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FEATURE: Street Style Abstract Painter Kai Motta: ‘Just Paint, Don’t Stop’

(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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Street Style Abstract Painter Kai Motta

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.

FEATURE: Julia Hales and Finn O’Branagain: You Know We Belong Together

‘Julia has survived a house fire, there’s been stalkers, and there have been amazing weddings she’s attended – Julia has had such an incredible life and she has so many amazing stories’, says Finn O’Branagain, co-writer of You Know We Belong Together, in reference to her co-writer and star, Julia Hales. One of those stories is that she is the first person living with Down syndrome to host Compass, a show which focuses on investigative journalism and intellectual storytelling on ABC ­Television – the national TV broadcaster in Australia. She hosted her own documentary, The Upside, which both shone a light on her own talent and ambition, and celebrated living with Down syndrome in a culture where many wrongly presume that Down syndrome equates to poor prospects and a poor quality of life.

You Know We Belong Together was developed over a year and a half, initially selling out at the Perth Festival in 2018. Hales has worked tirelessly to become a professional actor since before she even knew she had Down syndrome, first realising her ambitions when her older sister wanted to become an actor as well. The show was supposed to come to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2020, but for some reason it was delayed until this year.

Rather than looking to her numerous accomplishments and experiences to centre the show though, Hales knew what would tie it together: the beloved Australian soap opera, Home and Away. She’s been watching it since 1988, and has dreamt about being on it since then. She loves ‘the cast, the action, and all the drama.’ O’Branagain reckons the drama of Hales’s life is worthy of a soap opera in and of itself.

But You Know We Belong Together is not simply a show about a woman’s love of a TV show; for Hales and O’Branagain, Home and Away is a springboard for exploring her life, her stories, and her experiences. After all, it makes sense ­– what better way to glimpse into someone’s life than by watching them light up through the lens of what makes them tick?

From the unassuming love of Home and Away, Hales goes on to construct a performance about so much more than that. When asked to describe what You Know We Belong Together is about, she says, ‘It’s about acceptance and belonging, relationships, karaoke.’ But one of the most striking differences between the two women is Hales’s proclivity to speak about themes, activities, and goals, versus O’Branagain’s to speak about the importance of Hales herself. O’Branagain: ‘It all fits together because of [Julia] and through her; that the work is about Julia and her life and her dreams and her loves.’ It goes without saying that Hales is modest. Unless you ask the right questions, she doesn’t say much about herself unless it pertains to her work. Both perspectives equally illuminate the full picture of You Know We Belong Together.

In her own words, it took about three years in total to get You Know We Belong Together ‘up and running’. And the very first stage of research was interviewing people with Down syndrome. Hales is a leader in the Down syndrome community, and her show is starring, informed and created by people with Down syndrome. Alongside the express purpose of entertainment, she wants the show to be educational.

It goes without saying that the world has historically treated disabled people poorly, and we still have far to go when it comes to ableism and equality. Hales believes that by educating people on the treatment of people in her community in the past and present, we can make sure we don’t repeat the same mistakes again. For the disabled community, You Know We Belong Together has been a ‘strong and absolutely joyful depiction of living with disability on stage’, and O’Branagain is not just speaking about Julia here: the whole cast has Down syndrome.

You Know We Belong Together has had no less an impact on people who don’t have disabilities either, though. O’Branagain pointed out that 20% of Australians have a disability, and not all of them are necessarily visible. Therefore, very few people don’t know anyone who lives with one. She says, ‘It’s so important that we share these stories, because far less than 20% of the stories we see on stage and screen feature disabilities.’

Although You Know We Belong Together is an unabashedly optimistic show, developing a piece that so frankly grapples with the social attitudes around Down syndrome and disability necessitates some difficult conversations. For her research, she interviewed not only people with Down syndrome, but parents of people with Down syndrome, and even couples who had previously terminated pregnancies when they found out their child was going to have Down syndrome. Of course, it’s O’Branagain who is eager to shine the light on Hales; she remarked that ‘as somebody on the outside watching a very difficult and fraught conversation – a very emotional conversation – happening, Julia handled it with such kindness and such elegance.’

Hales clearly has an emotional and compassionate capacity far greater than the average person, and her ambition disregards the difficulty inherent in conceiving of You Know We Belong Together. And her labour is paying dividends: O’Branagain describes how on lunch breaks people used to speak to Julia in an infantilising way, but now is ‘inundated with people wanting to talk to her about the show and saying that they loved the show and that they’re amazed by the show.’

