Kim Anderson – Artist

Kim Anderson lives in Ballarat, Victoria (when she’s not in a residency somewhere…) not currently represented by a gallery but is looking for one… here’s her web site. www.kim-anderson.com.au

Kim has done some residencies, here is a diary of some time spent in Japan, interesting reading…

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How long have you been making art?

For as long as I can remember I was always drawing, writing and working on various little creative projects of one kind or another.  It’s not something I really even thought about, it was more automatic in the sense that I just did it and assumed that everyone else did too.  I guess I’ve always felt compelled to express myself visually.

I’m not exactly sure whether you would consider it “art”, but I even went through a phase of making crafty objects for a while, setting up a little card table on our corner block, and attempting to sell my creations to passers-by – unfortunately on a bush block in the sleepy town of Buninyong there were not all that many customers.  Apart from a few sympathetic neighbours offering 20 cents for a decorated toilet roll (excellent pencil holders!), the “business” didn’t really take off.  In hindsight, my drawings were probably a lot better…

I don’t remember how old I was when I first received a tinned set of 36 Derwent pencils for Christmas, but they were extremely precious to me and I took them everywhere along with a sketchbook.  I always wanted the 72-set in the wooden box, but these were still pretty special.  They were lovingly kept in perfect colour order, and not shared with anyone else.  I still have them now, although a rubber band has taken the place of the tin and certain colours have been worn down to stubs.  I don’t work so much with coloured pencils now, but they still remain sitting in an old lolly tin in my studio like some kind of symbolic reminder of a lifetime of drawing, one way or another.

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Artist’s statement…

The age-old theme of the body inspires my work in drawing and installation. Often using my own body as subject, I am continually fascinated by the expressive potential of the hands, feet and skin, as well as the delicate structures and hidden processes taking place internally. I believe that the physical self must surely be considered the starting point for all psychological understanding: it is the vehicle for the emotions, the tangible presence by which we are known to others, and the most immediate tool through which our invisible inner psyche is able to manifest itself and act upon the world.

A recent development in my practice has been to take this interest in the body much further and explore the parallels to be found in both the built and natural world, whether it be an overt bodily reference, inferred likeness, or merely a trace left behind by a hand or foot. In essence, I am interested in the notion that a physical space can take on the characteristics and evoke the same emotions as a human body. Through constant wear our bodies bear the inscriptions of our life experience, our passions and fears and memories layered over one another like a palimpsest, and so too does the surface of place function in the same way.

In constantly wanting to challenge the capacity of my drawing, my practice has evolved from the production of more traditional works on paper to working ephemerally with installation. Using techniques such as projection and drawing directly onto the walls and floor, I explore the use of alternative surfaces and spaces. My original drawings on paper become transformed by light, scale and the distortions produced by using a three-dimensional space as my working surface. I am continually seeking ways in which to combine these ideas and bridge the gap between my work in two and three dimensions.

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What are you currently working on?

I am currently working on a new series of work that represents an experimental foray into the area between my two-dimensional drawings on paper and my spatial installations: it is a playful attempt to bridge the gap between the “white page” and the “white cube”.  By folding, curling and cutting holes in the paper, I am aiming to transform the flat page into a miniature three-dimensional architectural space with which the figures appear to interact.  A fold becomes the perfect hiding place; a hole becomes a window for a quick escape route.  Partially hidden, figures tumble over curves and hide around corners, with the potential to disappear from sight at any moment.  I’m hoping to exhibit these new works sometime next year, so stay tuned…

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Artist… got into art because… and your education?

I honestly don´t know why I am an artist.  I guess there was some element of choice in it somewhere, but I often feel that no matter what I would have attempted to do with my life, I would always have come back to art somehow.  A friend of mine once made the comment: “I didn´t choose art, it chose me” – and I really feel that’s true.  I don´t want to sound too mystical about it all, but it’s like people of a religious order responding to what they describe as a “higher calling”.  As I said earlier, it’s something that I´ve always done without really questioning it until about the age I’m at now (grand old 31).

