Artist Feature: Keri King

KERI KING is a cross-disciplinary artist based in Providence, Rhode Island.  With a vibrant practice motivated by collaborative world building and immersive visual storytelling, King’s work spans the worlds of public art, illustration, and design for theater.  In the studio, King generates her imagery through an integrated process of collage, research, and drawing.  She pulls from her background and formal training as an illustration major/ creative writing concentrator at RISD (’05); and often references her experience performing with a vaudeville-inspired dance troupe, the Danger! Danger! Birds (2005-2010).  In the community, King’s projects and residencies over the past couple of years have included work with AS220, Providence Public Library, the Pawtucket Arts Festival, the Dirt Palace, PVDFest, and the Wilbury Theatre Group.  

In addition to her creative practice, Keri is a dedicated educator.  She teaches Art at the Wolf School, where her interdisciplinary lessons help students Kindergarten through 8th Grade to build cognitive and sensory bridges between classroom curricula and the arts.  Keri also enjoys moonlighting as a guest artist, and has spoken at Brown University, Blackstone Valley Prep, and Bryant University, among others—leading conversations on the topics of artists as researchers, multi-media world building, and strengthening community through creative collaboration.

photo by Erin X. Smithers

photo by Erin X. Smithers

What are the top three themes you center your work around and find yourself most drawn to when making?

Collaborative play, performance in its many forms, and impermanence.

What art forms are you most inspired by? As a child, was there an artwork, book, movie, play, etc that played a large role in the development of your aesthetic? 

Children’s picture books, hands down. Also, old Hollywood dance numbers. Fred & Ginger routines, Busby Berkeley productions... if you let me, I will pour over these things all day.  

As a kid, I watched a lot of Jim Henson and I’m sure that influence runs deep. If you trace the roots of ‘the Muppet Show’ back, you will find elements of vaudeville, burlesque, and circus - all turn of the century forms of entertainment I’m now a nerd about. As a grown up, I also really appreciate the way his characters/ stories tow the line between the tender and the absurd. Gonzo, as the persistent, misunderstood performance artist, remains a personal hero.

Congrats on your exhibition this past June at AS220’s Project Space Gallery! Will you tell us some of the behind the scenes stories, inspirations, and prep?

Thank you! Over the past few years, my practice has shifted dramatically from 2D illustrations to site-specific public art and theater design. With this exhibition, I challenged myself to bring elements from multiple installations into one space to construct an adventure of sorts for visitors to navigate. 

One of the first decisions I made about the show was to include a rocket ship prop (originally dreamed up for Foo Fest) and to hang it from the ceiling, suggesting that it was flying through the gallery. But a couple hours before the opening, I felt like that something was missing, as in, 'What if part of the rocket ship actually moved to suggest rocket propulsion?’ Enter: some silver rain curtain I had laying around the house and a small fan. 

At the 11th hour, a couple of friends that I work with at the Wilbury - Andy Russ, who also generously lit my gallery show, and Monica Shinn - were in the space with me trouble-shooting how to install lengths of perpetually moving tinsel. Bringing this kind of high energy improvisational problem solving that we usually access while working on a stage set was really fun in the gallery. And it ended up being one of my favorite details in the show.

You’ve also made an awesome book! How do book pages feel in comparison to your large scale public art pieces? How are the processes different or similar for you? Do you see more book making in your future?

Public art really celebrates the moment, a chance encounter - especially in the city!  I think about the viewer who takes the same commuter route to work every day and suddenly she finds something unexpected, possibly fantastical dropped into her otherwise very-familiar world… But a book is an invitation to step into another world altogether and spend time with it.  The reader holds that whole world in her hands, it’s hers, she can take it with her.  

I approach each method of storytelling with this viewer experience in mind and, similarly, the processes are very different.  Public art installation is usually very social and collaborative.  On a given project, I’m in constant dialogue with the city, property owners and sub-contractors - I create imagery that’s responsive to the people and interests of an event or neighborhood.  When I wrote/ illustrated my book the process was very intimate and solitary, it was more about something I wanted to express and share in that encapsulated form.  I would really love to make another book!

As an educator, what do you hope the young artistic souls you teach take away from your classes?

I try to create lessons that help my students build cognitive and sensory bridges between classroom curricula and the arts. For example, when our 7th graders are learning about the 3 branches of government in Social Studies, I integrate an architectural drawing lesson into our Art curriculum. We look at the buildings that house our judicial, legislative, and executive branches in Washington D.C. and discuss the specific choices artists/ leaders in architectural style. For example: “What were designers trying to say about our country by using elements of Greek and Roman architecture in the Capitol Building?” These are some of my favorite conversations with young people, they always surprise you with their insights - the best is when they surprise themselves. A lot of my students at Wolf have rigorous expressive/ receptive language goals on their learning plans. So I also hope to provide my students with a nurturing space for developing tools of visual literacy, which also give us agency to interpret/ express ourselves in the world. But most importantly, I hope my students will take away the sense that art is accessible and fun, and that they leave each class curious about the next!

What’s on your project bucket list? If there were no limits in time and resources, what would your dream project be? 

I would love to travel and install work overseas! It would be dreamy to meet/ learn from artists creating public installations in other countries and exchange best practices. …But I also sometimes I fantasize about designing theatrical sets for something absurdly over-the-top like a high budget opera.

photo by Erin X. Smithers

photo by Erin X. Smithers

Often, art can feel untouchable. How does your work respond to this?

YES. I mean, in the classroom, I am constantly reminding my students not to touch their neighbor's pottery projects. But in the world at large, I agree that art consistently feels untouchable and, when you couple this untouchability with the idea that art is expensive and behind the closed doors of a museum, it can send the message that art is exclusive or fixed.

