John Paul Kesling was born and raised on the banks of the Ohio River, spending much of his time outdoors. He attended Morehead State University in Morehead, KY for his BFA in Arts and spent a semester in Europe studying art history. Kesling went on to receive his MFA in Painting from The Savannah College of Art and Design in 2010. He spent the next six years in Brooklyn, NY immersed in the NYC art scene. In March of 2016, he attended a month-long residency at The Vermont Studio Center. While there, he realized how integral time, space, and nature were to his studio practice and in July, 2016 he relocated to Madison, TN. He now owns a dog.
What is important to me in my work isn't a complex or intellectual concept. Through intuition and humor, nostalgia and conversation, I seek honesty through imagery. Painting has a long and diverse history, but the work that resonates with me has always been that made from personality. In the end though, I think humans mostly make things to impress a boy or a girl and that seems pretty okay too.
2011 Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, GA MFA in Painting
2003 Morehead State University, Morehead, KY BA in Art (emphasis in painting)
2002 Murray State University, Murray, KY Kentucky Institute for International Studies Study Abroad Program (KIIS-Summer), Bregenz, Austria
2019 Azule (May), Hot Springs, NC
2018 Art Residency Chattanooga (A.R.C) - STAR Program (December), Chattanooga, TN
2016 Vermont Studio Center (March), Fellowship Award, Johnson, VT
2021 Tippy Toes, The Red Arrow Gallery, Nashville, TN
2020 Pony Daddy, Tim Faulkner Gallery, Louisville, KY
2019 Camping Alone, Oz Arts Nashville, Nashville, TN
Panic And Purpose, The Red Arrow Gallery, Nashville, TN
2017 Broken Mic, Galerie Tangerine, Nashville, TN
2009 b. 1980, The Strider Gallery, Morehead State University, Morehead, KY
2008 My Coffee and My Beard (Thesis Exhibition), Moon River Brewing Company, Savannah, GA
2007 John Paul Kesling: A Celebration of Mediocrity, Desot-O-Row Gallery, Savannah, GA
SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS
2021 Good Bones, (curated by Catherine Haggerty), I Like Your Work Podcast
International Biennial Portrait Competition, (Juror: David Hummer), Wassau Museum of Contemporary Art, Wassau, WI
ArtFields, April 23rd-May 1st, Lake City, SC
2020 Culture of Contamination, New York Hall of Science & SciArts Initiative, Queens, NY
Breathless, The Red Arrow Gallery, Nashville, TN
12th Annual National Juried Exhibition, (Juror: Susan Lichtman), Prince Street Gallery, New York, NY
2019 FieldDaze, Fieldhouse Jones, Nashville, TN
Works On Paper Holiday Show, The Red Arrow Gallery, Nashville, TN
Critical Drinking, (Presented by Pabst Blue Ribbon and Fieldhouse Jones) Fieldhouse Jones, Nashville, TN
Portrait Show, Tim Faulkner Gallery, Louisville, KY
Group Show, Tim Faulkner Gallery, Louisville, KY
2018 Bevy 2018, Julia Martin Gallery, Nashville, TN Crisis and Excess, The Gallery at Fort Houston, Nashville, TN
2017 Bevy 2017, Julia Martin Gallery, Nashville, TN
2015 People’s Choice Small Works Show, Greenpoint Gallery, Brooklyn, NY
A Weekend at the Old Gem: NYC Salon Showcase, Presented by Arts@Renaissance, Brooklyn, NY
Making History: AIB 2015 Benefit (Curated by Krista Saunders Scenna and Dexter Wimberly, Storefront Ten Eyck Gallery, Brooklyn, NY
New Work City (Curated by Julie Torres), Momenta Art, Brooklyn, NY
2014 Second Family (Organized by Julie Torres), Pop Up Show at 2 Rivington St., LES NYC
2011 Greenpoint Gallery First Fall Show, Greenpoint Gallery, Brooklyn, NY
Opening Rejection, Ugly Art Room Governor’s Island Art Fair, Ugly Art Room, Governor’s Island, NY
Text, 440 Gallery, Brooklyn, NY
2010 B is for Bear, The Ugly Art Room, Brooklyn, NY
On The Grid, Camel Art Space, Brooklyn, NY
2008 Small Works, Red Gallery, Savannah, GA
Cultivate Beauty, The 930 Art Center, Louisville, KY
Go Green or Go Home, Desot-O-Row Gallery, Savannah, GA SCAD
Open Studio Night, Alexander Hall, Savannah, GA
Mirror for the 21st Century (curator/juror Helen Pheby, PhD), BECA Gallery, New Orleans, LA
2007 The Dirty Dozen (organized by JuYeon Kim), La Galerie Bleue, Savannah, GA
2006 Art Can Cure (organized by Emily Foster), Orleans Hall, Savannah, GA
2004 The MSU Art Alumni Exhibition (Juried by Joe Sartor), Claypool-Young Art Gallery, Morehead, KY
Tri-State Art Association Juried Exhibition (Juried by Mark Tobin Moore/Kathryn C. Gillispie), Huntington Museum of Art, Huntington, WV
MAGI Art Show: 21st Annual Competitive (juried by Betty Plymale), Carl Perkins Community Center, Morehead, KY
The Cardinal Valley Show (juried by Jeff Chapman Crane), Ashland Area Art Gallery, Ashland, KY
2003 Morehead State University Group Exhibition, Claypool-Young Art Gallery, Morehead, KY
2002 Don Quixote In a New World: The American Dream Exhibit, Morehead State University Strider Gallery, Morehead, KY
