Kjelshus (KJ) Collins is an artist and art educator from Oklahoma City. He graduated from Oklahoma State University in 2006 with a B.A. in Art History and a BFA in Fine Arts. Kjelshus has shown in a number of exhibits in Oklahoma as well as internationally. As a teaching artist, Kjelshus has taught for OKCPS, Oklahoma Contemporary, ARTSPACE at Untitled, OKC Arts Council, among others. He currently works in a small studio near the Plaza District. Follow his prints and pop sculptures on Instagram or view more of his art on Flickr.
To read more about the intersection of the maker and crafting cultures, read the full discussion article that inspired the interview.
AM: How did you get into printmaking and sculpture? How long have you been at it?
KJ: My mother and late father are artists, so I have been around this world my whole life. I’m sure they wanted me to be a scientist. I have always been able to visualize three dimensions fairly well; this allows for a really enjoyable time working with my hands. The same with traditional printmaking. The whole idea of creating an edition of multiple images from nothing, with my hands, is fascinating. I predominantly studied sculpture at university but was also familiarized with printmaking through art history and studio. I received scholarships to attend the Oklahoma Arts Institute and was able to work with some great printmakers.
AM: How has your art evolved over time? What has influenced your technique along the way?
KJ: The techniques are the same, they have just become more refined over the years. There exists a base that can be constantly built upon. The art has changed somewhat, though. I feel the source material is still the same, but the imagery has moved from abstract brut to more of a pop brut. I have always liked things like mysticism and prehistory, Star Wars and Vic’s Novelty, consumerism and mass production... I’ve been on a couple of archeological digs in Jordan, too, that really ties it together for me. All of these things I can brew together in a world-building venture through my art.
AM: What is your experience with teaching art? Do you feel like the social nature of an art class inspires the work done within it?
KJ: After university I decided to go for a teaching certificate. In 2008 I began a three-year certification process to become an art teacher by adjuncting at Classen School of Advanced Studies. I went on hiatus 10 years later to pursue other things. I like teaching art, I think it is highly important for children’s development. I think it is pertinent for civilization to function, and it allows for expression and free thought. I still teach, just in auxiliary positions.
Art class is great. I always had an amazing time in the studio with my friends. It’s good to be able to discuss ideas and get advice on technique with your people. We would give each other critique and discuss aesthetics. Philosophize about art movements and whatnot. I enjoy watching my students have time to themselves and be able to vent or just get a break from the heavy academics. Being able to use your hands and know how certain materials and tools work goes far in life.
AM: How has your art influenced your relationship with your community? Do you interact with other makers, artists and vendors who have become close to you?
KJ: Of course, I have some pretty close friends that are also creatives. It’s the same as in college except instead of grades it’s money to fund projects. We collaborate on pieces occasionally, help with curating, hanging shows, passing on jobs, whatever. Oklahoma City’s artist colony is a great community.
AM: Do you think anyone can be an artist? What do you think distinguishes an artist from a crafter or a maker?
KJ: Yes, but not everyone wants to be an artist or even likes art, at that. The three pillars of visual aesthetics are art, craft and design. They are not the same but cross over regularly. A carpenter doesn’t necessarily want to be an artist. Carpenter wants to be a carpenter. But there can be some fantastic artistry to a piece. I think it is all about what the creative is trying to convey. Designers want things to be pleasing to the eye, it doesn’t have to send any message beyond synapses firing off. Artists often use all three to tell a story. But the product, the art, exists as a standalone thing. A unique idea manifested from raw materials to exist in this world. All three are just as important as the next. Neither is better nor worse. It is all very important.
AM: What is next for you?
KJ: I have some shows in L.A. and Chicago and I have been accepted into an MFA program at the University of New Orleans. I will be moving there with my family for a bit and see what happens. I like the facilities and the program really works with what I do. It is a wonderful city and I am very excited about the musical and artistic culture.