As well as maintaining a passion for dance for about 17 years and being determined I was going to be a ballerina, I also remember telling my parents that I was going to be an artist at a fairly tender age.  I do recall a passing interest in architecture when my father informed me that architects make more money, but that didn’t last all that long.  In high school, possibly influenced by the Patricia Cornwell novels I was voraciously reading at the time, I thought I was going to be a forensic pathologist and covered a wide range of subjects from art to drama to chemistry and biology.  At the end of year 12 I was really unsure what I wanted to do and so decided to pursue my love of writing with a Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing.  But – somehow – art called me back, and I then completed my Honours Degree in Fine Art at the University of Ballarat.

After that I was dabbling a little bit here and there whilst working some part time jobs, then in 2005 I went to Japan to teach English.  During that time I went through a fairly traumatic relationship breakup and became seriously ill, and it was that experience that made me realise that I only have one chance in life and it made me determined to pursue the thing I loved most, which was my art.  Since then I´ve also done a Postgraduate Certificate in Art Conservation Studies (although discovered that I much preferred making the art to fixing it), and was also awarded a scholarship that enabled me to undertake my Master of Fine Art at the University of Dundee in Scotland.  From there it just seems to have taken off and, while sometimes I wish I lived a more stable existence, I can´t imagine doing anything else.  I wouldn´t be being true to myself if I wasn´t making my art – it’s like my most fundamental means of expression.  I guess part of the beauty of being an “artist” is that under that umbrella title, you can explore anything.

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Was your education helpful, or a hindrance?

I think my education was definitely helpful, and I always feel that I want to do more – a PhD is in the offing someday when I’m ready…  Particularly with my post-grad education I’ve relished that opportunity to research, write, question and really interrogate my art practice – in fact I miss that intensity when I’m out in the “real world”.  My education has helped me to develop the capacity to think critically about my work (perhaps too critically sometimes), and to question where it fits within a contemporary context.  It’s perhaps clichéd to say, but you can never stop learning or questioning – especially not as an artist.

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Was art a “thing” that was encouraged in your family?

I think art was mildly appreciated, but my family never really went out of their way to participate in or view it – only ever if I dragged them to it or was directly participating in something myself.  Of course they’ve never actively prevented me from pursuing my artistic activities – no doubt in the hope that I would get it out my system one day – but it was definitely not encouraged or even accepted as a viable career.  I’ve had to really struggle with my immediate and particularly my extended family for them to actually take me seriously and realise that I’m not a “dole bludger” – and I still find myself up against that prejudiced view on occasions.  It’s only recently, after having received a few really big grants and had some overseas residencies, that they’ve actually come to terms with the fact that this is essentially my job and it’s a lot of hard work.

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What caused you to choose the medium you currently work in?

I’ve always primarily been a drawer – I find it to be the most simple and direct interaction between mind and body.  Perhaps also it’s the control, although sometimes I wish I could be more spontaneous and just throw paint (and anything else) at a canvas.  I suspect I was permanently scarred by the unfortunate explosion of a clay Easter bunny in the school kiln at about age 5, and by almost cutting off my finger while trying to build a canvas in about year 10 at school – therefore ceramics and oil painting were out!

On a practical level drawing is portable and doesn’t require much space or mess – it can be done virtually anywhere.  On most of my travels I’ve only ever had to take a sketchbook and a pencil case full of pencils, charcoal and drawing pens – easy!    Which leads me to my Master of Fine Art degree undertaken at the University of Dundee in Scotland…  I turned up with little more than my pencil case, but with the opportunity to “play” in a project space it opened up the possibilities of actually creating installations with my drawing and working more ephemerally.  Ever since then, I have continually tried to challenge the capacity of drawing as a medium, exploring the myriad of ways it can be used and combined with other techniques.

The idea of cross-disciplinary research and collaboration is something that really excites me, having been opened up to these possibilities when I was in Scotland.  I’d like to pursue this further at some point, perhaps even incorporating various forms of performance and/or technology into my work, and even collaborate with people outside the visual arts – the possibilities are endless…  I think I’m too restless to keep on doing the same thing all the time, and I’d find it really unsatisfying artistically.

