Q&A with Justin Kedl (’14)
Valor Arts has had the joy of having Justin Kedl (’14) back in our Arts community – this time as a Fellow for the Visual Arts Conservatory. Justin graduated from Gordon College with degrees in Sculpture and Graphic Design.
He has spent this year mentoring Visual Arts Conservatory students and helping curate gallery exhibits. But his talent, wisdom and his artistic experiences run deep so we asked Justin to tell us his story – from his high school years at Valor, through college, internships, and his future plans as an artist in residence in Denmark this summer and fall.
You will find him, as we do, remarkable, humble, funny and ambitious!
How did your arts studies at Valor influence your college studies?
I was a little all over the place artistically when I was a student at Valor. I did theatre all the way through, but I also took video production, drawing and painting, graphic design, and animation.
Graphic design really captured my attention while I was at Valor, and the classes I took actually over-prepared me for the introductory design courses at Gordon. These classes focused on software basics, which I already knew from my classes at Valor and from my own time spent experimenting and playing around in Adobe Illustrator.
This freed up the mental and academic space for me to add a sculpture concentration to my major, and qualified me for a few design jobs I had during my time at Gordon.
Were there any milestone experiences that helped you determine your career path?
After taking my introductory drawing and principles of design courses during my first year of college, I realized how much I loved the fine arts. I thought I wanted to be an illustrator, but after signing up for a figure painting course during my second semester I realized that painting was not for me.
After much prayer, I was wandering around at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and I realized that I spent the most time looking at sculptural and three-dimensional work. Keeping this in mind, I signed up for a clay sculpture course, and within two weeks I knew that this was the art form for me.
I was then able to study abroad in Italy for a semester, living in a culture whose art and faith are so inextricably tied, and after that I was sure that I needed to keep creating artwork for the rest of my life.
Tell us about your sculpting internship at Natura Obscura?
Natura Obscura is an immersive art exhibit at the Museum of Outdoor Arts in Englewood. Viewers experience an interactive, introspective walk through a surreal forest full of fantastical plants, strange creatures, and hidden messages.
Over 30 local artists worked on this exhibit, and I was one of 10 interns who worked during last summer on the major build. The interns worked on the general build together, constructing the false cave walls, making trees out of melted PVC pipe, spray painting rocks and creating crystals, plants, and other bits of the forest, but we also all had individual projects where we were allowed to create unique, “signature” sorts of pieces.
I was given the job of “woodland spirit and fungus design”— truly my dream job— populating the forest with quirky organisms that gave the exhibit an element of whimsy. I sculpted three unique species of fungus, which were molded and cast in resin by three of the other interns, as well as 50 one-of-a-kind woodland spirits in ceramic stoneware that we dispersed throughout the exhibit, hiding them under rocks and behind tree branches for viewers to find.
I also designed graphics which were printed as large vinyl decals and animated by another intern for an augmented reality app and a video projection. It was an amazing experience that connected me with other local artists and allowed me to continue exploring my own interests while stretching me to work with new materials in new ways.
The exhibit is up through September 29, and you can purchase tickets at www.naturaobscura.org.
You are headed off for a new artistic adventure in Denmark. What will you do there?
This coming summer and fall, I will be one of two young artists in residence at the Guldagergaard International Ceramic Research Center in Skælskør, Denmark. The center is a large compound dedicated to pushing forward and preserving ceramics as an art form. They have a professional artist in residency program, but they also have this young artist residency designed for students and recent graduates like myself.
I will be working the grounds part time in exchange for housing and a small stipend, cleaning and recycling clay and running kilns and things, but I will also be given my own studio space to create a new body of work while I’m there. I am not fully sure what this new body of work will look like yet, but I know that I will be continuing to build on and explore the concepts and forms I started in my undergraduate thesis. My work centers around the exploration of mystery and difference through biomorphic forms, so all I know is that there will be a lot of blobs and tentacles!
What advice do you have for Valor students who are thinking of pursuing studies in the arts?
When I was in high school, I was very quick to define myself as an “arts kid,” but all of my interests play a part in the work that I create. Things I learned in high school and college science courses influence the organic forms I make.
My interest in literature also plays a huge part: my sketchbooks are full of quotes from novels and bits of poems that inform the conceptual basis of my work. When you keep in mind that you are a whole person, that you are not uni-dimensional, that God did not make you only an artist but as a multi-faceted individual, your work becomes so much richer.
There’s this very modern American idea that a career in the arts is unlikely to support or sustain you, so as an artist you feel a lot of pressure to climb the ladder really quickly. This can give you tunnel-vision, making you forego opportunities that don’t look like a stepping stone to artistic acclaim.
If you allow yourself to go slow and remain open to new ideas, processes, and opportunities, your work and life will only get better. So don’t box yourself in: document and explore as much as you can, invest in things that have nothing to do with your “career path,” and see where it takes you!