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Artist John Paul Kesling

John Paul Kesling (b. 1980, USA) was born and raised in Northeastern Kentucky in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. He received his BFA in Arts from Morehead State University (Morehead, KY, 2003) and spent a summer in Europe studying art history (Summer 2002). He received his MFA in Painting from The Savannah College of Art and Design (Savannah, GA, 2010). He spent the next six years in Brooklyn, NY immersed in the NYC art scene. In March of 2016, while attending a month-long residency at The Vermont Studio Center he realized how integral time, space, and nature were to his studio practice and in 2016, relocated to Madison, TN, just outside of Nashville.

His work has been featured in various group exhibitions at Ground Floor Contemporary (Birmingham, AL), The Parthenon (Nashville, TN), CultureLab LIC (Queens, NY), Piano Craft Gallery (Boston, MA), New York Hall of Science & SciArts Initiative (Queens, NY), Flatwork Contemporary (online), I Like Your Work Podcast (online and print), ArtMaze Mag (online and print), Create Magazine (online) and the NYC Crit Club Winter Session 2023 (curated by MEPAINTSME). In 2022 he was accepted to the White Columns Curated Online Artist Registry (New York, NY). His work is included in the permanent collections of The Savannah College of Art and Design (Atlanta, GA and Lacoste, France), Vanderbilt University Medical Center Community Arts Initiative and Soho House Nashville.

He has attended artist residencies at Vermont Studio Center (Johnson, VT), Art Residency Chattanooga (Chattanooga, TN), Azule (Hot Springs, NC), Jx Farms (Cleveland, MS), and Mudhouse (Crete, Greece) and and upcoming residency at On::View Artist Residency (Savannah, GA). He has had solo shows at Wheelhouse Arts (Louisville, KY), Oz Arts (Nashville, TN) and The Red Arrow Gallery (Nashville, TN).

Kesling is a member of the artist collective at Ground Floor Contemporary (Birmingham, AL) and is represented by Red Arrow Gallery (Nashville, TN) and Wheelhouse Art (Louisville, KY).

"My practice delves into the complexities of human intimacy, both romantic and familial. After the death of my younger brother and many of my friends to the ongoing opioid epidemic of my Appalachian hometown the country at large, my own mortality is embedded within the mark-making. Driven by a need to understand the world around me, my work serves as a visual exploration of the emotional and psychological intricacies of intimate relationships, personal loss, and our place in the natural world. Imbued with a deep sense of nostalgia, the work harkens back to the excitement and vulnerability of new human connections and experiencing nature in a new light. For me, painting is as necessary as digging in the dirt - dragging your hand through a body of water - across a freshly buzzed head."

Tell us a little about yourself (where you are from) and your background in the arts.

I'm from Ashland, Kentucky. It's a small industrial town in Northeastern Kentucky where Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia meet on the Ohio River. I grew up with four brothers and spent most of my time outdoors playing in the dirt, riding bikes and later, aggressive inline skating (Rollerblading). I always drew and vividly remember creating my own superhero characters, cutting them out and laminating them with Scotch tape. I did my first painting in high school and still have it today (NFS. Trust me, you don't want it.)

After getting un-engaged from my high school sweetheart (her name was Tiffany, but you knew that already) while I was pursuing a Physician Assistant's degree, I decided since I wasn't on the track for a family anymore, I didn't need money. I switched my degree to fine arts and never looked back. I also try to avoid looking forward because I did that once with a financial planner and it looked pretty dark and grim. They say dogs are so happy because they live in the moment so I'm trying that for as long as I'm able.

What kind of work are you currently making?

I lost my younger brother to opioids in 2004. Since then, my work focuses on relationships in some form or another, be that with nature and life cycles, family, or romantic partners. I tend to work on multiple bodies of work at the same time.

I have an ongoing series of 12" x 12" portraits that I've been painting of folks from my hometown that have passed away due to the ongoing opioid epidemic that began in that region of Appalachia in the mid 1990s. I've also been working on larger shaped-plywood pieces based on Michelangelo's Pietà. These are reactions to the loss of loved ones due to various reasons and things happening in the news. There's also a series of couple's kissing that deal began during the lack of intimacy during the pandemic and have began morphing into something larger. On top of that, I'm consistently painting landscapes, usually with figures, reflecting on nature's mystical power to bring us all together in the Universe.

More recently, I've been experimenting with sculptural custom frames that expand the paintings into the space surrounding them using scraps from the studio and various items I dig up while metal detecting.

What is a day like in the studio for you?

My studio practice is very much dependent on the weather. My main studio is in a detached garage behind our house. It's basically outside and it's not uncommon for me to find mice, birds, skinks, brown recluses, wasps and even a baby opossum hanging out in there. That being said, it's painfully hot in the Southern summers and everything freezes in the short winters. So most of the year I work out there but during the colder months, I tend to work inside my house where I've set up a small spare bedroom as an annex studio. This is where I do works on paper and smaller acrylic paintings.

My days start with coffee and admin work. I usually spend about an hour or two replying to emails and messages, researching galleries, open calls, and artist residencies. I'll also use this time to update my website, CV and inventory software which I do about once a week. Once all of that boring stuff is finished or I just can't take it anymore, I begin painting. If I have a show coming up, I'm working on finishing those pieces and getting them "dressed up" to be seen. If there's nothing pressing, I just get out a surface to work on, put on a podcast, YouTube interview, or music and begin putting marks down until something starts to excite me. I work mostly intuitively until the marks start hinting at a subject or idea. Then I may go and look for reference material to give the shapes some integrity and structure. I try my best to keep things in the studio loose and as fun as possible while still being focused and disciplined. I paint nearly every day.

What are you looking at right now and/or reading?

I recently picked up a old book on Matisse and the images are just gorgeous. I've also been reading a book called "In Defense of Witches" by French feminist writer Mona Chollet. Otherwise, I've just been going out and seeing local art by some amazing Nashville artists and I've also just started watching Bonanza and Northern Exposure.

Where can we find more of your work? (ex. website/insta/gallery/upcoming shows)

Instagram: @johnpaulkesling

Upcoming Residency: On::View Residency at Sulfur Studios (Savannah, GA) May 7th-June 8th, 2024

Upcoming solo show : The Ellis Gallery at Sulfur Studios (Savannah, GA) July 5th - August 17th, 2024

Upcoming two person show with Emily Pfaff: Wheelhouse Art (Louisville, KY) SEPT 13 - OCT 26, 2024

Upcoming two person show with Miriam Omura: Gadsden Museum of Art (Gadsden, AL) APRIL, 2024 Upcoming Group Show: Red Arrow Gallery (Nashville, TN) August, 2024

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