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Does the creative process happen easily for you or perhaps does it come in waves for you?

I find myself constantly struggling with the creative process – it’s always a roller coaster and definitely happens in waves.  Unfortunately you can’t just switch it on and off, and the creative streaks probably flow much more easily when I have a deadline to work towards such as an exhibition.  I always struggle with the motivation to work in a vacuum as I often feel like I’m lacking in purpose – that’s when I find myself easily distracted by other things.  Funnily enough, when I’m in that intensive state before a show I always yearn for some time and space to simply play and explore, and yet when I do have that time the playing and exploring just doesn’t seem to happen – the grass is always greener on the other side!

I am starting to learn that you can’t just be making work all the time, and really there are very few artists who are able to do that.  The process of creation is somewhat exhausting because you pull all of these things out from the very depths of your soul, often kicking and screaming, into the light and ultimately for public view – it takes a huge amount of energy to do that.  Once I’ve reached my limit to the point of feeling empty I need to allow myself time to “fill up” again.  It’s much more difficult to do than it sounds – I often feel guilty if I’m not working all the time.  I’ve recently been going through just such an “empty” phase after a really intense residency in Japan where I had to pull together a solo exhibition of new work in a little over two weeks – nothing like pressure!!!  It was exhilarating but exhausting, and I’ve been feeling completely physically, emotionally and creatively drained to the point of paralysis.  Slowly slowly I’m managing to crawl out of that black hole and rejoin the world again, even to the point of being able to make some work – and damn it feels good! Nothing like a majorly overdue deadline to get me going again – but hey, whatever works.

I’m just starting to learn that it’s okay to take time out to read, watch films, listen to music, visit galleries and go to theatres – or just sit in the sun and breathe and take in my surroundings.  It will all inform my art practice and trigger another creative streak somehow…

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Some say the lifespan of many “artists” post educationally is about five years, any thoughts on that?

I am determined to prove this statement wrong – so far so good, although it’s definitely not easy.  It’s really only been three years since I finished my Master of Fine Art so I’ve got a bit of a way to go, although I seem to have done a hell of a lot in that time and things seem to be just starting to take off – which is why I’m absolutely NOT about to let go and give up just now…  I’ve managed to pursue my art practice virtually full-time, but it’s a constant struggle and I feel like I’ve sacrificed a more “normal” and stable existence for the sake of my art.  I guess, to my advantage, I’m in a situation where I can do so – it’s just me, my pencil case and a suitcase!  In a way the experiences I’ve had through travelling for my art are worth so much more than a house, car, possessions etc – at least that’s what I try to keep telling myself…

Despite the personal benefits I mentioned earlier, art school education doesn’t really teach you how to survive as a professional artist and I don’t think there’s really any clearly defined career path you can take.  It’s all about seeking out opportunities as well as creating your own.  No one’s going to know you exist unless you get yourself and your work out there and make yourself known – they’re certainly not going to come knocking on your door looking for the next amazing talent (I wish…!!!)  I find a large amount of my time involves writing applications and proposals for grants, residencies, funding etc. – it’s the only way I’ve been able to survive over the last couple of years.  And that’s not something I learnt about in art school – I only really became aware of such things through the wonderful supervisor I had in Scotland.  I think of this whole art business as a 30-year apprenticeship – you’re basically learning on the job.  You’re an “emerging artist” until you’re about 60, and famous when you’re dead!

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Have you had any ¨big breaks¨ in your career?

I don´t know about ¨big breaks¨ – in fact I’m still waiting for the really BIG one that sets me up for life (yeah right!) – but I do have a great determination to seek out every opportunity I can.  I don´t believe so much in luck, I think a person makes their own luck – it’s simply a matter of keeping your eyes and ears open for anything and everything that comes along.  As mentioned, I spend an awful lot of time researching opportunities and writing applications, with perhaps a 5-10 percent success rate at best.  I am collecting a folder of rejection letters that I’m planning to use for a project some day…  I’ve no doubt I’ll have enough to cover the Great Wall of China!