But art is alive, it emerges from a basic human desire to connect with the world, and the sometimes sublime lengths we will go to to do so.  

So when I can, I like to provide a playful structure in which people feel encouraged to participate in a narrative. Sometimes this means, I am setting up a chance encounter with a human-sized alligator in a fur coat in a city alley. Sometimes, this means laying out a piece of astroturf in a gallery and encouraged people to take their shoes off, walk in the fake grass, and pretend they're at a fantasy picnic; sometimes this means, building a rocket ship that the viewer can physically get inside of. If you make a piece interactive, then I like to think you send an inclusive message about creativity and art spaces.

Who have your mentors been throughout the years? Please share a story with us.

Sometimes impactful guidance has shown up for me, less in the form of one consistent mentor, and more in the form of one insightful thing someone almost randomly says to me that later becomes a mantra. 

About 10 years ago, I was Assistant Director at a local art gallery/ live music venue. On paper, this looked great. Previously, I was keeping a lot of odd jobs to support myself and making art in the margins; I had done retail, waited tables, I was a book binder, I took portraits for a mobile daycare photography studio - but now I had this title position in arts administration. The flip side of this is job, though, was that I was working 50-60h/ week and I had no time for anything else. 

One day I was catching up with a former professor, Judy Sue Goodwin-Sturges. She shared an office with Oren Sherman, who had also taught some of the classes I took in Illustration. And he interjected to say these things to me, “You do not sound very happy, you need to be making artwork,” and the thing that really stuck with me, “you have to make the time because no one else is going to make it for you.” His words kind of hurt because they were the truth. Ironically, a couple of weeks later, the gallery I was working for announced that they were closing indefinitely and I was laid off along with everyone else. That was when I turned to teaching and started making the illustrations that later evolved into my book.

What’s on your project bucket list? If there were no limits in time and resources, what would your dream project be?

I would love to travel and install work overseas! It would be dreamy to meet/ learn from artists creating public installations in other countries and exchange best practices. …But I also sometimes I fantasize about designing theatrical sets for something absurdly over-the-top like a high budget opera.

photo by Erin X. Smithers

photo by Erin X. Smithers

What’s the next year look like for you in terms of installations, shows, and projects? We love keeping an eye out for your work!

Thank you so much, it’s a busy and exciting year, especially this summer… Later this month, I am installing a temporary, multi-media mural in Olneyville. The piece is called, ‘What’s in the River?’ and has an interactive web component with fun facts and stories about the Woonasquatucket River. The project is generously supported by Art Culture +Tourism, as part of their exciting initiative to bring public art to the Woonasquatucket Greenway! July 11 - August 22, I am delighted to be working with Providence Parks Conservancy on Art in the Park. Their programming theme this year is “HERSTORY.” As artist-in-residence, I’ll be leading art activities inspired by the works of author/ illustrator Virginia Lee Burton - we’ll explore all kinds of fun materials and take a close look at her beautiful stories like ‘Katie the Snowplow’ and, my personal favorite, ’the Little House.’ Art in the Park takes place at Burnside Park, starting at 11:30 - right after StoryTime at 10:30 - it’s completely free and for kids/ families of all ages! 

Thanks so much Keri for taking the time to share with us! To view more of Keri’s work take a look at her website and follow on instagram ~


NEW io moon T-shirts!!

We are so excited to announce that Keri King, yep that's right - the stellar artist featured above, has designed for us this celestial t-shirt! Come on by for one today in charcoal gray, navy, or periwinkle blue, or purchase on our etsy page. We are excited to give 10% of sales to local environmental organizations. Thanks for your continual support!


JULY EVENTS

Loving this summer weather! Take a look at our list of art centered festivals, openings, and gatherings happening this month. We've also included some moon celebrations!

56th ANNUAL WICKFORD ART FESTIVAL

July 13-14
Brown and Main Street, North Kingstown

FRINGE PVD FESTIVAL

July 22-27
Tap the link above for the performance schedule and locations!

AS220’S ESTIVAL FESTIVAL

July 20
3pm-1am
115 Empire Street, Providence

LIVE LOCAL

Newport, RI Local Music + Arts Festival
July 20
11am-9pm
21 Farewell Street

SOUTHEAST ASIAN CULTURAL FESTIVAL

July 27
9am-4pm
DCR MA-Fall River Heritage State Park
200 Davol Street Fall River, Massachusetts

RI CENTER FOR PHOTOGRAPHIC ARTS

Weekend Workshop at WaterFire Providence with photographer David H. Wells
July 20 + 21
Tap the link above for full schedule and registration

HERA GALLERY

Hera Artist Member Group Exhibition
June 15 - July 20
Opening Reception: June 22, 6 - 8pm

Material Roots
Curated by Sarah Swift
Opening Reception: July 27, 6-8pm
Artist Weaving and Natural Dye Talk Saturday, August 3, 1pm

RISD MUSEUM

Design the Night
July 18, 5-9pm
20 North Main Street

WATERFIRE ARTS CENTER

“Museum of the Moon”  by Luke Jerram
 July 9-28
Hours: M- F10am - 5 pm and 7pm - 9:00 pm; Thursdays until 10:00 pm.
Saturday and Sunday 12 - 5:00pm

ART TO REDUCE MENTAL HEALTH STIGMA

Art Auction Fundraiser
July 18
7–9pm

TRADE POP-UP

fathom library installation
July 18-21
R-Sat 1pm-7pm
Sun 12-5pm
Follow link for detailed workshop schedule
34 Governor St Providence, RI 02906