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Fused, Glued and Blended: Q&A with Multi-Media Artist Kelly Birg

Written by Deborah Lewis Category: Visual Arts Issue: September 2016
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“No Strings Attached” 36” x 24” Mixed media: spray paint, pastel and ink on drawing paper. Contact the artist for prices, which start at $500 for originals and $45 for Giclée prints.The PHiX sat down with Kelly Birg at the venerable Sugar Bowl restaurant in Old Town Scottsdale.

How do you define your art?

Multi-media, mixed media. I’ve been broadening my work into photography, sculpture and film.

You’re from Detroit. How did you end up in Phoenix?

Everything came together. I got my Bachelor of Fine Arts in graphic design from Western Michigan College in 2005. I worked a bunch of day jobs for awhile until I was ready to start working in graphic art. I got a job in Phoenix with the Arizona Republic in 2008, and here I am.

“DTW” 24” X 36” MIXED MEDIA: Enlarged photograph on foam core, trimmed photos & acrylic paint. Contact the artist for prices, which start at $500 for originals and $45 for Giclée prints.

How did you get back into making fine art?

I studied web design at MCC [Mesa Community College] and SCC [Scottsdale Community College] and it was a blast, but very challenging. I didn’t know if I wanted to do it all the time. I got a new day job in 2009 that wasn’t in the arts at all. I wasn’t doing a lot of drawing and painting, but I was taking a lot of photographs. I did a lot of doodling. It was very Zen for me. That was how I got back into drawing.

Five years ago, a work friend got me into the Sketchbook Project through a Brooklyn art cop-op. You fill a sketchbook with your theme, and it travels to different venues. At the end of its tour, it ends up in the Brooklyn Art Library, where it still is. My theme was coffee and cigarettes. It allowed me to get into mixed media. I set up photo shoots with cups of coffee and cigarette smoke. I would print the photos and I would cut them out, paste them on the page. I burned cigarette holes into the paper. I had so much fun with it. It was an awesome experience. After the sketchbook experience, I applied to RAW [global independent arts organization for early career artists], and I got in for a show in Phoenix. Then, I became part of the artist’s collective REIGN [Revolution Evolves In Growing Numbers]. It is a non-profit that is not active right now.

“Prey” 36” x 24” Medium: Mixed media: pastel & trimmed photographs on paper. Contact the artist for prices, which start at $500 for originals and $45 for Giclée prints.

How do you see the Phoenix art scene?

I like the inclusive art scene in Phoenix. The art scene is still emerging. It gives an artist a good opportunity to grow, because it’s growing itself.

“Wheels” 36” x 24” Medium: Mixed media: pastel & trimmed photographs on paper. Contact the artist for prices, which start at $500 for originals and $45 for Giclée prints.

Tell us about your first show.

My show with RAW in 2011 was my first show ever. It was at this huge warehouse venue called Foundry on First in Downtown Phoenix. It’s closed now. I was really nervous. I had never done a show before. I hadn’t even priced anything. The art was just on display. It was so hot that day, I was trying to make sure that my pieces were going to withstand the huge industrial fan blowing. It all worked out. That show led to other people offering me shows.

“Matt’s Rose” 36” x 18” Medium: mixed media: acrylic paint & trimmed photographs on Masonite board. Contact the artist for prices, which start at $500 for originals and $45 for Giclée prints.

Have you ever taught art?

I did substitute teaching for high school for different art classes. I taught concepts and materials. I think about going back and teaching art to children. It’s definitely something that’s the first to go when there’s budget cuts. I did art workshops at Boys and Girls clubs. I did a Muppet series in 2015 at Urban Bean.

“Arizona Orange” 22” x 34”. Medium: pastel, scotch tape &trimmed photographs on drawing paper. Contact the artist for prices, which start at $500 for originals and $45 for Boys and Girls clubs prints.

Who are your influences now?

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Wassily Kandinsky and Chuck Close. Basquiat influences me because of his use of colors and shapes, his abstract forms, and this incredible intensity he had. He used powerful messages, and he included words. I like to do that as well. He was born into a pretty well-to-do family in Manhattan, but he was homeless for a while. Maybe he just wanted to feel like what it was to be on the edge. His work speaks to me a lot.

Kandinsky was more free-flowing, but he planned it. I felt like there was a reason why he placed things. His compositions went together so well. Even though there was a lot going on, it all flowed together. I think a piece is good if it's balanced and there’s a focal point. Even though there’s a focal point, you can bounce around that piece and see things you wouldn’t see just glancing at it.

Chuck Close is so talented. His detail is amazing. I love detail.

“Chemical Mirror” 36” x 24” Medium: Mixed media, pastel & trimmed photographs on drawing paper. Contact the artist for prices which start at $500 for originals and $45 for Giclee prints.

Who were your early influences?

My teachers had a huge effect on me. The school district where I grew up in Michigan took the arts very seriously. In middle school my teacher, Mrs. Rose, was really encouraging. I took classes with her in sixth and seventh grade, and in eighth grade she told me I should take my art forward. She was a great mentor. She thought I had something to offer. I took drawing and painting all throughout high school with Mr. Summers. He was awesome. He allowed us to really explore and use different media. My teachers at Western College in Michigan were great. I‘m so thankful that I was able to receive that good education. I feel all kids need to explore all things.

Photo courtesy Kelly Birg

Where can people see your art now?

  • I will be in the show “Chocolate & Art” at the MonOrchid Gallery, September 22-23.
  • I will have work showing in “Conceptions” at The Duce on September 24.
  • My work is at the Velo, indefinitely.
  • I have work at Urban Bean Coffee.
  • Follow me on Facebook.