ArtSex & Gender
interview: painter keish jp on why she paints women of color and having shaq and k.michelle as clients
By Eye Candy
August 8, 2018
By Jaelani Turner-Williams*, AFROPUNK contributor
Meticulously working on the next big piece, Montreal-based painter Keish JP has taken flight. Born to a French-Canadian mother and Jamaican father, Keish JP has gone to assemble a steady following taking note of her artistic serendipity. Having thrust herself into painting full-time just over the past year, Keish credits her familial influences and ever-growing social media audience for securing her focus, going beyond simply painting on canvas, but maintaining a connection with the viewer. Her path has become idyllic, as she speaks reverently about her artistry.
“I create from a place of stillness and love,” she says. “I want these feelings to be experienced by whoever views my work. Even if my art is able to bring people into a brief moment of presence, i’d be one-hundred percent overjoyed. We’re totally distracted by incessant thinking and imprisoned by our minds, that the beauty of nature and beauty of self doesn’t exist to them.”
As Keish JP preps for her Black Art Matters pop-up show in Brooklyn on August 31st, I caught up with her as she reflected on the transformation of her paintings, commissioned pieces, and workplace ennui before pivoting into art.
What brought you into painting? Were you generally self-taught or did you attend an art institution?
I’m self-taught. I’ve always been into art and I was a very creative child. I would put on shows for my friends and family, I would make up songs with my sister, and my dad is actually a painter. I guess I grew up seeing that was the norm and it just stuck with me. My grandfather, as well, is a painter. They didn’t really sit down and teach me anything, it just came naturally. I would always draw and a few years ago, I tried painting just for fun and I really fell in love. It brings me such peace and I realized it made other people happy and I continued doing it, I went for it full-time.
Were your father and grandfather well-known painters in Canada? Would I recognize their work?
My grandfather would do it just for fun. He was a creative person, but he never really pursued [painting] in Jamaica. My dad, I wouldn’t say he was “famous”, but he’s done a lot of work around Canada. Murals, like really large beautiful paintings, very detailed. A lot of oil pieces for art collectors. Super-inspiring and motivating, it showed me that I could do it for a living as well.
When I was looking at your website, I noticed that the black female form is highlighted in a majority of your work. Why is this so important to show to your audience?
I want my art the show the beauty, the complexity, the sacredness and the strength I see in the female form, and how it goes hand-in-hand with nature. If I combine the two in my personal pieces, even though it’s the case of all different types of women, it’s important for me to represent women of color, not only because it’s who I am, but because there’s a lack of positive representation of us in mainstream media and the art world, especially. I feel like self-love would be easier for us to practice, attain and to realize if we saw ourselves in a beautiful, positive, uplifting light. Whether it be through TV, magazines, or even in famous paintings in well-known art galleries, it’s important for black girls, black women, black men, for everybody, to see themselves in this light, as art.
Beforehand, I didn’t know that you created K. Michelle’s album cover [Kimberly: The People I Used to Know]. How did that connection come about?
Someone from her creative team reached out to me. I had no idea that they were following me on social media, and they just said that they really loved my work and wanted to see if I could help come up with a dope album cover. The creative director told me the vibe they were going for, and we came up with the idea together. I thought of growth, which is why we had the flower. It represents beauty, it represents empowerment, it represents enlightenment. We just combined the two together and they loved it.
When you guys were coming up with the concept, were you listening to her music at the time or did you hear it afterwards?
I wasn’t a hard-core K. Michelle fan, but I always listen to who i’m painting. For example, when I painted Malcolm X, I would watch a documentary of his. I always try and get into the vibe of the subject that i’m painting.
What are some other unexpected connections that you’ve made through your art? Have you been able to travel?
I’ve met lots of super cool artists, other creatives and poets. I’ve had a show last year in New York [along with shows in] Toronto and Montreal. Shaquille O’Neal reached out to me and asked for one of my paintings. I died, I was freaking out. I was so, like, what the heck? I was so surprised. I like to think of myself as humble, I don’t see myself as a big deal and it really put my work into perspective.
What would your advice be to any artist who wants to acquire a larger following?
I would tell them don’t put too much stress or value on the numbers. Really focus on yourself and your art more than anything. When you’re creating meaningful, unique, beautiful art, and you’re authentically being you, people are gonna notice and appreciate that. They’re curious to know more about you, so don’t worry so much about it just focus and it will all come naturally.
What differences have you noticed between Canada and the rest of the United States?
I can’t really say, because there’s no borders when it comes to art. Most of my pieces are owned by Americans, so I realize that art transcends borders. It’s global and it differs between individual artists regardless of where they’re from. You can live in Canada and be influenced by someone you read about in Indonesia, it really depends on the individual, what they’re exposing themselves to and what they’re passionate about.
What do you want your message to be through your art?
