We had the good fortune of connecting with Kels Coker and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kels, what do you want people to remember about you?
My ultimate goal is to leave this world behind more beautiful than I found it. Being alive can be such a dark and profoundly lonely experience, I would hope my presence here, and by extension my art, somehow helps satiate some sort of longing for beauty and softness.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Nothing has ever been easy, both creativity-wise and just trying to break into a relevant art scene. Life as an artist can feel very bleak, like it’s almost a curse to have this innate drive to create and then on top of that, there’s the whole money thing – trying to sell this incredibly intimate piece of you or convince galleries that part of you is worth being represented, is worth anything at all. It can actually be really weirdly humiliating. I’ve learned how to take rejection extremely well and am still learning how to create without expectation both for myself and others’ reactions to my work. Liberating yourself from that is a really beautiful thing and necessary if you don’t plan on driving yourself to insanity. I’m learning how to not take myself and my artistic practice so seriously. I guess that sounds pretty negative, but art is something that affects everyone very deeply, and while it might be a sort of curse it’s also an honor to bear that weight, to have nervous breakdowns over the elasticity of left-out oil paints and while trying to match that impossible cast of periwinkle in late November afternoons. Painting specifically releases a piece of you that is otherwise unable to be spoken for. And the feeling you have as a consumer of art when seeing a painting or reading a poem or hearing a song for the first time that like annihilates every bad feeling you’ve ever had in that moment – when you get to witness art so beautiful the air gets knocked out of you, it’s unmatched on every other level of the human experience. It’s worth it, I keep telling myself that. Anyway, something I’m really excited about is I’m currently recording an album. I have no idea what it’s going to sound like even though I have some songs partially finished. It’s been a really bizarre learning curve since I have only worked in visual mediums until extremely recently, and I’m really stoked to produce and mix my own songs even if they never see the light of day. I’m always excited about painting too, regardless of how much I wax poetic about being so tortured by it.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Oh my god I love this question. I actually always write all of my friends itineraries or recommendation lists for places they’re going, it’s probably an absurd hobby. The very first place we’d hit would absolutely be The Coronado. We could probably spend half of the time just in this little spot, it’s literally the perfect restaurant. Big wraparound patio in a historic 1800s Coronado house, the semi-surrealist art on the walls, and the entire menu is unmatched. I It’s all vegan, and I’m struggling to think of something I wouldn’t do to have their red bean quesadillas and an Edith cocktail in my hand right now. The pastries specifically are so insane. They have the best cake I’ve ever had and the best brownies too, and I am a baker by trade who comes from a lineage of bakers. Their sister space, Dark Hall Coffee, is another must-hit. Again, bewilderingly good pastries, their plum crumb cake is top tier. They also have the very best chai I’ve ever had, and I am unremorsefully elitist about tea. There are so many other good spots in the Phoenix area – Pomegranate’s brunch is always worth the drive, I would probably take a bullet for Veggie Village’s general tso mushrooms, Green and Nami for a big wac and devil’s food tsoynami, Cornish Pasty for good beer and hot pocket-adjacent pasties, Pizza Heaven and La Grande Orange for their insane vegan pizzas. The Phoenix area is also such a honey hole for thrifting. When I was running a vintage shop, I would drive for hours to get to the millions of Savers, Goodwills, definitely both Buffalo Exchanges and return with a huge haul of Gunne Sax and vintage Lee overalls. This is necessary for any clothes hound to scratch that curator’s itch. Art-wise, the PAM and the Heard museum are fantastic, and all of the galleries on Roosevelt as well as The Hive (and Buzz Beans while we’re there!) are consistent with solid exhibitions.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I tend to regard my art as a really intensely personal thing, I’ve never had a mentor or formally learned technique and just opted to teach myself, and I find it incredibly difficult to create in any capacity unless I’m totally isolated from everyone and everything. That being said I have always been shocked by the consistent support of my work by those around me, and notably to Julia Fournier of The Hive Gallery for seeing something within my work enough to grant me a solo exhibition when I was only 20.