The best thing for my career so far was, after writing God knows how many applications, being awarded that scholarship to study my Masters in Scotland – it opened so many doors for me and expanded my knowledge of the “art world” and the opportunities that are out there.  I was lucky to have a wonderful supervisor who really introduced me to the notion of writing applications and applying for residencies and funding – before that I had very little knowledge that such things existed or that even little old nobody me could apply.

Since graduating I’ve undertaken a curatorial internship for a contemporary arts organisation called Deveron Arts in Scotland, had an Australia Council International Studio Residency in Rome, had two residencies in Hill End (NSW), and one in Echigo-Tsumari, Japan.  Last year I was extremely fortunate to receive an ArtStart Grant from the Australia Council, which has really helped me to establish some of the business aspects of my art practice such as a website, portfolio, and some basic equipment etc.  I spent weeks agonising over every single word of that application (as I do with most), but it paid off and I would not have been able to establish any of those essential marketing tools without that financial assistance – I guess being able to do that has been a “big break” in a way.

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Do you keep an Art Journal or Visual Diary of some kind?

I SHOULD be more diligent about keeping a journal all the time, but never seem to be able to do so when I’m in my usual routine, apart from using it to make thumbnails of various compositions (or scribble various “notes to self” and shopping lists…)  I kept journals all the way through art school which contained my research, notes, sketches, thumbnails etc., and whenever I’ve been away on a residency I’ve also had the discipline and the urge to write and draw almost every day.  When I’m away somewhere “special” I feel much more compelled to record my experiences and draw anything and everything, whereas at home I don’t set aside the time to do so.  I feel forever guilty about this and keep promising myself I’ll start using my journal more often…

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How important is it to you that your work communicates something to the viewer?

I suppose what I really hope for is that my work moves the viewer at some level, even if they can’t articulate exactly what it makes them feel or think in words.  I do try to explain my work to a certain extent with artist’s statements etc, partly because writing about it helps me to understand it better, but I’m not particularly concerned if despite all that people still just don’t “get it”.  Many of them probably never will, and that’s absolutely fine for me – you can’t please everyone.  One thing that I can’t stand is when my grandmother, a diligent and dutiful attendee at all of my exhibitions, takes a quick walk around to glance at the work and announces “very nice Kimberlee, but I don’t understand it”, and then waits for me to explain.  I don’t expect her to, and perhaps it’s rather contrary of me to deliberately ignore such statements but to be honest I couldn’t care less!

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What is the most unexpected response you’ve received from a viewer of your work?

In September/October last year I had a solo exhibition at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick, Melbourne, titled “Soul/Skin/Space”, which had been inspired by a residency I did in Rome in 2009.  It involved a combination of elements including a digital projection (my first attempt to do such a thing), some smaller drawings on very fine conservation tissue, and two large-scale wall drawings which I actually worked on continually throughout the 3-week duration of the show.  One day towards the end of the exhibition when I had almost completed the second wall drawing (I was up on a ladder by this point), I noticed a lady come in and spend quite a lot of time looking closely at my smaller drawings.  They were images of little broken fragments of statues which I had photographed in the Villa Giula Etruscan Museum in Rome, all looking rather sad and abandoned.  The lady came over to me and asked if I was the artist that had drawn them – I said that I was.  She then put her hand on her heart and said that they were so beautiful they´d made her cry.  I was so taken aback I almost fell to my knees and cried myself.  She was so genuine because I could see it in her face and hear it in her voice, and it meant so much to me that I had affected just one person so much with my artwork – to know I´d moved someone so emotionally made me feel that what I do is possibly worthwhile.  That exhibition was a really interesting experience to actually be working in the space and meeting the people who came to see it – usually artists don´t get that opportunity when we just hang our work on the walls and hope for the best.  If I hadn’t been there working that day I would never have known the power of my own artwork.

