What do you get when you drop an amount of paint into a 200-gallon tank filled with water and just let faith decide? The New York-based artist Kim Keever, whose career started as a thermal engineer at NASA, had this idea for several years before this project became pure artistic delight which was deprived of us for way too long.
Certainly, when you perceive how this underwater chaos evolves into these dreamy, abstract images. It gives you a feeling of great satisfaction noticing these liquid shades fluently mingling with each other in perfect harmony, wishing things in life were just as easy ...
How did you come up with the idea? It was something you’ve been thinking about for years, why did you wait so long?
It’s funny you ask that. It did take years, two to be exact. When I finally tried the idea by simplifying everything and just dropping the paint directly into the water, I immediately knew that I was onto something. Not only did it allow me to develop a totally new range of random creativity in terms of shapes and forms but also in terms of color. The color was relatively random too. I could choose whatever colors I wanted but they wouldn’t flow as I expected and ultimately took their own directions. It’s something I ask myself actually … why did it take so long? It seems like such a simple idea. I sometimes daydream about having tried the idea 20 years ago. At this point, I’ve been working with this idea for 4 years now and I don’t see an end in sight. I continue to be happy with the endlessly surprising results.
What’s the approach to creating these images? Could you take us step by step through the progress?
I don’t want to give away all my trade secrets but I can tell you that I have various tubes that go into the tank and in different places. This helps to move the paint around. I also use different liquids as long as they dissolve in water. Depending on how interesting everything looks I take anywhere from 10 to 100 digital photos. After I select from 1 to 10 of the best ones, I bring them into Photoshop and think about the cropping and development. This can take weeks and months and by that time I may only have 1 good one from the original 100.
What’s your opinion about photography back in the days and now?
I love the new digital photography. I can remember when digital photography was a small blurry image. Now, with the 100-megapixel camera I have, I can make really large 10-foot photographs. It’s very exciting. I guess one of the best advantages is that I can take 100 photographs quickly. When I was using 4 x 5 film it would literally take about 30 seconds to set the shot up, load the film holder into the camera, removed the dark slide, take the shot and then load the dark slide back into the film holder. Then it was at least a 3-hour interval at the lab to get the film developed. Not until then would you know whether it came out or not. With the digital camera, it’s a whole new ballgame. I see the image basically as taken by the camera and it's immediate. For the work I’m doing now this especially makes a big difference. If I were using film, I would have very little to choose from and I would miss most of the best shots.
What influenced you to become a photographer?
I’ve never actually thought of myself as a photographer. I consider myself an artist who uses a camera. Years ago I attempted to try everything. Mainly I was a painter but I made photographs, etchings, lithographic prints, silkscreen prints, welded sculpture, and ceramics. I also had a black-and-white darkroom for many years.
The number one tip you’d give to someone starting in photography?
I once saw a movie about a blind photographer. There’s a certain amount of truth to that. If you take enough photos you will darn sure get some good ones, so take all the photos you can. I never take a camera out of the house anymore. I use my iPhone. The images are so good I wouldn’t bother lugging around a big heavy camera. I have spent the last few years photographing homeless people on the street. From these images I’ve made a big collage and am planning small book.
There’s a thin line between art and photography. Do you agree? Is photography also a form of art?
When I was a painter I used to make sketches every day. I would sketch people in restaurants and work on designs for new paintings. Photographs are like sketches in that way. You can take photographs of what you see that feels interesting to you. Then you can use these photographs as the sketches for paintings or as final photographs. I think photography used to be the poor sister of painting but in recent years it has come a long way. I would have to say it is certainly a form of art. As a painter, you train your hand and your arm to apply the paint in conjunction with your thoughts. Whereas with photography, you size things up and click a little button. Both forms of art have their simplicities and complications. With my own work, I feel like I am combining everything. It’s as though I am painting in the water. The models I place in the tank are sculptures in themselves. I think that’s probably why I don’t really miss painting because I’m very satisfied with the work I’m doing now.
Tell us one secret people actually don’t know about you!
Most people wouldn’t really know that I love seeing movies in the theaters. Depending on how busy I am, I go 3 or 4 times a week. I even see a lot of bad ones that I would be too embarrassed to tell you about.