I want black women to refuse to shy away from their natural state of being. It’s your way of feeling empowered and free over anyone else’s to decision to perceive or judge you as merely a sexual object, simply because the way your body is made physically. We’re so much more than limiting labels, stereotypes, and beliefs that are carelessly put on to us by ignorant minds. My personal pieces are meant to be a reminder of this; to look beyond labels and deeper into into nature. I really want my message to be about the love and beauty you can find in nature is the same you have within, and we’re pieces of one infinite power of love.
When creating your pieces, what is the process and is there any music that you vibe out to?
I listen to everything, honestly. I always have music on when i’m creating. This may sound weird, but I sometimes have nature sounds playing in the background to calm me down. The process is meditation, so I like to have calm vibes. I’ll listen to Erykah Badu, The Roots, J. Dilla, Led Zeppelin or funk music. I can listen to anything, it just depends on the day and my mood, but I’m very open-minded to any type of music.
What about the process of painting? What do you start with first?
So first, I will sketch. Actually–I’ll come up with the idea in my head. Then i’ll use a Photoshop app to put together different pieces of images to create the imagine as close as possible [to the one] I had in my mind. I’ll sketch it out on canvas and then i’ll start painting with oil paint.
I’m guessing that can be pretty messy, right?
Yeah, when I was living at my dad’s house, he would be so mad if I got paint all over the floor.
He’s probably used to it, though, because he does the same thing.
That’s what you would think, but he’s a neat freak! He’s like the neatest artist you’ll ever know. It can get pretty messy, but I always make sure to have a piece of plastic on the floor.
How has your technique changed over the years?
I think like with anything in life, you become more experienced with time and process. I’ve definitely grown to be more brave with the ideas I put together and the images I choose. At first I started off with acrylic paint, and now I use mostly oil paint, and i’m more comfortable to paint what I wanna paint instead of worrying about what people might think. I take a bit longer than I used to, but it’s because i’m more detailed with each painting. I really focus on the skin, the pores, like i’ll really go deep in the image to make sure I get all the details.
I can definitely see it in your work, like the psychedelic piece you did, it looks so surreal. Can you recall your most challenging work to date?
The more detailed, the more challenging, but I tend to gravitate more towards detailed pieces because it doesn’t feel like work. The more detailed it is, the more into I get, the more lost you can get in it and the more at peace you are. You aren’t thinking about anything else when you’re painting, it’s just you, the canvas and the paint. My more recent pieces are more challenging because they’re more detailed, each piece is more challenging than the last, but I think it’s good, I think it’s how you grow.
Do you think it’s hard when someone commissions you and they want things to look specific?
I like requests because at the end of the day, it’s painting and whatever you do, you’re learning. It can be challenging because sometimes your vision is not the same as what the person wanted, and you gotta go through revisions and make sure it’s exactly what they want.
Are you invested in any other forms of art?
I love poetry. I used to write all the time and I stopped, but I gravitate towards poets. I love poetry and people who can paint a picture with their words. I’ll write here and there, but it’s not something that I’m ready to share with anyone.
Are there any trials that you’ve faced during your career?
My thing is self-discipline. I’ve learned to really get used to being my own boss. I used to work a 9-5 and when you have a boss telling you what to do, you’re motivated by fear of not performing well or losing your job. When you’re on your own, you really gotta be motivated by self-respect and self-love. If you love yourself, you will set goals and push yourself to accomplish. It’s something that I struggled with in the beginning, I still struggle here and there, but I’ve gotten better with it.
Do you remember where you worked?
I was working at a bank. I wouldn’t say I hated it, but it wasn’t painting every day, it wasn’t my passion. I remember I would bring a notebook and i’d do little sketches here and there, and after work I would come home and paint. I would start getting requests and it would get to be a lot to balance art, business and working. I decided to pursue art full-time and i’ve been doing it for a year now. I really love it, i’ve never been happier.
What are some misconceptions about artists?
People think you cannot be successful as an artist. That’s absolutely not true. You can be successful in anything you do with a passion. It’s all about work ethic. If you’re passionate and you love it, just go for it.
The “starving artist” stereotype can be true in some cases, but I think social media has helped make that a thing of the past.
Definitely, social media is like free marketing for artists.
What is next for you?
I have a show coming October 1st in Montreal. I’m working on a few more personal pieces that you can follow on my social media. I like to post the work-in-progress just to show people the steps to getting to the piece that I create. Exploring my creativity, sharing my ideas and working on my commissions, as well. Definitely I wanna explore different techniques and styles of art.
Naskademini is a Montreal-based artist who has lent his eye and vision to some of the world’s leading brands in fashion, lifestyle, and luxury. He has worked with clients such as the CFDA, Cadillac, Nike, Timberland, JBL, and Leica. His work has been published across many digital platforms, along with gracing the pages of Esquire, Details, Sharp, The Gazette and more.
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