‘Restructuring a more positive reality’: Junior Kaylyn Webster featured in hometown exhibition
This is the second installment in a new Cadenza series, Under the Spotlight, that will highlight the musicians, artists and other creators of the Washington University community. If you have suggestions for people we should interview in the future, fill out this form.
Junior Kaylyn Webster, who hails from Memphis, TN, is a Studio Art major concentrating in painting and minoring in African American Studies. Her paintings, which depict African-American subjects using symbolism and motifs drawn from art history, are featured in the exhibition “dis/contented realities” at Urevbu Contemporary in downtown Memphis, the first physical exhibition in the space after a year-long hiatus. Student Life talked to Webster about her influences, her print business and how events of the last year have affected her work.
Student Life: What made you decide to be an artist?
Kaylyn Webster: Ever since I was young, I tried a lot of things in the visual and performing arts. I used to dance, I used to play violin and I did art. I was also a ComDes [Communication Design] major freshman year. But I just loved painting too much, so I went with studio art.
SL: What do you like about oil paint as a medium?
KW: I love the quality of it. I am able to capture realism that I wasn’t able to before. It’s just smooth like butter. [She laughs]. I love oil. I actually learned to use it freshman year in a class with [Associate Professor of Art] Jamie Adams where I was the only freshman, so I was glad I took it.
SL: What would you say are your biggest artistic influences?
KW: Other artists would be Kehinde Wiley, Harmonia Rosales and Kevin “WAK” Williams. But I think what’s going on in our social and political landscape really inspires what I do.
SL: Has what’s been going on in the last year influenced your work at all? I saw you had a few quarantine-themed pieces!
KW: Yeah, 2020 in general has been a lot, with quarantine and with the Black Lives Matter movement happening, or ramping back up, with the murder of George Floyd, of course. That impacted, I think, everyone. So that, plus the stress of being home and trying to stay healthy, trying to stay alive and survive the pandemic, and social justice issues, police brutality, things like that, it was a tough year, so that really influenced my art.
SL: Tell me about this group exhibition you’re going to be a part of.
KW: The name of the show is “dis/contented realities” because about half of the artists are restructuring a more positive reality and then the other half of us are dealing directly with issues in our social and political landscape. So I think it will be interesting for people seeing the show to see where both sides converge and diverge, you know, dealing with the positive aspects that we hope for and also the harsh realities that we’re facing right now.
SL: Could you tell me a little more about a piece that’s going to be in the exhibition?
KW: One I did, the latest I did is from 2020 called “coming of age” and it’s a portrait of my youngest nephew. The painting was inspired by a sign I saw at a Black Lives Matter protest that said “At what age do I stop being cute and start becoming a threat?” So that really hit home with me because I have four nephews and they’re all different ages. It’s a constant worry about how they’ll be seen out in the world. Just being judged by the color of their skin by people who don’t really know who they are or how sweet they are. So I have my nephew standing in the hallway and there’s a shadow behind him, but it’s an older man with his hands up, kind of hinting to the “hands up, don’t shoot” statement.
SL: I would love to hear more about your business, K&K Gallery.
KW: People always ask me “What’s your plan?” and I would love to just, you know, paint and that’s just all I do all day! But I think that having a gallery would be interesting. Starting online was easier than having an actual building. Selling prints is a great way to get my art to maybe people who can’t afford the big canvases I usually work on. I know a lot of people are interested in the work I do, so I wanted to give a more affordable option.
SL: Have there been any experiences at Wash. U. that have influenced the way you approached art?
KW: My art history classes really influenced it. Coming to Wash. U., this was the first time I was exposed to art history, and almost all of my professors at the beginning of the semester said “Western Art history is very white male dominated, so we’re going to try to include other artists of color or women artists.” So, I was really drawn to that critique of the canon and that influenced my decisions to uplift people of color and use some of that symbolism from art history to give value to the bodies that weren’t valued before.
The best way to find out more about Kaylyn’s work is through her Instagram page, @kaylyn_elyse or her Facebook page under “Kaylyn Webster”. You can also check out her prints at K&K Gallery on Instagram and Facebook. Her pieces in Urevbu Contemporary’s exhibition, “dis/contented realities,” can be viewed by reservation at the gallery space or in a virtual viewing room on the gallery’s website.
If you have suggestions for people we should interview in the future for the Under the Spotlight series, fill out this form.