2001 Circle Winds Group Exhibit, Strider Gallery, Morehead State University, Morehead, KY
Mt. Sterling Annual Student Exhibit (juried), Mt. Sterling Art Gallery, Mt. Sterling, KY
2000 Morehead State University Group Exhibit, Claypool-Young Art Gallery, Morehead, KY
1999 The Cardinal Valley Show (juried), Ashland Area Art Gallery, Ashland, KY
AWARDS AND RECOGNITION
2016 Fellowship Award, Vermont Studio Center (March)
2005-2008 Graduate Fellowship Award, Savannah College of Art and Design
2004 First Place, Ashland Area Art Gallery Cardinal Valley Juried Exhibition, Ashland, KY
Honorable Mention- Tri State Art Association Juried Exhibition, Huntington Museum of Art, Huntington, WV
2019 Nashville Scene March 7-13, 2019, Volume 38, Number 5 (print and online)
2017 Nashville Arts Magazine November 2017 (print and online)
The Tennessean, September 3, 2017 (print and online)
Nashville Arts Magazine August 2017 (print and online)
2011 Artnet Magazine Bushwick Open Studios by Emily Nathan
Storychord, Issue # 35
2009 Three works published in SALiT Magazine, Volume 2/Issue 3 2007 Murmur Magazine (April Edition), Savannah, GA
Young Space Views
IN PAINTING ON 08/02/20
Can you tell me a little bit about you?
I grew up in Northeastern Kentucky on the banks of the Ohio River. I mean, I had a house and stuff and wasn’t literally on the banks of the river. You get it. I’m currently based in Nashville, TN. I attended Morehead State University in Morehead, KY for my BA in Art (emphasis in Painting) and went on to receive my MFA in Painting from The Savannah College of Art and Design (Savannah, GA) in 2011. I also studied art history in the summer of 2002 and realized how important art is to the history of us all. That’s something I hadn’t considered growing up in the coal country of Kentucky. After I finished at SCAD, I moved to Bushwick, Brooklyn and lived there for 6 years. I soaked up as much as possible but my studio practice struggled because I had multiple jobs to pay for renting a studio and apartment. I do value all of the amazing people, museums, galleries, and culture I was surrounded by. I often say that if I could have just used the money spent on school to pay for living in NYC, I would’ve gotten an equally fulfilling education (although I wouldn’t have read as many books).
What do you like most about working where you do?
In 2016 I attended the Vermont Studio Center as a resident and spent a month painting every day. That was a breakthrough. I then realized how important time and space were to my practice. Shortly afterwards, I moved from NYC to Nashville and it’s been amazing. My studio is a detached garage out back of our house. This is where I do all of the building of the frames, stretcher bars, and painting during most of the year. I feel very lucky to have it even though there’s no heat or AC. The roof doesn’t leak and it has a concrete floor and that’s all that matters. It has wasps, carpenter bees, brown-recluses and blue-tailed skinks in the summer and I’ve been visited by a mouse this winter. And when it’s too cold in the winter and the acrylics begin to freeze, I have a small room inside the house that I can retreat to and focus on smaller works. There’s a great freedom that comes with how casual the space feels.
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
My work has always been about whatever is going on in my life. I have lots of source material and anything can trigger a painting. From the seemingly mundane to the end of days, things are approached with the same level of importance. And as always, I’m trying to push myself as a painter. That’s very important to me and I hope it translates.
What is your process like?
Hahaha process! Let’s just call it that. I just make sure I get into the studio and start mashing paint around till something happens. Sometimes nothing happens but that’s ok. I have many works going at once and have a shelving unit of unfinished paintings that I flip through and will never finish them all. I just now realized what that phrase “shelving it” means. Cool.
What is the last thing you read?
I’m about 12 pages into “A Movable Feast” by Hemingway. We’ll see how that goes.
What are you passionate about?
I have dreams of dunking a basketball and inline skating on halfpipes and handrails. I also really love my dog. I also get very excited about my vinyl records and listen to them while I paint so they’re all in terrible condition but I think they’re supposed to be that way.
Is there any subject or theme you’ve been particularly interested in lately?
I’ve been wanting to include text in my work again. I used it a lot in the past and am slowly incorporating it again. I’ve been wanting to write more in general. I also want to start building costumes and sculptures again.
