Artists United Interview with Cayman K, a visual artist.
DAU—So Cayman K, are you from Dayton?
CK—I’ve been here a long time. My family lived in California. I was born in Las Vegas, but lived in California until I was about 7, I guess. We all migrated here, and now some of the family has moved on to Florida.
DAU—too cold here for that California blood?
CK—Maybe! I know I like hot weather.
DAU—and you mostly grew up here?
CK—Yeah, I went to Wayne High School. I went to Sinclair.
DAU–did you study art?
CK—yeah, and general education classes.
DAU—Since you’ve lived in Dayton a long time, tell me some things you like about it.
CK—The restaurants. Lucky’s, Lynn’s Bistro, Thai 9, the Trolley Stop.
DAU—and Wholly Grounds.
CK—and Wholly Grounds! I also like the culture of the city. Art in the City is a great event. And there’s gallery spaces, like Sideshow at The Yellow Cab, and The Orphanage. I think Dayton is so receptive to art. It’s a great city.
DAU—So when did you know you were an artist?
CK—I’ve always been an artist. I have always drawn and created stuff. I have this comic book I drew in pencil, its written in like my third-grade cursive—it’s not in great shape—but it’s about my dog. I made my dog a superhero. Then, I knew I wanted to be an artist.
DAU—And that was it?
CK—It wasn’t that linear. You know how it is, you go to those family dinners where everyone is asking you what you’re doing and how are your classes. You kind of say things, like “It’s good, A’s and B’s,” but what you really mean “I dropped that class because it was too hard.” Your family worries you won’t be able to make a living, so you tell them stuff to make them less worried.
DAU—And they worried about your being an artist?
CK—Yes, a little. I don’t mean they haven’t been supportive. They have. It’s just that being an artist didn’t seem like a workable job. Once I started selling stuff and making money, they got less worried.
DAU—Cayman K is the name you use for your artwork. How did having a “pen name,” come about.
CK—Cayman K comes from a position of whimsy, having fun for fun’s sake. People nowadays are pretty serious. My art is fun. My art is not political, or controversial—it’s spontaneous. I make it for its own sake. Like most of my work is devoid of background, just a cut-out. I made a character, a cowboy cactus. He’s just random.
I think the world is more divisive. People are willing to write people off. There’s a disconnect. Even if you don’t like each other, do we have to be so hyperbolic? My art isn’t part of that. It’s playful.
DAU—Talk to me more about your art.
CK— I found something that I am really liking doing. I’ve been making art out of salvage wood, inspired by folk art. I have a day job. I drive for a delivery service. I drive allover and see a lot of stuff. I see the signs that people put up in their yards, and their garden gnomes. When I go into my studio, I let my mind run over those things, I see them altered. I play with them. I create these characters that exist in one plane. I leave the interpretation of what they mean to other people. It nothing subversive.
DAU—It’s interesting to me that you say your art isn’t subversive, but you call it a “cut out.” In all the spy books, you know, a cut out is an operative that has no connection to either end of the message. That sounds subversive. And you have a pseudonym you use as an artist, which seems sort of like a spy with an alias. Also, you talk about Cayman K as separate from your everyday self, like an alter ego.
CK—Not a spy. He is different from me, I guess. I started Cayman K as an homage to my grandmother. She always supported me, and she died last year. I told you how I would tell my relatives stuff at holidays. I told my grandma I was going to be an artist, and I was going to have a studio and do really great work. I was just blowing smoke. I mean, I wanted— I want— that stuff. But I wasn’t doing anything to make it happen. My grandma believed me and believed in me. She always loved anything I did, even when I was just messing around. The name I use, it lets me work. It gives purpose and makes me less serious. It’s cathartic. I am really turning out the work now.
DAU—Do you see the contradiction in being more purposeful and less serious?
CK—Yes, but I am not talking about subject matter. Or maybe I am, but I am not talking about only subject matter. I mean, I was blowing smoke before, and now I am not. I was lazy about working, and I invested working with so much import that I couldn’t work. So, I am working more, I am turning out more work. But I am also less inhibited about how I work. I am not investing every piece with such import that it prevents me from finishing it. I work a lot and I am a lot more productive. There’s a style difference too, you can see it if you follow an idea from work 1 to work 20.
DAU—and now you have a studio.
CK.—I do. When I started working with salvage wood last year in March, I was just making it work. I had always fooled around with being creative. But the visual arts always appealed to me most. And the wood, it seemed like the right thing for me. So, I started with the salvage wood thing, making it work. I had a folding table and a jigsaw on the patio of my apartment. My early stuff was large, and the works were rough—it’s nearly impossible to make a small piece with a jig saw. But it was so appealing. I took some things to shows, sold some. People liked it; they liked the playfulness of the pieces. I like the playfulness.
