Interview with visual artist Ken Pease - colored stories about childhood, music, and imagined characters

"Take your kids to art festivals, galleries, museums, poetry readings, concerts, and hikes through the woods. The digital world is great, but real life still has some pretty good things happening."

Ken Pease: Artistic Tropical Storm

Ken Pease is an artist who has had an interesting path that has lead him to making art in Central Florida. Ken has worked as a graphic artist for more than 25 years, and has been selling his paintings at art and music shows, galleries, and several of the House of Blues locations for more than 10 years. Ken Pease has been a part of the House of Blues Folk Art Festival for more than a handful of years, and his work hangs on the walls of the HOB store (and other great galleries) until they get to go home with somebody.

His work is inspired by his love of music, and his kids.  He works to combine his passions in his work. Besides painting, he is working on illustrations for books and plays, designing t-shirts, album covers, and stories to bring his work to life. He loves sharing his art experiences with students, and helping them to experience art. His artistic future includes original stories about childhood, music, and imagined characters, and many more paintings.

The stories of Blues musicians and the historic juke joints where they play and the creative stories that stem from the imagination of children. He paints on repurposed wood scraps, cabinet doors, and instruments. His graphic art projects include t-shirts, posters, cd covers, and children’s book illustrations. Graphic artist, painter, and art teacher Ken is part of FRESHCASSETTE’s team - Creative Compassion is a project to showcase music, art, and video...while bridging these creative outlets with humanitarian and philanthropic efforts. It’s what we call Creative Compassion. His work is inspired by stories.

Interview by Michael Limnios     Artwork © by Ken Pease

When was your first desire to become involved in the visual art? What does "ART" means to you?

I have enjoyed drawing and creative writing as long as I can remember. I felt as early as high school that I wanted to do something involving art. My high school art teacher (Fran Tankovich) inspired me quite a bit and I ended up going to college for commercial art and following my muse from there.  “Art” to me means a creative way to express yourself. It could be drawing, painting, sculpture, music, poetry, or preparing a meal. Just be creative! 

What characterize the artistic philosophy of Ken Pease and how do you describe your artwork?

My first goal is just to make somebody smile, or sometimes think and cry a little bit (but mostly smile). I try to tell a story in my art, whether it is the story of a musician, a song, an event, or a feeling.

Sure As You Born (acrylic on repurposed wood) Artwork © by Ken Pease: "I saw a photo of Leo Bud Welsh who is an 82 year old blues musician from Clarksdale, Mississippi and just got a record deal.  In the photo, he was playing with an old friend of mine, artist and musician Stan Street.  My wife and a lot of great blues come from Mississippi, so I try to document some of that in my art."

What experiences in your life have triggered your ideas for artwork most frequently?

Much of my work is inspired by the variety of music I listen to and the stories involved with the songs and musicians. My kids inspire my work quite a bit too.

How important was the music in your life? How does the music affect your mood and inspiration?

My parents love music, so I grew up with rock and roll playing all around me. I was born in Detroit where Motown and Rock and Roll and even the blues thrived.  I collected records and cd’s and mp3’s and will get whatever is next. I sketch while watching music documentaries and write notes when I hear something in a song on the radio.

I’m working on a book of drawings, essays, and poems about music with the working title of ‘Stories About Songs’. The book will be a collection inspired by concerts, meetings with musicians, shopping for records with my Dad, and hearing an old song on the radio. It’s not anywhere close to finished, but I don’t think it will ever be as long as there is new music to listen to.

What first attracted you to Blues and Rock & Roll culture and how has changed your life?

I started designing t-shirts and posters with a friend of mine who had a t-shirt shop called Primal Screen and set up a booth at blues, jazz, and zydeco festivals in Fort Lauderdale. We had so much fun from designing and getting ready for the show, to listening to the great music and selling our stuff.  For the really good bands we would shut down and get a little closer to the stage.

It has changed my life by allowing me to do something that I love, and I have met great artists, musicians, and people at the festivals and art shows.

"Much of my work is inspired by the variety of music I listen to and the stories involved with the songs and musicians. My kids inspire my work quite a bit too." Artwork © by Ken Pease

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears on the future of Art?

I miss going into a record store and looking through the great album art to discover something new. I used to going music shopping with my Dad, and really want to do more of that with my kids. There are still some cool little record shops out there. I also miss how cheap concerts used to be!

My hope for art in the future is that people continue to expose themselves to it. Take your kids to art festivals, galleries, museums, poetry readings, concerts, and hikes through the woods. The digital world is great, but real life still has some pretty good things happening.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the music and art world?

I really have been getting into performance poetry to inspire me while painting. These poets combine words, music, humor, and emotion into their work. There are a bunch of great ones I’ve discovered, but Buddy Wakefiled, Derrick Brown, and Anis Modjgani are a few that stand out. These poems make me laugh, cry, and want to write.

I’m inspired by artists I meet at events like the House of Blues Folk Art Festival that I do every November in Orlando. It is so nice to meet people that are so different, but so much the same at heart.

What is your favorite artwork and what is the story behind it? Which memory makes you smile?

Some of the favorite pieces I have created were painted on stage of the First Baptist Church in Memphis with my cousin Bert Montgomery (an author and Baptist Preacher) and the Joyce Cobb Band. I had never really did any performance art, I was used to painting by myself in my studio. I filled the sanctuary with blues paintings and created about 6 pieces on stage while the band played and my cousin delivered a sermon called God’s Got His Mojo Workin’. We auctioned the paintings off for a local charity after the show.

I’ve painted a few pieces that I have had signed by the musicians I painted. One of my favorites is from a Buddy Guy show in Fort Lauderdale where as he was walking around the club with his guitar (a classic Buddy Guy move), he walked out into the street and continued to play. As everybody was looking out the window, a police car pulled up with the lights flashing. The officers got out of the car and danced as Buddy kept playing the blues. I got Buddy to sign it, and ended up meeting his guitarist (Scott Holt) from that show who saw the painting when I posted it on Facebook. It’s a small world! 

Why did you think that Blues & Rock culture continues to generate such a devoted following?

The great musicians that we will remember 50 years from now pour their hearts and souls into their art, and put it out there for people to enjoy. That is why people love it. They get to know the musicians through their music and performances. That’s what I try to do with my art.

What's the legacy of Southern folklore in Art? What do you learn about yourself from the blues folklore?

Which incident of Rock n’ Blues history you‘d like to be captured and illustrated in a painting with you?

How you would spend a day with Bob Marley? What would you like to ask John Lee Hooker?

I’d love to spend the day in the Studio with Bob in Jamaica. To hear him sing and create in a small setting would be amazing. He had a mission to make people feel good and love each other, and I’d love to learn how to carry that forward.

The first thing I would have to ask John Lee Hooker is to sing and play his guitar.  He is one of the greats I never got to see. I would also have to ask him how he got to be so damn cool. To me, JLH is the perfect subject for a blues painting. He dresses the part, acts the part, and sings it.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

Besides spending the day with Bob and hanging out with John Lee Hooker...

I lost my best friend a little more than 10 years ago. The last days I spent with him were with a group of friends and family who were out there for my wedding in Breckenridge, Colorado. I would go hang out on the mountain with Jeff Young for a day.

Ken Pease - official website

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