Kay Gasei is a London-based British-Zambian artist, whose career has gone stratospheric since graduating in illustration from Oxford Brookes, going on to exhibit at The Other Art Fair and capture the attention of Soho House who invited him to be Soho Home’s first artist in residence. Kay is also creative director of apparel brands ‘God Bless Da Trap’ and ‘Amo Amas Amat’. Kay donated a painting to the Arms Around the Child charity auction at Christie’s in winter 2022, and exhibited in ‘Rebirth’ at 99 Projects, both curated by Lee Sharrock. He has had several solo exhibitions in the UK including with Chilli Art Projects, and is preparing for a group show in Lagos, Nigeria.
Culturalee: How would you define culture?
Kay Gasei: How would I define culture? That’s a tough one, it’s one of those things you think you know until you have to describe it…but I suppose culture is a prevailing thought, mode of being or expression within a contiguous grouping of people. So underlying or overt notions or rituals that generate expressions in identity, thinking, fashions or types of language, food, manners, societal norms, structures and bonds from the familial to town/city to state wide or as random as transportation, being a city boy buses and trains have different cultures *lol, then different types of trains have slightly different modes, the nuances are quite apparent.
Culturalee: What was the starting point for your career as an artist?
KG: I guess the keyword is ‘career’, I started freelancing as an illustrator properly and continuously the year after I left uni, so around 2015 and transitioned into a ‘fine artist’ (whatever that means) in 2020/2021.
Culturalee: What has been your most moving cultural experience to date?
KG: That’s a good question, the first thing I thought of was recently I watched Grenfell at the National Theatre and it’s stuck with me for the last few weeks and I’ve been trying to think about what I was doing or where I was when it happened, but having a rolling gut nostalgia of London at the time. But then I thought that’s not the experience culturally, but my new retroactive memory on it given a personal thing, so then my mind went to England reaching the finals and the support for the team and losing…hope, hope, hope and then hate. It was a glorious time until it wasn’t, and then my mind went to the Lionesses winning. This is a hard question, I’ll stop there before the waffling continues *lol.
Culturalee: What’s your greatest personal achievement as an artist?
KG: My greatest personal achievement, I have two. The first being on the Piccadilly screen in 2021, just growing up in London and having my work and video interview up there for a week, during Black History Month, it’s a definite win. The second, which I hope to be ongoing, is having done a couple of workshops with a group of young offenders in a program called InsideOut. It was young boys who’ve been to prison and now been given a chance to create a piece of clothing then to sell it in a store, so having my creative skills be directly helpful to someone else’s idea to a vision they were just finding out was very cool.
Culturalee: What’s your favourite artist/ book/ exhibition/ play/ film/ musician?
KG: Artist? Goya, Picasso, James Jean, Bacon. Book, not sure I have a favourite, I’ve never read anything more than once, there’s not enough time. Exhibition? The Bacon or Kentridge ones at the Royal Academy were pretty insane. Play? ‘People, Places, Things’ comes to mind but not favourite, and ‘Grenfell’ recently, again not favourite but comes to mind, just recency bias, which I think is a common theme in many of my answers *lol. Film, currently between ‘Burning’ a Korean film from 2018 (I think) and ‘In the Mood for Love’, a Chinese film from 2000. Musician, I don’t think I have one.
Culturalee: Do you have any tips for aspiring young artists?
KG: Don’t do it, it’s a scam *lol. No seriously, I’d say – from the first rung of the ladder – try to say or express something more than have a style, as the message will inform the medium. After that, it’s a lot of luck and being in places, so put yourself out there as in, meet people and show your work online, and try for fairs and prizes. But a lot is luck.
Culturalee: Can you describe the process of making your art and how you developed it?
KG: My process has three distinct modes. I have the instantaneous, where I have a thought which becomes a sketch and the final piece hasn’t changed. The idea is born fully formed. The second which is more of a composite image, having the sporadic and nebulous details make up the image in these split sectional pieces. Then I have the generative type where I have a theme in mind but can’t remember details or want to find it in the painting and it germinates as I’m working responding to what is working in the piece and the marks and gestures find themselves. This last one is the newest gear for me.
Culturalee: What project(s) are you currently working on?
KG: I have a group show in Lagos, Nigeria with Affinity gallery in November. Working on 2 relatively large pieces in the last gear or mode I described in the previous answer. I thought I finished one, but while in bed before answering these questions I woke up ruminating over it and think I got something to add.
The titles of them are ‘A Good Evening for Strong Opinions’ and ‘A Veil Over Everything Hides Nothing, Was it even Protection?’ Hopefully they don’t suck.