Conversation Starters: Behind the Scenes of Art Bound

Engaging, revelatory and honest, Doug Kacena’s podcast, Art Bound, is the voice of contemporary artists.

Edited by Holly Davis

What does it mean to live the artist’s life? For down-to-earth answers, you can’t do better than to tune in to the Art Bound podcast, hosted by Doug Kacena. The host is an artist as well as the owner and curator of K Contemporary gallery, in Denver, Colo. Art Bound, however, is no one-man show. For each episode, Kacena invites two working artists to join him in a conversation centering on topics pertinent to creatives. Every episode features different guests, resulting in a multiplicity of viewpoints and perspectives.

Past discussions have addressed the myth of the starving artist, art in the digital age and the fear of failure, among other real-life considerations. The artists express their opinions and insights, share laughs and reveal their doubts and struggles. To extend the conversation, listeners can post their answers to a thought-provoking question related to the podcast’s topic.

The Colorado Coastal installation at K Contemporary presented a large selection of Jonathan Saiz’s oil works, painted on various surfaces.

Recently, Artists Magazine had the opportunity to turn the table on Kacena by initiating a conversation of our own. Here’s what we learned:

Artists Magazine (AM): What do you most enjoy about hosting Art Bound?

Doug Kacena (DK): I hold many roles in the art world—artist, gallerist, collector and curator—but with every episode, I learn something. That’s the fun part.

Before every episode, the producers and I come up with a theme, and then we identify guest artists who we feel will have interesting things to say about that topic. We imagine the artists are going to want to talk about a particular aspect, and we say, “Wouldn’t it be fascinating to ask this question.” Then we get to the podcast and I introduce the guests: “On today’s podcast we’re going to talk about this.” But halfway through, I realize that these artists’ experiences and ideas aren’t what we’d anticipated. I’d had this wonderful hour-long conversation with the producers about the direction of the podcast, but it ends up being different. There are subtexts and layers that we couldn’t even expect.

AM: Describe one or two of those surprising developments.

DK: I was interviewing Ron Hicks and Jonathan Saiz in a podcast about tipping points in an artist’s career, and both of the artists, at some point, said, “Drop out of art school.” That surprised me. They had different points of view of art school and their formal education, but they both said, “Just drop out of art school now.” The producers and I hadn’t had any idea they were both in that mindset.

Interestingly, for the next episode we’d already decided to discuss the question, “What’s the value of an art education?” and we’d already invited two artists with MFAs. One was Kristi Gordon, who teaches in an atelier and at the Art Students League of New York. The other was Trey Egan, an art professor at the University of Texas at Dallas. They discussed what they get out of being an artist and a teacher and what they think are the benefits of a formal art education. Those two episodes presented a fun dynamic. Serendipitously, we were able to present both sides of the question without really planning to do so.

Cumulus Rising by Trey Egan oil on canvas, 36×36

In another episode, we planned the topic of balancing art and life. One guest, Kuzana Ogg, lives with her husband in an extremely small space, most of which is their studio. The other, Monique Crine, had recently become a mother, which affected her travel, exhibition and teaching schedule. At one point she’d, understandably, even had to cancel a show at my gallery. I’d assumed that they would say that art and life were at odds with one another. Instead, early in the episode, both said that being an artist was more about the way they showed up in life—that they were artists whether in the studio painting or not. That threw me for a loop. I’d had all kinds of questions based on my hypothesis, but at that point, none of them would work.

Ardhachandra by Kuzana Ogg oil on canvas, 48×48

What’s fascinating to me is we’re told that there are certain pathways to becoming an artist, but there aren’t. I give lectures and speeches all the time, and the more I do, the more I realize, that there isn’t a direct path. I know artists who have the same undergrad and master’s degrees and have done similar residencies, if not the same residencies, and are in way different places in their careers.

Jake (iii) by Monique Crine oil on canvas, 78×108

AM: Speaking of differing trajectories, what led you to open the gallery K Contemporary? What sets it apart from other galleries?

DK: The idea birthed from an exhibition, “Crossover,” that I’d opened in November 2016. It spoke to the divide I’d seen opening in the art world between traditional representational art and more abstract or conceptual art. I noticed that, on both sides, the people you’d think would have most respect for another person’s act of creativity had decided that the work on the other side wasn’t valid. For my show, I asked some of the best-known representational artists in the Western U.S. region, where I live, whether I could paint over one of their original paintings. I also gave each of these artists one of my paintings so they could do the same. This meant that my hand was in all of the works in some kind of conversation with the other artists. PBS got involved rather early, so we ended up with a conceptual show that then became performance art, because PBS filmed the artists in their studios. The 25 artworks the people saw in the gallery show were remnants from that performance.

Then in 2017, I opened K Contemporary, partnering with two other galleries that leaned more toward traditional representational art. We wanted to present different genres of art within a gallery group that had synergy and crossover within it. K Contemporary became a physical manifestation of what my “Crossover” show had been. I wanted to blend a conceptional gallery and a traditional gallery under the same roof, but keep them as separate identities at the same time.

Crossover Series

For the “Crossover” exhibition, Kacena invited 12 artists to trade one of their original works with one of his own works. The artwork from each invited artist became the base of a work by Kacena, and vice versa. The new works are a “conversation in paint” between the two artists.

Intimate Encounter, by Ron Hicks (left), painted over by Doug Kacena to become Redacted Memory (right; oil on canvas, 50×40)
Adagio, by Doug Kacena (left), painted over by Ron Hicks to remain Adagio (right: oil on canvas, 60×48)

AM: What do you see as your role at K Contemporary?

DK: I want K Contemporary to present really challenging, sophisticated art at an international level but to present it in a way that’s also accessible and engaging. I also do career development for artists because I consider how I’d want to be represented at a gallery. I ask my artists about their long-term goals. Do they want their work in more museum collections? Do they want more sales? How can we develop their goals together?

I very much look at the K Contemporary building as a church or temple and all the artwork as prayers. I’m just the monk who lives in the back and stewards these things.

AM: What viewer reaction do you hope for when visitors come to K Contemporary?

DK: I see artwork as a catalyst for conversation. This is where I get a little “woo-woo,” because I honestly think art is magic. The creator of the work is listening to God or spirit or the universe or whatever. They have this desire to create something, and the only reason for that object’s existence will be to have a conversation with whoever stands in front of it. When that work resonates with one or more viewers, it can change the way they think. On a larger scale, it can change a community or a culture. If we break that down, it’s the definition of fairytale magic: An object is imbued with the power to change the person who stands in front of it, and that’s the only reason it exists.

About the Artist

Doug Kacena and his painting When I Dreamed of a Way (oil on canvas, 96x60x2)

Doug Kacena is a contemporary abstract artist and the owner and curator of K Contemporary gallery. He’s a member of the Denver Art Dealers Association (DADA) and a board member of RedLine Contemporary Art Center, and he’s on the Contemporary Collections Committee of the Denver Art Museum. He has designed several lines of handmade Tibetan rugs and two official patches for NASA and Space X for launches to the International Space Station (ISS). His 2016 body of work and exhibition “Crossover” was the subject of a PBS Special with Colorado Public Television. The video was nominated for an Emmy in 2017.

Holly Davis is the senior editor of Artists Magazine, Watercolor Artist and Pastel Journal.

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