Interview: Graham Keegan, Artist

This week we chatted with Graham Keegan, an artist based out of Los Angeles. In the latest installment of our interview series, Graham discusses his beginnings with textiles, the ideology behind preparing his large-scale pieces, and how Los Angeles plant life has influenced his work.

Twenty Two: Let’s start with the basics. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Graham: Sure, I’m a young man, living in Los Angeles, just trying to make beautiful things!

Twenty Two: How did you become interested in textiles?

Graham: Well, I have always been interested in them to an extent. I had a sewing machine and used it from the time that I could figure it out, maybe age 5 or 6. But textiles specifically happened a few years ago. I used to own a business that did a lot of printmaking, designing posters and t-shirts. I started to really take a look at the material that I was printing on, what it was made from, where it came from, and became less interested in printing images on it, and instead just working directly with the cloth.

Twenty Two: What’s the process you go through when you’re working on a new piece?

Graham: Well, most of my pieces arise out of a need. You know, for example, I needed a new bag. My old one was worn out. There were holes in the bottom and it was ripped and stained. So I took it apart, and made a new one fresh from different materials that I preferred. The old bag was just canvas, but the new one, I wanted to be leather and waterproof so I learned how to waterproof some canvas by coating it with beeswax. But I needed beeswax so I had to get some, and a friend of mine mentioned that he was going to be cutting out an old bee hive from a wall and I asked if I could use the leftover wax.

Another piece that came about from a need was this leather cozy. I drink a lot of hot beverages and also break a lot of glasses, mugs, etc., but I like to drink from see-through containers (I like the way different colored liquids look through glass). I re-use my kombucha bottles all the time because they are super hardy. You can drop them and they don’t break. But I kept burning my hands when I put boiling liquid in them, so I just made a little leather sleeve for the bottle like the wool temple. Even the bigger pieces come from a need.

Twenty Two: Have you ever created pieces for a larger audience?

Graham: Yeah, I’ve made work that has been part of public festivals and shown in museums and galleries.

Twenty Two: Can you talk about some of the pieces you’ve made for public consumption?

Graham: Well, they are all produced to bring out a sense of wonder and curiosity in the viewer, you know, to create the idea of “What is this?” or “Where am I?” I want the spaces to be both mystical and exciting. To give this sense of, “How did I end up here?”

I’m working on a piece now that is a tent made from loose woven cotton fabric. I’m imagining it as a type of ghost tent. I want to put it up in Elysian Park, overlooking Downtown and the stadium that was created in the 50’s and 60’s after the old Chavez Ravine neighborhoods were pushed out.

Twenty Two: Where do you find inspiration?

Graham: I feel like inspiration finds me. It is not something that I can look for or seek out. Fresh ideas only come to me when I am open, and not really thinking about what to do or how to do it. You know, I’ll just be driving from one place to another, or out for a walk or drinking a cup of coffee or something. Then, pow… I have a revelation of a solution to a problem, or a new idea of something to make. I have to really not be conscious for inspiration to strike.

Twenty Two: Can you describe your typical day?

Graham: A typical creative day when I am working for myself goes something like this: wake up and make my way to the workshop, arriving sometime around 9am. I make breakfast here and catch up on the news, read blogs and take care of emails, business, etc. Have lunch around noon. Then start in on whatever project I am working on. Work till two-ish and then take a break for an hour and have a cup of coffee, visit with friends, and call people on the phone. Then, come back to the shop, and work until 8 or 9 with a break for dinner. I make most of my meals in the shop. I’ll often skip out for a couple hours in the AM or around noon for a yoga class, or a meeting.

Twenty Two: How has living in Los Angeles influenced your work?

Graham: It has definitely freed me up to believe that anything is possible, quickly. There are so many resources, so many vendors and it is so easy to find things. There are specific shops for any particular thing that I’ll need.

I’m also much more conscious of plants, being in LA. I’m still awed by the amount of flowers, fruit and leaves that there are here. I don’t know how exactly that has influenced my work, but I’m constantly thinking about it so it surely has. Well actually, it has influenced my work, because I’m now growing the plants that I use to change the colors of things.

Twenty Two: Are there any media or art genres you’d like to explore that you haven’t already?

Graham: I’m interested in starting to capture some of my larger works in more interesting ways so that they can be seen and experienced by more people on their own time. In the past, you just had to be there for the full effect of the installation to sink in, but now I’m starting to craft pieces with the media in mind, you know, making things in such a way that they can be photographed or put into film and video and shared.

That said, I still prefer when my pieces are seen in person. There is so much aura in sound and smell and touch that can’t be communicated via a photograph or a film.

Twenty Two: When you’re not working, how do you spend your time?

Graham: Not working? Ha, umm… mostly just looking around. I try to get myself into situations that are interesting. Seeking out beautiful vistas, strange smells, interesting textures and non-abrasive sounds. I walk often, eat a lot, read less than I’d like, and find myself sitting quietly quite a bit.

Twenty Two: What can we expect to see from you in the future?

Graham: More, bigger and stranger.

A special thanks to Graham for giving us the opportunity to learn more about his work. You can keep up with him by checking out his website, Etsy, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Click on the images below to see more from Graham.

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