DAU—And Cayman K lets you be playful?
CK—Cayman K is playful. He captures an element of my personality, the part of me that I showed my grandmother, maybe. I don’t let Cayman K take on serious stuff. He has a lightness that he needs to keep. I choose deliberately to avoid cultural controversy in my Cayman K work. I don’t make personal stuff under our name—my personal work is less considered and more intentional. Cayman K exists in a place of imagination, where I don’t take myself seriously. The world is in a shambles, but Cayman K picks up the pieces and makes art. He turns his salvage wood into characters like the giant gator. With Cayman K, I can recapture the state of being I felt when I drew my comic book in 3rd grade. It’s not sentimental, it doesn’t have any messages—it’s just a purely creative place.
DAU—Is that why you helped create The Little Gallery?
CK—Sort of. I got the idea from a guy in Wisconsin that I follow on Instagram. Dickie, that guy, shared how people were engaging in the art share. I thought it was interesting. I showed it to Bill Cunningham at The Orphanage Gallery. Bill contacted the guy. We had a lot of email exchanges. He sent us some art. We sent him some art. Bill, and Greg Steiz, in The Orphanage, and I built The Little Gallery. Actually, we built a couple of them. There’s the one outside The Orphanage, and there’s one in The Heights Café in Huber Heights. There’s like eight of them now.
DAU—You put work in The Little Gallery. Bill showed me one, a little purple sculptured head.
CK—I do put work in The Little Gallery, but that one isn’t mine. I took it from the Huber Heights gallery and brought it down. I think the idea of the art exchange is that the art should move around, so lots of people can look at it. It’s one of the things I liked about Artists United when I came to the gathering, the idea of exchanging work.
DAU—That’s one of the things that appealed to me too. It’s why I do what I do for Artists United. Your exchange with Dickie in Wisconsin is like what we did last summer. Artists in Dayton created 3 artworks, and a few artists worked on them. Then they traveled to Pittsburgh, where more people worked on them. They were supposed to go on to Brooklyn, but that event was moved, so it hasn’t happened yet. I’m excited that the collaborative works artists in Dayton and Pittsburgh made last summer will be on display in the group show at The Orphanage. Are you putting a work in the show?
CK—Yeah, I am. I think the show is going to be great. There are a lot of things going up—I think we’re up to almost 50 artists. There is going to be a range of stuff to see. There are so many points of view. You’ll see my work—it’s standout. I’m not saying it standout better, I‘m saying its standout bright. My work is bright. Really bright and quirky. It doesn’t have any message or anything, it’s just loud.
DAU—Another contradiction. Your work is the quiet shouting man.
CK—I guess so. I hadn’t really considered the contradictions before. I’m focused on the color, the fun. I take my inspiration from things I see. I’ve been inspired by anime, in terms of color, I mean. Although, I’ve done some of that pop-culture thing, you know making work with cartoons and things like that. It’s how I discovered how to talk to people. I would make these pop-culture works and show at festivals—set up a booth. People would come in and talk to me about the work. Cartoons get people to come in. Then, I got comfortable talking to people. It’s the driving force behind selling a lot of pieces, networking—talking to people face to face.
DAU—And you sell online?
CK– I’ve tried online sales, I still do some, but face to face is the best way I’ve found to sell art. Networking is vital for artists. Twenty five percent of my income comes from my art now, since March. I’ve been able to upgrade the studio. I added a band saw and a belt sander. I can make more work, better work because I have better tools. As an artist, there is so much to manage. You have to make the work, you have to manage yourself, and market yourself. There is no one more self-directed than an artist.
DAU—That isn’t the image most people have of artists.
CK—I know. People think we sit around and dream. We’re inspired to create, and then we create. You can’t be a working artist and fool around. As a creative person, you have to grow your art. You have to indulge your creativity, but that comes from work, not fooling around. I still fool around with other things–music a bit, and writing. I like writing, its more ethereal than visual art. But visual art is my creative place. Those other things are fun, and they contribute to my art. I think of things while I am fooling around. But, in my studio, I am working. And not just making art but selling.
DAU—So, Cayman K is an expression of your personality. He is the playfulness of your art, but he is also work.
CK—Yeah. I think he is.
DAU—And what does your family think now?
CK—I think they are relieved I have a direction. I am making money. They can see I’m serious. My fiancé is really supportive. There’s a barrier to people thinking you’re serious when you’re an artist. Having the person closest to you believe you are serious helps you see yourself as an artist.
DAU—And how can people get in touch with you?
CK—They can see my stuff at my Front St studio. I’ll have a piece in the Artists United Show at The Orphanage in March. I’m on Instagram @caymankart and Facebook Cayman K Art.
DAU—Cayman K, thank you for taking the time to talk with me. I think your grandmother would be proud.