Artist based in Los Angeles, CA
Kayla Witt, Portrait of the artist
Tell us about yourself, what's your background?
I am a first generation Czech Canadian, born in Calgary, AB, Canada. My mom and step-family live in Canada, the rest of my family is in the Czech Republic, and I now live in America because I moved to Los Angeles for love. I have a very small family but we're split between three countries. As an only child with an amazing, resilient single mom who worked hard to support us, I spent much of my childhood alone and would spend hours happily drawing and painting to pass the time. But growing up I actually took ballet more seriously than visual art, training multiple days a week in a professional program for about 15 years. I also took singing lessons, played the flute, and did theatre. I didn't realize that I wanted to pursue visual art as a career until my last year of high school, so I started putting together a portfolio to apply to University with very little practice behind me.
Alignment, 2023. Oil on canvas. 41 x 32"
But I am lucky in the sense that I always knew that I would pursue the arts in some form or another, I never felt lost or unsure of what I wanted to do in that way. I didn't try oil painting until my first year of undergrad, and actually I hated it at first. I spent most of my undergrad doing sculpture, despite being in a Drawing & Painting degree, and I didn't start oil painting until my fourth year thesis. Its funny, while I technically have six years worth of painting degrees behind me, I still feel fairly new to oil painting. I'm still learning every day, and I absolutely love what I do. But I actually think the years of vigorous ballet training impacted the way that I make art- I am a very detailed, methodical, meticulous, and clean kind of oil painter.
For Entertainment Purposes Only, 2023. Oil on canvas. 44 x 63"
"Generally, the work is about navigating the world in uncertain times, searching for ways to cope & to regain control over one's life ... That longing for home, for that sense of belonging, has always been sort of the grounding inspiration for my work. "
Eat Well, You'll Die Anyway But At Least You'll Look Better, 2023. Oil on canvas. 44 x 44"
What are you currently working on and where did the inspiration for it come from?
I'm working towards a solo presentation at the Armory Art Fair in New York with Sow & Tailor. I don't want to divulge too much before the fair. Lately I've been thinking about contemporary anxieties surrounding the present and the future, especially in these tumultuous times following political turmoil, Covid, etc. Generally, the work is about navigating the world in uncertain times, searching for ways to cope & to regain control over one's life, as well as finding purpose or fulfillment through home decor, self-help paraphernalia, spiritualist practices and cosmetic rituals. Much of the work is specifically grounded in the context of California, being the heart of America's wellness industry, as sort of a means of understanding the culture my new home. That longing for home, for that sense of belonging, has always been sort of the grounding inspiration for my work. These paintings for the Amory Art Fair will have stronger themes surrounding isolation and loneliness than my past works.
Soulmate Psychic 💖, 2023. Oil on canvas. 131.5 x 74"
Innovation does not only happen in the field of technology — it occurs everyday in a creative practice. What do you do for inspiration?
There are a couple avenues that I get my inspiration from. I often start by reading a lot of essays and articles related to subjects that I'm interested in. I take a lot of notes, and write down any sentences or phrases that stick out to me. That normally sparks a flow of thought, and I get a lot of ideas at once. If I'm ever in a lull, I go back and re-read my notebook. I also have a large archive of saved images from the Internet, as well as scanned images from books, and Google Maps Screenshots (that are often very glitchy or have a strange sense of space). Sometimes I scroll through this archive and am drawn perhaps to an image of a single object, for example, because it reminds me of a personal experience or it has symbolic significance related to something I've been thinking about. That image then becomes a springboard for a larger painting.
I Can and Will Make Life Better For You, 2023. LED Cabinet, vinyl, acrylic paint. 24 x 38 x 4"
Describe your practice and process. Where do ideas start for you? In the studio or being in the world?
