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When I first came across Kinsey's work, nearly a decade ago, he was operating under the auspices of BLK/MRKT, his fledgling self-starter studio in San Diego, where he found himself confronting the duality of art - the spontaneous, organic street variety and the hung, centered, lit and labeled gallery variety - after relocating to the west coast from the east. Having cut his teeth in the dense urban environments of Pittsburgh and Atlanta, the seemingly laid back and spacious air of Southern California was like an orchard ready for the picking. By this time proletariat propaganda campaigns like Fairey's Obey Giant had already taken root and exploded, and if there was anything Southern California had in spades it was available vertical surfaces. Kinsey attacked the barren landscape, scrawling out rough, often angular figures that were never soft but always empowered with a certain sensitivity. His early work was known for its sociopolitical overtones, the messages of Rethink and Unlearn left behind for the nine-to-fivers to ponder through the sentence of their daily commute. While those loaded words may have been his message, it was Kinsey's characters that spoke the loudest. Rather than resorting to the striking Soviet-style angular simplicity of Fairey's work or the airbrushed hyperbole of many traditional graffiti artists, Kinsey infused the visages of the everyday blue collar type with an understated honesty and a line style that laid bare the essentials of identity. Almost cartoonish but without reverting to silliness, his characters stood exposed (in most cases literally, with beer bellies and sagging breasts) and truthful, exhibiting a rawness that was both vulnerable and defiant. Like the urban denizens he encountered scraping it out every day, the characters inhabiting Kinsey's work were there in all the unending multiplicity of the human condition, hoping to get ahead while just getting by, squaring their shoulders while expecting a knife in the back.
It wasn't long before people began taking notice of Kinsey's work. Municipal workers in San Diego came to know his calling card and received his urban enhancements with the expected degree of disdain. But even then it was the end and not the means that mattered, his stated intention long having been "to expose as many people to art as possible and to honor the power art has when it's created and accepted." If people could be snapped from their daily doze and brought to accept the challenges to Rethink and Unlearn, on their daily routes to and from work of all places, then Kinsey's art had already expanded into a life beyond itself.
Around the beginning of the new millennium Kinsey and his work began spreading into print media, both as subject and creator/collaborator. Early on support came from the usual places, skateboarding and underground art magazines being the first to take notice, but has over the years expanded all the way to Wired magazine, the New York Times and the Washington Post. The spectrum of Kinsey's collaborative partners and commissioners has also greatly progressed, his first commission being a benefit for the Hollywood Sunset Free Clinic in 1999 leading to work for Absolut Vodka, the Italian automobile maker FIAT, and the Hotel Des Arts in San Francisco, for which Kinsey created a wrap-around painting installation in room 411. While some may point to corporate clientele as an obvious sellout, the Hotel Des Arts piece serves as an interesting irony; Kinsey's work has always been about the pursuit of realism, truth, and understanding, and it is perhaps no coincidence that his work colors the walls of 411, the telephone code for information that has become American slang for knowledge.
In lieu of attacking high art, as is often the modus operandi of the "urban" art scene, Kinsey has made high art come to him, and has been remarkably successful. Virtually his entire back catalog of acrylic on canvas paintings, dating back to 1996, has been sold to private collectors. By the time I found KinseyVisual.com (from which the images in this feature come) so many years ago, few of his originals remained available for purchase, and since then everything he has put on the market has been gobbled up. In the jaws of demand, an individual piece that sold for $700 a few years ago, or a series of three or more listing at $2000 for the set, are selling for five and six times that amount today. ("The Enemy" and "The Friend," a pair of 2006 pieces, can be purchased from Brussels' Alice Gallery for $3500 each.)
Today Kinsey's art is generally far removed from the concrete of underpass abutments or the corrugated steel of city rooftops from which it came, instead more likely to be found adorning gallery spaces and apartment walls in public and private collections. That is not to say that Kinsey's ideas and imagery won't be found on plasterboard, concrete, or cinder block walls, as his work is equally at home in the world that spawned it as the world it has come to inhabit. Even today, with group and solo shows as far afield as Tokyo and London, and guest lectures and presentations from Australia's Semi-Permanent show in Sydney to UCLA's Design and Media Arts program, Kinsey's canvases are rooted in his urban work, and they still carry the same fresh-faced political punch as the left-leaning idealism that spawned them. His fight was borne in the trenches of street art, and today his battles are fought in the galleries and classrooms of the structured art world. While some artists have emerged from the shadows only to be shunned by the street communities from which they came, Kinsey's work continues to speak for itself, straddling the often gargantuan divide between the two. SEE ALSO: www.kinseyvisual.com
SEE ALSO: www.blkmrkt.com
Eric J Herboth
Eric J. Herboth is the founder, publisher and Managing Editor of LAS magazine. He is a magazine editor, freelance writer, bike mechanic, commercial pilot, graphic designer, International Scout enthusiast and giver of the benefit of the doubt. He currently lives in rural central Germany with his two best friends, dog Awahni and cat Scout.
See other articles by Eric J Herboth.
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