KEVIN KIRKWOOD: Embracing the art of being vulnerable

Confetti-like panels hang in Kirkwood's studio

Kevin Kirkwood’s website (kevinwillpaint.com) describes the recent SCAD MFA graduate as a “multi-disciplined designer based in Savannah, GA” whose “current studio practice dances between small-scale conceptual installations and making acrylic paintings.”

What his website cannot describe is how downright nice this guy is. Thoughtful, intentional, spiritual, introverted to the point of an almost painful shyness, Kirkwood is fast building a stellar reputation in the art world of the southeast.

On those ubiquitous Spotify Wrapped summaries generated at year end, the podcast topping my list was The Ten Frame – “a podcast for emerging artists seeking information about making their way in today’s art world.”  At time of writing, Kirkwood and his friend, fellow MFA graduate Kelly Thompson, have interviewed 39 “artists, curators, collectors and gallery owners to garner sage advice for creative professionals.” The Ten Frame podcasts were my first introduction to the humble and softly spoken Kirkwood.

Since then, I have attended his MFA show held at the old Southern Motors showroom on Broughton Street last May;  participated in a creative session with him at Bululu Studios; enjoyed his partnership with artist Rebecca Braziel in creating an experiential installation in her Studio Ten space at Sulfur Studios; unfortunately missed the one night pop-up show he curated at Bululu Studios; and have seen his work at the closing reception of the prestigious show Gathered VI: Georgia Artists Selecting Georgia Artists at Atlanta’s Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia.  For someone so quiet and inwardly focused, this guy is putting himself out there.

As I enter Kirkwood’s studio in the backyard of his Kensington Park home, he dims the lights so I can experience breaking waves that are projected onto a small-scale installation hanging in one corner. He reads me the accompanying evocative statement: “One thousand, eight hundred and twenty-seven days after his first attempt to stop breathing, Jon drove his late model sedan to a white sandy beach. After writing me a letter and placing one shell in the magazine loading port, he rested his warm chin on top of the cold metal barrel. While facing the transparent waves of the Gulf of Mexico he released the final exhale. P.S. don’t forget to breathe.”

This is the traumatic family memory that inspired Kirkwood’s hauntingly beautiful “P.S. don’t forget to breathe” installation which was the center piece of his MFA show. Angular panels of white foam core and paper hung in swooping curves before a solitary car seat, while hypnotically breaking  waves were projected. Once you know the story behind the piece, it almost brings you to tears. So powerful is it,  that another iteration with improved technology and with smaller panels, was selected for inclusion in the above-mentioned juried show at MOCAGA, and for the esteemed ArtFields 2024 to be held April 26-May 4 in Lake City, SC.

click to enlarge KEVIN KIRKWOOD: Embracing the art of being vulnerable (2)
Beth Logan
The artist's "PS don't forget to breathe" installation at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia

His older brother’s first suicide attempt occurred when Kirkwood was 18, and exactly five years later, he succeeded in his second attempt. “I wanted to go to a dark spot in my thesis topic and speak to people who have experienced this level of trauma.”  But now, he is consciously trying to enter “a brighter and lighter headspace.”

After graduation, Kirkwood took two months to travel in Europe. He’s striving to move away from the dark thoughts that inspired “P.S. don’t forget to breathe,” replacing projected waves with colorful images he took in Brussels, Paris, and Barcelona. When these images cascade over the panels, “it just totally flips the script,” he says. Kirkwood also started spray-painting the panels with bright colors. His compact workspace holds collections of prepared paper and foam core waiting to be assembled into new installations. Also incorporating metal and porcelain, this new colorful body of work is entitled “Spring Tide Confetti.”

click to enlarge KEVIN KIRKWOOD: Embracing the art of being vulnerable (4)
Kevin Kirkwood
Confetti pieces fashioned from metal
His friend Josh Gary is teaching him  metalworking, and the small crumpled metal confetti pieces -  beautiful sculptures in their own right, especially when saturated in richly pigmented paints - could easily be scaled to public art size; Kirkwood is always thinking about how things appear in space. Friend Derek Larson is helping him learn to work in ceramics.