For me it starts being in the world. Since moving to California I've done a lot of driving around for inspiration. I love the California landscape and the visual languages of California's cities- the signage, buildings, textures, and colors. I feel so at peace and at home while I drive around exploring. I stop frequently to take pictures, it could be a random wall texture, the way the paint on a window frame is peeling, anything. These things often sneak their way into paintings. Like for example, I drove past a massage business not long ago that had an outdoor wallpaper pattern of repeating four leaf clovers. I sat with the building for a while and when I got home I digitally remade a similar wallpaper that eventually made its way into a painting.
Studio view, In progress view of Soulmate Psychic 💖, 2023. Oil on canvas. 131.5 x 74"
How do you make your work, does it start with a sketch?
Between my image archive, photographs, and writings, there's a pretty wide range of source material for my paintings. I start by digitally collaging these various sources together. In this stage, I like to really take my time to play with the collage, and let the ideas and narratives unfold over time in kind of a cinematic way. As the collage progresses, I often realize it needs something that doesn't exist in real life or that I can't find the source material for on the Internet or in books (like maybe a very specific nervous looking chair), so I'll make it from scratch on Photoshop or Illustrator. Between gathering or making the source material and then making the digital collages or mock-ups, this is actually the most time consuming part of my process. Then the actual studio work begins.
Studio view, In progress shot of Soulmate Psychic 💖, 2023. Oil on canvas. 131.5 x 74"
Stylistically speaking, I think in a way I'm kind of a maximalist. Across all paintings everything is sort of offered to the viewer in equal parts - space, place, subject, object, absense, presence, comfort, discomfort, wellness, illness, consumerism, politics, desire and aspiration woven through public and private spaces. No one particular element is offered as the most important take away. There's no hierarchy, just an ever-mounting surplus of information and commentary (kind of like the Internet). And all the elements work together to reflect tensions in our current reality. But ultimately I like to think of my paintings as kind of a "slow burn," there are so many details that accumulate and build that you really have to spend time with them. People tell me all the time that they've seen a particular painting a hundred times but noticed something new this time.
Studio view, In progress shot of You Can't Keep Living Like This... But You Knew That!, 2023. Oil on canvas. 28.5 x 37.5"
Do you have your own studio ritual? What does that look like for you?
I work pretty long hours, I need to find better balance. I normally get to the studio around 9am and leave around 7pm. I listen to TV in the background, because I like to have background noise. But I don't like to listen to something new, I get too distracted, so I've got probably like 10 shows on repeat. Veronica Mars, Vanderpump Rules, Desperate Housewives, to name a few. And I also listen to a lot of podcasts.
Studio view, In progress shot of The Moon Made Me Do It, 2023. Oil on canvas. 41.5 x 67.5"
Who are your biggest influences?
It's honestly really difficult to narrow down influences because they change over time. And I look at a lot of work, and am influenced by a lot of artists but it doesn't necessarily show visually in my stylistic choices. David Hockney's early works will always be a big influence for me. Over the past year I continuously find myself revisiting Shana Moulton, Theodora Allen, Jake Longstreth, Jaime Munoz, Zsofia Keresztes, and Alex Da Corte.
The Moon Made Me Do It, 2023. Oil on canvas. 41.5 x 67.5"
Are there books or films that are an important source of inspiration?
I wish I had more time to read for pleasure, all of what I read is more like academic texts that relate to my work (though, for me, that is actually for pleasure). Films aren't normally inspiration for me, unless it's maybe more on a subconscious level. I really liked Everything Everywhere All At Once this year. But I do get a lot of inspiration from TV shows, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, X Files, and Twin Peaks.
In Your Dreams, 2022. Acrylic and oil on panel. 16 x 31.5"
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Talking about art, my step dad told me, "There is little inspiration in telling me what you know, rather convince me what you feel."
Kayla Witt, Portrait of the artist
What is the best advice you would give to other artists?
Don't compromise the quality of your work in order to be able to produce more or to produce faster to keep up with the fast pace of Instagram or the demands of the art worlds. People will gravitate to your work for its authenticity, whatever makes your work your own. Be confident in your vision, but also be open to input from others, it's about finding that balance.