Perhaps a less inspiring but more amusing response occurred when I was showing my brother around an exhibition I had at the Art Gallery of Ballarat last year.  While Ryan (my brother) was looking at the drawings and I was loitering anonymously in the corner, another group of people came in and were looking at my drawing titled “The Permanent Teeth” when one of them gasped and exclaimed “Oh it’s horrible, just horrible!”.  Obviously they didn’t know I was the artist and I could only laugh at such a strong reaction – I guess anatomy doesn’t appeal to everyone!

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People around you (family friends etc.) what would they say about the way you work, the moods you have, your life as an artist etc?

Oh god, the rollercoaster, the mood swings…  I’m sure it’s exhausting to witness – I swear they think I’m bipolar (probably not far from the truth…)  I just need them to be understanding when I’m paralysed with depression, and to help me celebrate when I reach the heights of elation, and that’s about as much as they can offer.

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Do you work from life, or from photographs or from imagination or some other method?

I pretty much work mostly from photographs these days, although sometimes from life depending upon the subject matter.  Often I collect things to draw – my series “A Natural Comparison” is the perfect example featuring natural objects I collected during my first residency in Hill End.  The only problem with this method is that my studio is becoming more and more crammed with random collections of things – leaving less room to actually make the work!

I wish I could draw from my imagination and I really admire people who can, but unfortunately I don’t seem to have that skill.  In my mind’s eye I can visualise the composition, but that’s about as far as it goes.  Sometimes the composition or idea comes first and then I take photographs to suit it, other times the photographs inspire the idea.  Either way, I only ever work from photographs I’ve taken myself – appropriating other peoples’ images, even anonymous ones from the internet, is not something I feel comfortable with.  The photography itself also becomes part of the whole process of making my work.

Recently I’ve been experimenting with a series of drawings that incorporates images of my own body which has involved a lot of contorted positions, mirrors placed at strategic angles, and my camera on self-timing mode.  If anyone were to peer into my studio at times like these they’d probably be rather concerned as to what on earth was going on!  Being rather a control freak and a perfectionist I can’t quite bring myself to ask someone else to take the pictures for me.

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When you create your work is it somehow an emotional relief as you do it or at the end?

More and more my work is becoming about the process of making rather than the finished product.  In fact, quite often I become so immersed in the work – in “the zone” so to speak (which is a fantastic place to be!) – I often feel rather empty when it’s completed.  Part of the reason for this has been my recent progression towards installation projects and making more ephemeral artworks.  Knowing from the first inception that these works are not going to last means that from the very beginning I am fully aware that they will cease to exist and therefore I can avoid becoming too attached to them.  It’s a different way of working, and of thinking about my work – in some ways I think it makes it even more unique because it has been created specifically for a particular space in a particular time.  Some of these works can be thought of as “events” rather than “exhibitions” – in fact, some of the really large-scale wall drawings I’ve done are extremely physical and gestural, and could almost be thought of as a performance in their creation.  I would like to pursue this idea someday, pulling upon my dance background (of 17 years no less!) in creating some kind of performance / artwork.  Sometimes, I have to admit, I do feel a little sorry that my wall drawing of approximately 70-80 hours’ work is to be scrubbed off in the space of an afternoon…

Of course, what’s really important for these works is the documentation – as long as it has been documented, and/or witnessed by an audience, then I believe it still has had a valid existence.   Actually – this really raises so many theoretical questions about what constitutes an artwork and whether it is actually “completed” when and only when it is witnessed by an audience…  Perhaps we can save that discussion for a rainy evening and a few glasses of red…?!

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Would you say your works reveal something private about yourself?

All of my work is a self portrait in some sense, it is a way of expressing something deep inside myself that cannot really be put into words – I guess most artists would probably say the same thing.  I’ve always been fascinated by the connection between the body and the mind, and the fact that quite often there is very little correlation between external appearance and internal experience – that human predicament of being a consciousness trapped inside a physical, decaying and often unpredictable body.