Kirkwood's Masters is in painting, but as mentioned, his MFA show was a technology-based installation piece: he had straight A’s in his coursework and two scholarships but rarely showed his paintings. He is particularly grateful to Professor Todd Schroder for giving him the freedom to create without constraints. He also credits local artist Marcus Kenney, with whom he had a six-month internship (prior to his painting show at Laney Contemporary) for encouraging him to just get in the studio every day and work: “There’s always something to do. I can make art until the cows come home.”

Today, Kirkwood paints before and after his “day job” as an architectural designer. (In 2011 he earned a BA in Architecture, with a minor in Painting, from the University of Miami and worked with architectural firms in San Francisco and Portland before relocating to Savannah to attend SCAD). He has shown map/cityscape-inspired paintings at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art and the Lowe Art Museum in Miami and was included in an American Institute of Architects’ exhibition at the San Francisco MOMA.

click to enlarge KEVIN KIRKWOOD: Embracing the art of being vulnerable (3)
Beth Logan
Kirkwood in his home studio
Often Kirkwood included the words “love, hope, dream”  on his canvases. He says affirmative mantras such as “these are the good days,” or “be the confetti in someone’s parade” are still finding their way into his paintings. And, like his MFA project, this somehow makes the current work feel therapeutic and cathartic.

In 2024, Kirkwood plans to overcome his prior reticence to show his paintings. Additionally, he has launched a second podcast, a solo project called the Strand that will be apart from his work on The Ten Frame. “The Strand is all about artists being open and vulnerable," he explains. A concept that scares and excites him in equal parts:  “I know I am going into treacherous waters by being raw and vulnerable, but I know if I do, I’m speaking to somebody who needs to hear it.”  He feels that if he keeps being creative, keeps making, his work and his vision will coalesce and make sense. He says that his day job allows him the financial resources to buy and experiment with new materials, and to have the necessary space “to breathe.”

Kirkwood tells me his wife’s personality is opposite of his: “She is a firecracker!” Currently a nutritionist for SCAD, she has taught thousands of people fitness, myofascial release, weightlifting, and nutrition classes. She provides one-on-one consultations at Bululu Studios at 3131 Bull Street which Kirkwood also uses as a community art space, and which is available for MFA candidates to rent to show their work. He plans to offer more Sunday “art therapy” sessions at Bululu - sessions inspired from when he and his wife lived in Portland and, on Sunday mornings, he would drive to a beautiful chapel on the grounds of  Lewis and Clark College to simply paint and create with others.

For such a quiet and introverted person, Kirkwood, despite himself, has become a successful networker. He says that “doing the podcast and using a microphone” makes him wildly uncomfortable and “sucks the life out of me. I have no business being a podcaster!”  However, he realizes the importance of being engaged with the community and with other artists, recognizing that the process of podcasting makes his life richer and gives him confidence to be open. Pushing himself even further, Kirkwood is even teaching a painting class at Georgia Southern this year. “It’s critical to my growth to become vulnerable. This is like my soul, my energy.”

“I’m only here for a little bit of time. I want to breathe. I want to make stuff. I want to make people happy and make myself happy doing it.”

What a privilege to witness his process.

Find out more about Kirkwood at kevinwillpaint.com and on Instagram @kevinwillpaint. Find out more about Bululu Studios at Bululustudios.com, and find The Ten Frame podcast @thetenframe and the Strand podcast @strandpodcast.

About The Author

Beth Logan

Born and raised in Northern Ireland, Beth Logan had a career in healthcare HR and marketing. An artist and former gallery director, she serves on the board of nonprofit ARTS Southeast and has a passion for showcasing Savannah’s arts community.


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