usually, but I have worked with models in the past.


What series are you working on now? Where can we see it?

I’m currently working on a show for Rotofugi Gallery in Chicago, which opens 11/11/16. Some of my favorite characters return, but there are also several new ideas. The exhibit is called, “Short Stories,” and includes new paintings and drawings.


Have you ever gotten negative feedback on your work? If so what was the most memorable negative thing someone said?

Of course. I think most artists experience that at some point. It’s never a fun experience, but sometimes it gives you perspective. Several years ago at a festival in Chicago I had a woman who loved my work… until she found out I was a guy. Then she thought I was sexist. Also, at the same festival I was also told that my work didn’t even belong on a T-Shirt. (T-Shirts available at, Ha!)


Do you prefer Oreo or Fudgee-o cookies? Or are you partial to some other cookie?

Actually… I’m a big fan of the Golden Oreo.


Ken Keirns has a show opening November 11th 2016 at Rotofugi Gallery in Chicago, that I strongly urge you to check out. You can also follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, as well as on his personal website. He is one of my favourite artists and I think he’ll be one of yours, too.

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