Maybe it sounds a little self-obsessed, but my work has often involved an intensely personal journey of close bodily scrutiny – partly in an attempt to try and scrutinise the psychology that lies behind that.  During my undergraduate years I spent many hours drawing myself in front of the mirror, trying to get the folds around my eyes exactly right, erasing and redrawing my nose and mouth a hundred times.  But I always felt that the end result was somewhat untruthful, merely a portrait of the mirror and not a true representation of what I felt on the inside.  What became apparent to me was that the face can mask more than reveal true emotion.

So I began to search for expressive potential in other parts of the body, and was particularly drawn to the hands and feet.  They are tough yet sensitive, dexterous and yet somehow vulnerable, and can be highly demonstrative of complex emotions.  In closely examining the lines and creases in my skin, and the patterns and scars that are unique to me, I guess I’m continually searching for some inner truth about myself.

Even my interest in anatomy (apart from that previous desire to be a forensic pathologist) is in many ways a search for some physical indication of the inner psyche, or soul, and what it might look like.  In many ways I feel that my work is a somewhat “safe” medium through which to lay bare my passions, fears and memories for the viewer.

I don’t know if I’ve explained that very well…?

What is an indulgence for you?

On a Sunday afternoon (my only “non-jogging” day), whenever I can, I like to go for a walk, then find a quiet café or bar where I can be completely anonymous and sit with my Art Almanac or Art Monthly and a glass of wine.  It seems to be the only time I ever allow myself the luxury to read my art magazines as I never do so at home, which makes me wonder why I subscribe…  But then if I keep getting them, I can keep on treating myself to this little indulgence!

What is your work space like?

My current work space is my brother’s old bedroom in my parents’ house – which I am desperate to get out of.  It’s not ideal – the light isn’t great and no matter how sunny it is outside it’s always cold in there.  It’s full of clutter at the moment which is totally distracting and driving me crazy!  The admin stuff just takes over and suddenly I find myself with no place to work on my drawings – plus the things I collect and my own unsold works mean that the space is becoming increasingly smaller.  I find if my physical space is messy then my headspace is definitely a mess…  Hopefully, fingers crossed, I will have a better living and working space soon – I’m definitely looking…  I’m starting to realize that having a good working space provides the motivation to work more – it’s so much more pleasurable having a studio that you actually want to spend time in.

I can’t complain too much though – I’ve been really lucky to have had some amazing working spaces around the world.  The Australia Council studio at the British School of Rome was a highlight – huge high ceiling, amazing light, a tiny mezzanine bedroom with bathroom underneath, and the rest was just wonderful open space.  Maybe the fact it was in Rome made it all the more amazing…

What has encouraged you to keep working as an artist?

I don’t really know why I keep going, other than an utter compulsion that this is absolutely what I have to do with my life.  I guess it is that feeling that I’ve only got one chance in life and I do not want to spend it feeling dissatisfied and somehow empty – I’d rather be completely destitute and in a situation where I can keep making my work than let a full-time job take over only because I feel like that’s what I should do in order to satisfy everyone else’s expectations.

It’s a long hard road and there’s no guarantee that I’m actually ever going to “make it”, but there have been some small glimmers of hope recently that things might continue to progress upwards – which is why I’m not ready to let it all go just yet.  To be truthful I really do have a love-hate relationship with my art, but in the end when I really question it, I couldn’t and wouldn’t do anything else.  For me it is a rather personal journey, and any financial gain is simply a bonus, but at the very least I hope that I can move people in some small way – whether it be purely aesthetically, or on a much deeper level emotionally or psychologically.  When there is the slightest evidence of this it is highly rewarding.

Comments

3 Responses to “Kim Anderson – Artist”

  1. Barry on November 2nd, 2011 9:56 pm

    Hi Kim,

    I just finished reading your life/art story.
    Like your visual art, your written and spoken words are thoughtful, insightful and wonderful.

    Barry

  2. Claudia Zeiske on November 3rd, 2011 7:08 pm

    Great interview. Kim has done so much since she left Scotland. She certainly does not fall under the 5-years-past college category.

    Very interesting read and great website too.

    Claudia

  3. Brendon Taylor on November 4th, 2011 1:34 pm

    Kim’s work is fantastic and many of her responses to the questions rang true with me, as I would imagine many other artists.

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