(Featured image: Obsessional Compulsive Dialogue 02 524cm x 180cm 2022)
Chelsea/Pimlico born artist Kai Motta was immersed in street art, graffiti and hip hop culture from a young age.
Each of his paintings are an expression, a capturing of a moment, a feeling indelibly marked across the canvas made to look like a piece of graffiti, made to look like a word, but actually, they say nothing.
Everything is said in the energy, the cadence, the rhythm of each piece like notes in a symphony. What it means, he leaves to the viewer. The whole process of painting for Kai will have a soundtrack, sometimes just a song constantly on repeat or a full album. John Coltrane, Jimmy Smith, Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys, The White Album by the Beatles or The Doors can be regularly heard when he paints. We chat to Kai about his journey living as an artist and why having a gallery representing him leaves him more time to paint.
Obsessional Compulsive Dialogue 69 40cm x 40cm 2022
Your work has a musical abstract rhythm. Tell us about your hip hop influences and inspirations?
Hip hop has been a huge influence in my life from a very young age, perhaps as early as 11 or 12. I distinctly remember in 1985, and unfortunately this kind of eagerness and anticipation will never exist again, sitting by the radio on a Saturday night recording onto cassettes America’s latest street import ‘The Show’ by Dougie Fresh and the Get Fresh Crew featuring Slick Rick. It was an introduction into a whole new world for me, light years away from Duran Duran, Culture Club and other 80s icons in Britain at the time. I loved the art and like any self-respecting ‘b-boy’ I owned the two bibles of graffiti: Subway Art and Spraycan Art turning the pages in awe at the gigantic vibrant, sometimes highly complex ‘pieces’ spread across trains and buildings by these incredibly brave artists who lived outside of the law.
Other inspirations are other painters work, an anger galvanized by the iniquities of politics or something similar, something psychological under the skin struggling to surface. To paint abstract is to roll the dice. You never know what is going to be left on the canvas when you finish, after the process of catharsis. I like the danger. For me the period of incubation can be painful as I wrestle with something inside, then when the moment hits, I enter the studio and set up canvasses.
Obsessional Compulsive Dialogue 32 245cm x 47cm 2021
What inspired you to start painting in the first place and how would you describe your art?
From a young age I loved art. Our family grew up a 20-minute walk away from the Tate Britain in Pimlico and my father would routinely take us there to look at the art. I recall being stunned by the work of Roy Lichenstein particularly the ‘WHAAM!’ piece, as it should, it had an indelible effect along with my many others, but that piece in particular. Then there were the years of graffiti and hip-hop culture which played its role and then my love for the European Tachisme non-geometric and the American Abstract Expressionist movement. I just love those huge paintings. So, art was always there in different forms. I recall at school I wouldn’t bother with certain lessons; I just didn’t see the need for them and would routinely find myself just sitting in the art class. The teacher was very welcoming and accommodating, would simply just give me time and be very encouraging about what I was doing with art. I would say she was a very strong influence and helped me gain confidence. I like to paint with oil what looks like a word, but is actually a piece of abstract art.
Obsessional Compulsive Dialogue 57 57cm x 84cm – part of triptych 3 of 3 2022
Why do you create art?
I don’t think there is a ‘why’, I just have to. It’s a visceral demand even though pieces sit in my mind for weeks at a time before I fight with the canvas. It’s not a delicate approach, it’s a heavy storm, a jagged rhythm, an apoplectic cadence. I feel like it’s a chaotic symphony in action. I paint because I have to. There is a compulsion. Something internal.
I can’t speak for other artists, but I imagine they may feel something similar. I can’t tell when it’s going to happen, but when it hits, I’m gone.
Chaos in the Machine 01 370cm x 180cm 2018
There is a lot of energy and what looks like ‘organised chaos’ in your paintings. What are you trying to say in them?
I think that is a good description for the work. If you look on the website the titles for the different periods reflect distinctive mental states. “Anhedonia and Anger”, “Contained Chaos”, “Chaos in the Machine” and “Obsessional Compulsive Dialogue”. I would say I am quite an angry person. Not irrationally, but with the state of the political and social landscape, I think this anger partly, coupled with an expressive internal energy is released in the paintings.
Contained Chaos 01 150cm x 148cm 2017
You recently got representation from new virtual gallery Sputo Art. How important is it for artists to be linked with a gallery and how will this partnership help you create and showcase your art?
The world of art is behemothic, it’s extensive and challenging, coupled with having to play the social media game on a hourly basis, gallery representation is incredibly welcomed. Being with a gallery, an agent also means people will take you seriously. I like the idea of the relationship/partnership because essentially, I just want to paint and I’m good at it and Sputo are excellent agents and good at being exactly that. Sputo is great at listening, understanding the work and the process and struggle to produce it, they get it! They help me to clearly interpret and promote the art to a wider audience, whether it be my peers, potential buyers or organisations. That’s not what I do, or what I want to do and leaves me more time to paint. It’s important to know and understand your limits, it will only help one to advance.
Obsessional Compulsive Dialogue 21 148cm x 148cm 2020
Before partnering with Sputo how did you make a living from your art or was painting more of a hobby?
Painting has never been a hobby. From the minute I picked up the brush I was serious, it wasn’t something I ever dabbled in, it was a determined, sincere need to create. I’ve sold plenty of paintings from exhibitions and private commissions.
How will Sputo be supporting you moving forwards and how hard is it to be taken seriously without a gallery representing you?
Sputo will be handling all art business affairs from exhibitions to contacts to commissions. You need gallery representation, you need someone in your corner, someone that believes in you, has good contacts and that you can trust. That relationship is key.
Obsessional Compulsive Dialogue 01 90cm x 90cm 2020
What advice would you give to a young artist or art student trying to pursue a career as an artist?
Paint like your whole world depended on it. Just paint, don’t stop. Read, imbibe, become obsessed and fixated with what you are doing and try to believe in yourself. Suck everything in through osmosis. Try to experience everything, you never know what will unlock that true you, that true potential. If the work is authentic it will shine through but be prepared to wait and always remember Van Gogh only sold one painting when he was alive! Don’t listen to anyone who advises you to be safe, to endure a route of security. Be undeniable.
The setting up of the canvas is as important as the painting itself. It’s important to acknowledge each step, to be fully immersed and be in the moment. I find this produces the best results. I have to be mindful not to fall into the trap of trying to repeat a process because of an outcome/success of a previous painting for you can never capture the same moment and it only ever leads to disappointment and a feeling of failure. Plus, you don’t want to turn into a factory.
When I am in full abandon, without a net, when fear is absent then the painting generally tends to produce, in my opinion, the best results, the ones I can live with.
Chaos in the Machine 03 370cm x 180cm 2019
Kai Motta’s original paintings and limited edition prints are available to buy at www.sputoart.com He’s also open to doing commissions.
Interview by Jules Nelson who does marketing and operations for Abundant Art.