The transformation of interactions between Hales and the public is mirrored in a change of attitudes to disability in those who watch the show, too. A doctor who saw You Know We Belong Together approached the director because earlier that day, he had counselled a pregnant woman that she should terminate her pregnancy since the child was going to have Down syndrome. After seeing the show, he said he was going to have a very different conversation with her.

Hales notes that she loves to get audience members involved – she recruits a ‘mum and dad’ from the audience, and at another point asks for ‘a very handsome man’. For her, You Know We Belong Together is a part of a conversation in which people with disabilities can be rightly given undivided attention. Yet a conversation always has more than one participant, and her invitation to the audience, disabled and non-disabled, to participate and to involve themselves in a karaoke rendition of the Home and Away theme song speaks volumes to her key theme: belonging.

You Know We Belong Together presents its UK premiere at the Southbank Centre (18-20 Aug) and Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre (24-27 Aug).

Written by Cian Kinsella Cian is a Classics teacher and part-time pub quizmaster living in London who is primarily interested in music but is also interested in theatre, literature, and visual arts. He is particularly intrigued by the relationship between art, criticism, and the capital forces always at play. Furthermore, he believes that subjectivity – which is ultimately at the heart of all artistic and cultural criticism – should not be concealed, but probed and perhaps even celebrated. Who decides what we like? How do they construct widely held beliefs about what is good? These are two of the questions Cian looks to address.

Foot Notes:

Brought from Australia by theatre-maker and performance artist Julia Hales, You Know We Belong Together is a warm and uplifting play about people living with Down Syndrome, love, friendships, dreams – and a love of Home and Away. Julia’s aspirations of being the first person with Down Syndrome to act in Home and Away are central to the plot and actor Ray Meagher (Alf Stewart) makes a cameo, infusing the play with nostalgia for the beloved Australian soap opera. This acclaimed play won two Performing Arts WA Awards and Julia was nominated for the prestigious Australian of the Year award.

Following sold out seasons in 2018 as part of Perth Festival and Black Swan’s 2019 season, You Know We Belong Together comes to the Southbank Centre.

You Know We Belong Together is written by Julia Hales with Finn O’Branagáin and Clare Watson. The original production was commissioned by Perth Festival and co-produced by Perth Festival, Black Swan State Theatre Company and DADAA.

Black Swan’s tour of You Know We Belong Together is supported by the UK/Australia Season Patrons, the Australian Government, the British Council, and Creative Partnerships Australia through the Australian Cultural Fund as part of the UK/Australia Season 2021/22, the Government of Western Australia DLGSC and the Black Swan Future Fund.

 

 

FEATURE: The Cartoon Museum Late: Laughter Lab – “Explaining the science behind humour”

They say that the one fundamental aspect that distinguishes humans from animals is laughter. As the only known living species that can apprehend humour, we have had quite a long history of appreciating comedy that was already present all the way back in Ancient Greece, where the very first theatrical comedies took place. The Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury plays with the concept of universality of comedy by displaying a wide collection of cartoons that vary from French caricatures in the 1700s, to WW2 comic strips, to today’s political caricatures. Situated next to Oxford Street, the Cartoon museum has many surprises to offer, the latest being the Late event “Laughter Lab” that occurred on May 26. Abundant Art got a sneak peek of this evening event rich in museum tours, interesting talks, stand-up comedy and most importantly, a good amount of laughter.

The Cartoon Museum

Annie McGrath talking to the audience – Image credit: The Cartoon Museum

The night revolved around the social and psychological experiment that had been run at the museum during the last months. Oxford professor Robin Dunbar was there to announce the awaited results of “the world’s first mass experiment exploring the psychology behind cartoon humour”. The test consisted in asking people to go through pairs of cartoons and determine which ones they found funnier, which resulted in an interesting study of the different types of humour that appeal to various demographics. It divided the audience between young and old, men and women, etc. to understand who preferred visual humour, political jokes, grotesque comedy… All of the results were presented in a very clear lecture-like way, which was still regularly punctuated by laughs from the audience.

stand-up comedy that animated the evening

The stand-up comedy that animated the evening – Image credit: The Cartoon Museum

Overall, the event was very rich and light-hearted at the same time. Even the insightful museum tour and the academic speech were all executed in a highly cheerful manner that kept the guests in a good mood for the whole night. The friendliness of the staff was remarkable, as was the choice of speakers and of the comedians that animated the night. Rob Auton, Lucy Pearman and Annie McGrath were particularly hilarious, and their stand-up comedy was of serious competition to the written comedy on the walls.

In addition to participating in the evening, Abundant Art had the occasion to chat with Emma Stirling-Middleton, the curator of the museum, and Joe Sullivan, the Director, to get an insight into the process that led to organise this event.

