Aesthetically Speaking: Kelsay Myers

Hello, dearest fellow travelers! I’m very excited to introduce a new recurring feature here on Stowaway: The Aesthetically Speaking series of artist interviews. I know so many people who make art, whether as a main occupation or something they pursue whenever they can, and I wanted to hear more about their processes and philosophies. So I wrote up a list of questions and sent them out to friends far and wide, and each week I’ll post their answers here. I strongly encourage you to ask questions in the comments and check out their websites, shows, etc. Many thanks to all the artists who sent me such thoughtful responses. I appreciate your taking the time and sharing insight into what art means to you.

The inaugural interview is with Kelsay Myers, a friend of mine from Kalamazoo College. I remember Kelsay as an energetic force in our campus’s feminist organization, and when we did the feminist fashion show her keen artist’s eye was invaluable. Kelsay lives in San Francisco and, as you’ll see from her interview, is totally immersed in the arts scene there. Thanks for sharing, Kelsay!

What is your name and city of residence?
Kelsay Elizabeth Myers, San Francisco Bay Area

What medium do you work in?
Creative writing and found art installation

How often do you work on your art–is it a full-time endeavor or something you work on in your spare time?
Currently, I spend most of my time working on writing, art or arts-related projects. I am trying to live the artist’s, or writer’s life and go wherever the work takes me.

The Red Frame by Kelsay Myers

The Red Frame by Kelsay Myers

How does art fit into your life, in general? Is it something you think about and talk about every day, or every week, or only in certain situations, etc.?

I admit that I might be a bit of an art-a-holic. I am thinking about my writing, or future writing projects, or future art projects, or ideas for art projects, or what I should or could be doing with my writing constantly. I talk about it with my friends, colleagues and family. I tweet about it with some consistency. I do it with somewhat greater consistency than tweeting about it.

This might be a by-product of moving to California and falling into both a writers’ community (the MFA Writing community at Saint Mary’s College of California) and an artists’ community (Asian American Women Artists Association). Or, it could be because when I moved to the East Bay, I was ready to devote myself to my writing, and I tend to go full-throttle when I decide to do something.

When you start on a piece, what kind of end result do you have in mind? Does it get performed or published, put in a permanent form or is it more temporary?
It’s different each time. Each piece has a life of its own, but some things are the same. I always create for myself, but I also always want to share my work whether it’s through publication, a literary reading or a performance. It’s part of the Di Seuss model of creating—write because you have to, because you have no other choice and then send it out into the world to hopefully connect with others. Then move on.

What goals do you set in relation to your art, both short- and long-term? Is it something you hope to make money doing, or is it something you want to keep uncommercialized? Does the term “sell-out” hold meaning for you or do you see the art/commerce relationship as a necessary one?

“Sell-out” is something I’m concerned about. Not from the art/commerce side of things since the ability to make money doing art or writing is the ideal for me. I worry about becoming complacent, not challenging myself to move into new artistic territory, repeating myself or being convinced to make choices that I know would be a disservice to the integrity of the work. But I’d like to think that I would never allow that to happen. I guess time will tell.

What role does collaboration with others play in your art, if any?

Collaboration hasn’t come up for me very often, but I would love to collaborate. I think a piece can benefit from having more than one voice and more than one person’s mission influencing it. 

How conscious are you of your artistic influences? Who are your artistic influences?
Risa Nye said it best when she told me that my writing is very inspired and inspiring. While I cannot really speak to that last part, I do think my writing is very inspired and purposefully so. My goal is for someone else to find my writing half as inspiring as I find other writers’ to be. I haven’t written anything without directly quoting at least one of my artistic influences because I don’t see my work as being created in a vacuum, either in content or in structure. I want to honor the voices of the people who influence my work within my work, and this is something I will not compromise on.

I don’t think it’s merely the academic in me wanting to re-enforce my argument with the evidence of others either. Actress Fanny Ardant captured the idea brilliantly when she said: “As a girl, whenever I read a beautiful passage in a book I would run to my sister and read it to her. It is the feeling that you have to share the beautiful with someone else.” I find beauty everywhere: in a painting, in a book, on the silver screen, in my friends and colleagues, and I want to share that beauty with the whole world.

Aside from the women I have already mentioned in this interview (Di, Risa and Fanny), specific artistic influences are Carole Maso, Friedrich Nietzsche, Kimiko Hahn, Yoko Ono, John Irving, Walt Whitman, SØren Kierkegaard and Marilyn Abildskov.

Kelsay at the "A Place of Her Own" exhibition at SOMArts Cultural Center

Kelsay at the "A Place of Her Own" exhibition at SOMArts Cultural Center

Since this is a travel blog, how does travel relate to or affect your art? (Themes in what you produce, road trips to perform your music, thoughts on what happens to your painting when you ship it across the country to a customer, etc.)
Travel comes across in a lot of my work in some way or another. As a transracial and transnational adoptee, a certain amount of displacement exists in everything that I write. For example, the large red doors I constructed from found objects in my first art installation at SOMArts Cultural Center in San Francisco this past May were dubbed “very Asian” by some other artists in the show, which I found interesting since the lyrical essay that inspired my installation included a lot of imaginary scenes that take place in Busan, South Korea. It’s an essay where I imagine my birth parents and birth story in different ways, and I suppose the Asian side of me came out, too, in ways that it hasn’t been able to before.

Even if travel itself isn’t mentioned, place is important in all of my writing. I have lived in quite a few cities, and all of them have impacted me, which tends to come out in the writing, depending on which city I was living in during the time of the piece. Budapest, Hungary, where I lived for five months during my Study Abroad in college, is a place I associate with themes of freedom and escape. California and Korea are both places that have lived in my imagination for years as ideals and foils to my hometown of Lowell, Michigan. All of these are issues I write about or work out in my art.

And finally, a right-brain question: If your art was a map, what would it be a map of?

The United States of Asian America, as lived by one Korean American adoptee.

If you’d like, share your website/Facebook page and any upcoming gigs/plans you’d like readers to know about.

Photo 1 credit Markus Storzer. Photo 2 credit Nicole C. Roldan.


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