Come along with us as we explore the fascinating journey of Kei Constantinov whose art is deeply rooted in anachronistic imagery and neo-medieval techniques. Her artistic influences, instilled by her father from a young age, have shaped her unique style and approach to art. From her custom framing to her storytelling through triptychs, Kei invites us into her world where craft, discipline, and a touch of magic converge to create captivating works.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
My father dug clay from Trail Creek’s banks to sculpt with me as a child. He also crafted my first easel, teaching me to use oil mediums and tools.
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There was never an “ah-ha!” moment, just a message from my father that art mattered.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
Perhaps my work is recognizable due to its anachronistic imagery and methodology, being technique-heavy and neo-medieval. Also, my custom framing, which I hope expands the narrative and evokes that je ne sais quois feeling.
What motivates you artistically?
There are few moments when I am not entertaining a new concept, or running a mental playlist of literary extracts as inspiration for imagery.
What different creative media do you use in your work?
I use archival materials, traditionally prepared substrates and metal foils (gold, silver, copper), along with newer air drying clay products, moulded and sculpted.
Tell us more about your custom frames. How did you get started making them?
After researching 15th century Italian surrounds, it was hard to reconcile using available products, so I simply began experimenting to arrive at Faux Relic Frames.
Does your work have stories to tell?
Storytelling is seductive, especially the triptych (beginning-middle-end), and people respond to what a body is work is “about”. We’re all magic starved, too.
Do you plan your work out ahead of time, or do you just dive in with your materials and start playing?
Strategic thinking and planning are certainly important before beginning a painting. I use a simplified version of the Fibonacci “golden mean” which is the Rule of Thirds when composing an image, trying to hit at least two sweet spots.
How do you manage your creative time? Do you schedule start and stop times? Or work only when inspired?
Inspiration is for hobbyists, perhaps? I try for at least six painting hours per day, believing that craft and discipline are key elements for growth.
Describe your creative space.
Since returning in 2013 I have maintained a studio in Michigan City, Indiana. Recently, due to isolation issues (Covid, double tracking) I re-established Studio Krakow in an Elston Grove vintage apartment, where the light is great, I’m surrounded by wonderful textures, antique furnishings and books.
What is your favorite lesser-known tool for your trade? Have you taken something designed for another use and repurposed it for your studio?
Any tool which does the job is the correct tool!
How does your formal art education help your work develop? Does it ever get in the way?
I was fortunate to receive an MFA from the University of Massachusetts, as my area of printmaking stressed archival methods and centuries old tools. Also graduate seminars require one to assess intentions, defend work publicly, and build a consistent body of work, so thinking thematically becomes normalized. I would encourage young artists to get atelier training instead.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
Wordsmithing journals are the only real composition books in use, as lines of text play a critical role in my process. I tend to sketch initial “thumbnails” on scraps of paper which are tossed once the canvas is approached.
How often do you start a new project? Do you work actively on more than one project at a time?
Several easels have partly finished work “gestating” on them, to be seen with fresh eyes on other occasions. A current self-portrait is humming along without need to step away, however.
Which part of the design process is your favorite? Which part is a challenge for you?
My fave part of the design process is now frame creation, and how it will enhance whatever the central painting is “about”. As in writing, it is always easiest and most pleasant to begin a piece, whereas bringing it to satisfactory fruition is the exciting challenge.
Is there an overarching theme that connects all of your work?
Venice during the 4th Crusade, Moors, and courtesans on the Hansa Route; organ grinder monkeys as a vestige of Olde Europe, and Black Plague! A series of small plant and insect images surrounded by heavy, bas relief sculpted frames is on the horizon, following self-portrait completion.
How is your work different than it was in the beginning? How is it the same?
Since NYC printmaking days, the common question was “what’s the story here?”, and the images were often concerned with 14th century illuminated manuscripts, and their history. So I don’t think I have strayed too far from my initial impetus as an adult artist.
Where can people see your work?
If anyone has the inclination, my fullest array of work can be seen on Instagram, @constantinovkei.
Interview posted October 2023
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