With an interest in observing and documenting the American landscape, Kevin Cyr has – like all artists – done so in his own, unique language. Crumbling consumer culture and structures that were once an active part of society, form the basis of his works. Coupled with his childhood obsession of drawing trucks, one can see how the beaten-up vehicles that define his body of work have come to exist. Before entering his Greenpoint studio, my ignorant self thought that Cyr would share stories of tagging vans and buildings as a rebellious youth, however this assumption was not met. Instead he revealed to me a different kind of outlaw, rather than following the notion of ‘I do what I want’ his style was more ‘I paint what I see.’
WC: How long have you been a practicing artist?
KC: I went to college and finished with school in 2000, so ten years. I became serious about it five years ago, moved to New York and almost immediately started working for an artist, which was a great experience. Last January I quit in order to focus on my own work. It has been good. Definitely a rollercoaster. Some days are great and others are like ‘OH MY what am I doing!?’
WC: Is this something you have always wanted to do?
KC: I always did drawings. My cousin and I used to draw trucks – we’d draw them as I do now – just the profile. He is now a mechanic and I am a painter. It is really funny to look back at my childhood, to see how it has always been a part of growing up.
WC: The theme of this issue was spawned from Marcel, the editor of the magazine, getting caught by the police for writing “workingclassmag.com” on a wall. Now what have you done in the past that could classify you as an ‘outlaw’?
KC: My past isn’t that interesting. It is too safe to say. The closest feeling of being an outlaw was that as a messenger, I was surrounded by a bunch of them. But personally I never did anything.
Well I guess as a bike messenger you were able to observe outlaw culture and now as an artist you document part of it.
I wish I had a better story!
WC: No need for a story!
KC: I was a bike messenger in Boston and always outdoors. I experimented doing a lot of different types of subject matter, and I guess that developed my interest in finding old derelict, industrial landscapes. When I biked through South Boston, there were a lot of old factories, broken windows and I was really interested in that. I did a lot of drawings and paintings of those scenes. That eventually lead me to painting vehicles. It was interesting to come across all these places that connected to the past.
WC: You did mention in your artist statement that the inspiration behind a lot of your works is finding beauty in a setting that is not conventionally beautiful, which I guess makes you an outlaw in some way.
KC: Yeah, especially with the graffiti.
The vehicle series has evolved a little bit as it started off as a comment on consumerism. A number of years ago trucks and SUV’s were getting bigger and bigger and it seemed as though a lot of people were obsessed with having fancy cars, so I started noticing the older vehicles on the street. After I found them, they would disappear, so it started as a documentary process. I would just snap photos of them and eventually collected a lot of imagery. From there it evolved from just cherishing the old vehicle and being nostalgic to actively documenting them, especially after moving to Brooklyn as you see a lot of delivery beaten-up trucks and vans.
WC: You also said that removing these vehicles from their everyday context gives them portrait-like importance. Often with portraits, a strong presence is felt through the gaze of the subject. Obviously these vehicles have no eyes, so what is it about them that carries this presence?
KC: I think a lot of people have a connection to a vehicle – everyone has grown up with a vehicle – I hope they have. With a portrait, you always wonder who that person is and why that person was painted. So similarly you wonder who does this vehicle belong to and what is the importance of it.
WC: You don’t restrict yourself to painting as a medium, as you also work with die-cast miniatures and I am quite interested in how you tamper with these toys to recreate the ‘derelict’ image of the original vehicle. The rust and wear is perfect! How do you do it?
I have been buying these old modelling kits on ebay – the good ones date back to the mid 70′s because they are really detailed. I basically put them together and modify it.
WC: Your attention to the smallest of details like dust is incredible…
KC: It started off as project where I just wanted to see if I could make a 3D object look like my paintings. That was the main goal with them. It was a lot of fun. I am having trouble finding more kits, so I don’t know if I will make more.
WC: Although you’re not an active street artist, you certainly could be as the graffiti on your replicated vehicles is perfect. Is that purely your aesthetic background?
KC: Yeah I don’t have any experience doing graffiti, so I guess it is from observing and looking at line and composition. I paint what I see.
To see more of Kevin’s work click here.
If you’re interested in submitting your work to be shown in the Working Class Gallery, email [email protected]