Kevin Champeny is a New York-based designer, sculptor and photographer who has attracted attention for his mosaics comprising provocative imagery such as guns, prescription pills and human and animal anatomy.
Out of all the materials you could have chosen, why make mosaics from hand-cast objects?
I wanted my work to have more meaning. The mosaics are not merely images made out of random material. The hand-cast objects relate to the overall image they create. This is one of the fundamental aspects of my work that allows the viewer to complete the story of why a particular object was used to create a particular image.
You’ve had a pretty impressive range of clients in your years of professional sculpting. Can you explain how you came to create the master model for President Obama’s cereal bowl during his tenure in the White House?
I worked for a company that produced prototypes for a wide variety of industries. I have sculpted objects that range from medication, food, perfume bottles (and) liquor packaging to serving dishes. So, when the designs for a bowl came across my desk, I did not take much notice of it. It wasn’t until I produced the moulds that I found out that it was for the Obamas. It was really exciting to work on something that had so much tradition in the White House.
I could probably use a team to help but I would end up shouting orders and changes at them like a waiter at a short order cook in a diner.
Your larger pieces are intricate and I imagine very time consuming. Has there ever been a mosaic you’ve been halfway through constructing and realised it isn’t what you expected or wanted to create?
I put a lot of thought behind the pieces before I start. I’ve never abandoned a sculpture but have made major changes when the colour or feel of a piece isn’t quite right. For example, I re-cast about 10 colours and completely rebuilt the back of the skull for What Remains. When I stepped back from it the first time, the back of the skull was too sharp and had an unrealistic light to it. So I decided to add a few layers of colour and soften the feel and create more depth. These changes tend to happen much quicker now and I do them on the fly as I’m building.
Would you consider one day having a team to help cast or arrange objects?
I would definitely love to have a team help in many of the repetitive parts of my work. Some of the more abstract work is very mathematical and lends itself to be easily explained. Some of the more complex layered pieces are cast as I build and I make quite a few changes with colour as I build. I could probably use a team to help but I would end up shouting orders and changes at them like a waiter at a short order cook in a diner.
I give them a title, the size and what it is made out of. The rest of the story is for the viewer to fill in.
Your mosaics are quite thought provoking. Killing Field, for example, is a mosaic of bullet casings made of hand-cast dismembered animals. With pieces like these are you trying to make a specific statement or are you just using shock tactics to gain notoriety?
I purposely do not make overt statements with my work. When I finish them, I give them a title, the size and what it is made out of. The rest of the story is for the viewer to fill in. If I lend my personal beliefs into the equation, it automatically influences the viewer, I want the viewer to be active in this process. The Killing Field is a perfect example of this. The titles are usually a play on words and at times purposely ambiguous. The Killing Field evokes a multitude of feelings and emotions when people think about it historically. It also is a descriptive term. This piece is literally a field of killing, or death. I didn’t say murder or massacre, simply the truth, killing. It is an image of an object used for killing and it is constructed from its intended targets. The thing that really makes me love this aspect of what I do is, the person who buys the work ultimately defines it. The person who purchased Killing Field is a hunter and viewed it as a trophy piece. Others however see it as an anti-hunting piece.
Here in Australia the government has recently undertaken a royal commission looking into banking malfeasance. There have been some shocking revelations. I’m sure you would have gone through a similar experience in America following the GFC. Do you feel that a distrust in traditional banking institutions is pushing people towards an unregulated market in cryptocurrency?
I think distrust in the idea of institutions in general is pushing people towards the potential of cryptocurrency. Accountability and the democratisation of money is an alluring prospect when corruption is being uncovered and exposed in governments throughout the world. People need something they can trust to allow them to continue participating in a global market.
You made your disapproval of both presidential candidates Trump and Clinton very clear with Defiance and Defiant. I understand that the US midterm elections are coming up soon. What would you like to see in your ideal candidate?
I do not necessarily disapprove or disagree with either candidates. At least not entirely. Defiance and Defiant were built to represent that conundrum. I wanted to build a piece in which two people with opposing viewpoints could look at and both say ‘I love this’, but for completely different reasons. It’s all about perspective. It was a very divisive and polarising campaign (and) depending on your political leaning, these pieces have very different meanings. Are the candidates defiant towards or against, or with, the viewer? Or is the viewer defiant towards or against, or with, the candidate in question? Or is it both? Or partly both? That’s the conversation I’m having with the viewer. Defiant and Defiance are more about commentary of the political system we seem to find ourselves in these days.
If you could collaborate with any artist, in any medium, past or present, who would it be and what would you ideally create?
I am very influenced by Chuck Close’s work. I would love to create a portrait with him with his colour palette and my castings and application. I think our styles would work very well together. He also works on a scale that I love. I think we could create some amazing work together.