Who’s idea was it to do this mass public experiment exploring the psychology behind cartoon humour?

Emma: It has been such a challenging couple of years for us all, I wanted to make a light and joyful exhibition that brings people together to laugh and be merry! So often when we think about cartoons we focus on the creator, the artwork, the writing. But we rarely think about what is happening inside the mind of the viewer. When we look at a cartoon there is a moment between seeing the cartoon and our reaction to it – whether that’s a smirk, an audible laugh, or a decision that it isn’t funny. I thought ‘wouldn’t it be wonderful to make a whole exhibition all about that magical moment inside our minds?’

How did you choose what cartoons to include in this experiment and how did people cast their votes?

Emma: I started researching what work has been done on the psychology of laughter and cartoons, and soon came across the work of Robin Dunbar. Over the past 50 years, he has researched all kinds of fascinating things – relationships, friendships, love, language, religion, brain evolution, social media and the internet and much (much) more. I found he had undertaken a psychology experiment around stand-up comedy and jokes and made some really interesting discoveries. I wondered whether it might be possible to apply the same experiment to cartoons. We had a phone call and chatted through the idea and from there we were laughing along together, devising our mad mass public experiment!

Joe: We worked with Robin to identify cartoons that responded to different psychological mind states, and paired cartoons so we could look at the difference between the states of mind they put people in. Visitors then responded via a survey, simply ticking A or B for which they thought was the funniest cartoon. So, it was a simple entry point for the audience but actually gave insight into quite complex psychology. The data – consisting of thousands of submissions – was inputted by a wonderful team of museum volunteers, and Robin analysed it and drew out his conclusions. The results are going to be published in a scientific paper, and I hope that our visitors feel empowered by how much we value their opinions.

What do you think makes a cartoon funny and what doesn’t? Is there a unique set of elements that make a cartoon funny?

Emma: I think that’s the wonderful thing about gag cartoons – nobody knows! Is it good writing? Good drawing? A perfect symbiosis between the two? Is it timing, with what’s happening in the world? Or is it utterly personal and subjective? Our experiment will reveal more information from one psychological perspective, but of course, the reality is that it’s something us mere mortals will never truly know – and isn’t that magical!

How important is laughter in our everyday lives and is it usually spontaneous and deeply personal?

Joe: Laughter brings people together. It’s been a fundamental building block of hominid interaction for 10 million years and transcends human society – all sorts of apes laugh together! It can be spontaneous but doesn’t have to be – I’m sure everyone knows someone with a fake laugh!

Emma: Having watched visitors go round and do the experiment, it has been wonderful to see how it brings people together and sparks conversation. People are comparing results, getting competitive, taking interest in their similarities and differences. I also love how our visitor’s personal insights into our collection are going to reveal new information and enrich our understanding of cartoon art.

How important are culture and society to the Cartoon Museum?

Joe: The museum champions a uniquely British art form – satirical cartooning, which is the result of 317 years of a free press in this country. That means for a long time we’ve been able to laugh at all the idiotic things that politicians, the Royals, and celebrities have done, without anyone being able to do anything about it! Alongside that history, we have an incredible tradition in comics, including of course the Beano and 2000 AD among many, many others. Cartooning is interesting because it goes hand-in-hand with society – it holds up a mirror and reflects the world at the time the art was made, which gives us a really interesting window into exactly what cartoonists think of the world around them, how they process it, and what about the world makes them laugh.

How can children and adults attend your cartooning, comics and animation workshops at the museum? How important is it to get creative?

Joe: It is incredibly important to get creative! We want everyone who visits the museum – or sees us online, attends an event, visits our stall at a community fair – to leave wanting to pick up a pencil and draw something. Being creative helps you relax, helps you express yourself, and helps you make sense of the world.

We offer all sorts of events and workshops for adults and children, from complete amateurs wanting to learn to draw simple caricatures to early-career artists making their way in the industry who want to understand the finer points of intellectual property! We also have free downloadable worksheets on our website – so the best place to start is by heading there and finding out how to draw Beyonce!

The Cartoon Museum has proven once again to be a true hidden gem in London, and adds a much-needed touch of humour and glee to everyday matters. Check out its permanent exhibition and the many more projects it has to offer at www.cartoonmuseum.org 

Reviewed by Céline Galletti – Celine is a volunteer writer for Abundant Art. Originally from France and Italy, she follows her passion for writing and art by studying Comparative Literature at UCL, London. As an international student living in London, she is determined to fully experience and understand the city’s vibrant arts scene, and be a part of its creative storm.