How do you spend your time when you’re not making work?
I like to clean and organize my house and studio. I get pretty nerdy about that stuff and watch a lot of Youtube videos of people customizing their studio spaces. There’s a Youtube channel called “Tested” with Adam Savage from Mythbusters that I always return to. That guy’s enthusiasm is contagious and his talents are inspiring.
How has your work evolved over the last few years?
I’ve been must more productive and really feel like I’m making honest work. I’ve found that the more work I make, the more happiness I feel. That’s a lame thing to say but it’s true. I love making stuff and am more excited about it than ever.
I’ve been making larger work since moving to Nashville because I finally have the space. It’s been fun to spread out see how these things translate. Some of the newer work is 9 ft x 6 ft. I’ve also been working very small (4in x 6in”) and that’s been useful in different ways.
Do you have a day job or other work that you split your time between?
I work a couple of days a week as a bartender at a record store/bar called Vinyl Tap. It’s a great place with great people.
What does it mean to you to have a “community?”
Being in Nashville and not Brooklyn, I’ve had to make an extra effort to find the community but it is here and it’s very supportive. There’s lots of folks here doing inspiring work.
Do you have any routines or rituals in the studio that get you into the mode or mindset to make your work?
Coffee and snacks. I’m usually doing online stuff (like this) in the morning and get to work in the studio in the afternoon. I listen to a lot of Motown, Tyler Childers, Eminem, Nick Drake and Fiona Apple. Podcasts: Comedy Bang Bang, Off Book (improvised musical podcast), I Like Your Work, Art and Cocktails.
What are you working on right now?
I have two solo shows coming in the next couple of months so I’m just building frames during the day and painting at night.
Artist John Paul Kesling settled in Madison by way of Brooklyn just over a year ago. When he’s not bar tending at a couple joints in East Nashville, he’s making extraordinary paintings of distorted, variegated figures lolling in unearthly, symbol-laden worlds that echo pasts and summon futures that shamans and psychoanalysts would love to try to decrypt.
Kesling spoke with The Tennessean about his work and first solo show in Nashville, “Broken Mic,” on view at Galerie Tangerine.
What is "Broken Mic" all about?
"Broken Mic" is a selection of work from 2013 to 2016. Being a visual artist in a town known for music, I thought the title should be a direct reference to the act of looking and not listening. Just like a song, the paintings in the show tell stories, have rhythm, humor and movement. I'm always touched when I'm reading an interview of a comedian or musician and they reference visual arts. I like the exchange.
Tell me about your anarchic philosophy of inspiration.
I let everything pass through and adjust the permeable membrane, then I catch what seems useful or fun. I think going outside is really important. Being alone is, too. And reading and writing.
I listen to a lot of improv comedy podcasts and the spontaneous rhythm of those inspires me to keep it loose.
Also wine and whiskey help.
How’s your creative process?
Calling it a "process" is generous. I generally start a painting by blocking in large areas of colors in acrylic. Then I go in with oil paint, pencil, collage material. I flip through books or look around online at whatever has been interesting to me lately and start to form images and work out ideas in paint on canvas.
I rarely sketch. I paint over things a lot. I usually have several paintings going at once because oil paint takes patience and since I don't have that, I need a distraction.
Really, I have no rules for what can or can't be source material or actual material. Except broken bits of mirrors. I WILL NEVER glue that to a painting. Probably.
Who (or what) and where are the figures in your paintings?
Sometimes the figures are a form of self-portrait. It's hard not to put a little of yourself in there. I often use friends as references. I feel like the figures exist in that place where potential and problems meet. There's always a chance the entire painting will fall apart and the moment never existed. It's a very anxious time.
What movements or styles influence you?
I just try to never steal too much from the same person or style. I am drawn to the Italian Transavantgarde and the painters that were inspired by them.
I think a painting should have its own personality, thrift-store shirt, obscure reference, and a pair of cute name brand shoes to make it approachable.
How do you cope with uncertainty?
I feed on it. You can look at the work and feel the decisions and indecision and that pretty much sums up my life. I'll never run out of that and will always have something to paint about.
Where do titles like "Beach Family Pretending Not To Have Issues” come from?
Sometimes they come from something I've written or something I'm listening to. The paintings are pretty melancholy sometimes so a title can lighten the mood and start a conversation.
Once as a kid, I was at a funeral and the carpet caused static electricity. Every time somebody tried to give a consoling hug or pat on the back, there was a zap! That made things better.
If you could be in anyone's studio right now, who would it be?
I'd love to spend a year in Jim Henson's studio, even if he wasn't there.
What do you hope viewers get out of your show?
I hope they get interested in painting and get up close. I hope they have a favorite painting and take pictures and post on Instagram and look up the work of other painters and go to museums. Nashville is an exciting town for visual arts. You just have to seek it out.