Perfectly coinciding with the height of a true southern California summer, D2 Art sat down with Keegan Gibbs for July’s Meet the Artist series. A vibrant photographer, whose work primarily showcases familiar but striking aspects of the famous Los Angeles’ beach and surf scene, Gibbs began perfecting his craft of photographing the world around him when he was only a young child. He also juggles the various hats one wears in being an entrepreneur and a creative director all while being an active member of the very community he aptly and prolifically documents. D2 Art has been working closely with Gibbs for over 5 years and in our recent studio visit, we were able to delve into how his life experiences and outlooks not only influence his work, and vice versa, but also his views on what role an artist plays in his/ her community and the larger society, as well as why he would like the chance to be invisible.
1. Can you describe a real-life situation that inspired you to create?
So many times, drinking coffee and visiting museums. The combo makes my head explode. Then once I am in the studio or in a working environment–hours or days later, it gets filtered back thru into my own hand.
2. What is your first memory of making art?
Probably making my very first photographic image, vividly asking my mom to borrow her camera to take a photo of my brother and sister at Vasquez Rocks outside LA. I just remember this odd Dutch angle, laying down on the rocks looking up at them and being so certain the photo was going to be perfect. That was the first time I ever had that feeling of being creative. I think I was around 7 years old.
3. What’s integral to the making of your work or of you being an artist?
Context for my life’s experience and world view. Making sure the work I put out makes sense for why I made it. There are exploration periods, where the work is off the wall or seems to not be cemented in any of my own realities or identities; but when you start to really dig in, and digest the work, I find even the most obscure and seemingly random pieces were driven by something that is personal and unique to me.
4. Tell us about your creative process – from initial thoughts to completion?
It used to be about a lot of prep and thinking and conceptualizing and writing before actually creating anything tangible. Now, I am trying to create first, and then figure out why I am creating something and try to filter it and pick it apart. Then if it makes sense, and I like it, put it out publicly. I also really want to leave the world a better place than how I found it. I find I can be a bridge and an adhesion between multiple types of people and cultures. I would like to bring people together, and have an overall positive mark on the world. That doesn’t necessarily mean positive affirmation art, because sometimes the light can be cloaked in the dark, and you can draw people into dark work that are attracted to darkness, but leave them in the end with something light. A Trojan horse effect in ways.
5. What work do you most enjoying doing?
It’s constantly evolving thru different mediums right now. Everything from writing, films, performance, etc., and recently I have been doing lots of surfboard shaping and exploring that as sculpture with the experience of riding the boards afterwards, and how the board evolves and has a lifespan. Who rides the board, and how they (or the surf spot) gives the board context. The materials, the intense tools, the physical labor to make them. But photography is the one constant I always fall back into. Everything from reportage to abstract landscape, I feel the most comfortable with the camera as a tool, like it’s the fastest shorthand between myself and a finished creative exercise.
6. What is your ideal day in studio?
One outside of the studio. Actually creating in nature, or documenting people or things in a different way thru my own eye. Or studying different surfboards in different conditions.
7. To date, what is your most memorable piece or project?
This short film I made on Super 8 of a friend surfing my home break. It seems really simple and insignificant when I was making it, but as time goes on, I realize how well it captured a specific time and place that I have so many fond memories of. It is personal to me, but people constantly revisit it and say they enjoy it for different reasons.
8. What does being creative mean to you?
Doing something that is honest and comes from myself, that is a true reflection of my inner creativity, or my inner voice, or vision. Making sure the work has context within my life that gives it significance. Creativity comes in so many different forms, whether its a doodle on a pad of paper or a painting or a surfboard or a very deliberate image I have been working on, I am constantly trying to broaden my horizon on what “creative practice” means and not forcing myself to stick into a specific box.
9. Do you find the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?
Not lonely, but definitely uncertain. Creativity and sustainability in practice comes in waves, and it’s not a predictable wavelength. If you have one specific practice and style and a gallery or buyer base that supports that constant, that can be amazing. Mine is constantly changing, and reverting back to old practices and tweaking their intricacies with what my explorations have found. Letting the present try to inform my past work and revisit it. I love making images of people and places, and when I find myself insulated during a project, I try to get back out and find something interesting in the world I want to explore or a culture I want to meet, and let it be an interaction with my art.
10. What role does the artist have in society?
Telling the story of the small intricacies and give them emotions and reactions that would normally be passed right by in our everyday lives. Let the audience look at the world in a different way. Push the creative boundaries that end up informing culture, advertising, etc. Art’s influence is often intangible, but its significance is undeniable.
11. What do you dislike about the art world?
It’s also the thing I like about it so it’s sorta contradicting, but I really think the art world is so open to people’s individuality and each person’s expression of their personal truths and stories. However, the art world still seems so white washed, and artists with “ethnic” backgrounds are so often pigeon holed into “ethnic” art, as if their racial or economic life experiences are the only thing their art could possibly by informed by. I’m really interested in what is going on with the Defend Boyle Heights movement, and how a community is fighting back against gallery growth and movement in the hoods to take advantage of cheap real estate. I have no involvement in it, but I have been watching it and am rooting for the DBH and any of the other neighborhoods that have followed in their footsteps. I think it’s an important dialogue the art world needs to take more seriously.
12. Which creative medium would you love to pursue but have not yet?
More performance art – I think it can be very powerful and personal when done right. Human interaction isn’t something you can hang on a wall, but it is something that stays with you forever.
13. What is your dream project?
I try to ask myself this all the time, and nothing really pops in my head. The closest thing I see when I close my eyes and ask that question is a storefront-community center-gallery-shop-hang space for youth where I throw events for local youth, there is art for sale, an office space for people to come collaborate and to interact with the community. I have been working on different iterations of that, but it hasn’t yet become clear what it would be or how it would be sustainable, but something like that to give back to the community and also sustain itself would be amazing.
14. What makes you angry?
Corrupt and unjust political systems, and power trippers everywhere. Inequality across the board. I think we are in a time where we will start seeing more art informed by our consciousness that we are all one people and we are all equal. And hopefully it will bring us together. The last thing we need is our current political atmosphere where we are driving each other further apart.
15. What superpower would you have and why?
Being able to be invisible. To be able to truly just observe something without informing or changing it in any way, especially different cultures. Being able to just sit as a fly on the wall and observe, with animals too. Animals are hyper aware of humans, and act cautiously when we are around. To observe them in their natural habitat without them knowing of my presence at any time would be incredible.
View more works by Keegan Gibbs