06 Feb Kim von Coels – Interview with the Artist
Kim von Coels is a German born artist and photographer who resides in Glastonbury – here she is interviewed by Vicki Steward of Normal for Glastonbury.
(Cover Image by Eric Paré & Kim Henry)
When did you first think of yourself as an artist?
Probably quite recently, I still avoid it, I’m more inclined to say I ‘do art’, rather than ‘I am an artist’, as I do so many different things. I’ve always created art since school, I studied Graphic Design at Uni but the work I excelled in was photographic. I think it helps that I now work surrounded by other artists and I’ve created the Mural Trail which associates me with street art, locally at least. As a participant, I see I’m just as valid as the other mural artists, but it’s taken me time to admit that to myself.
I like the freedom of being non-committal. I’ve never dedicated my life to art or made it my career. I did it alongside everything else I did in my life. I thought to ‘be an artist’ it was something that had to be your main purpose.
I used to dress my friends up in costumes and photograph them, and we made stop motion short films, I got into street art with stencils and spray paint, painting skateboards, and canvases. Then I got into making murals, and kind of playing with other different random things including making a song and music video. My photography turned to light painting, that’s where I’ve now kind of excelled. It’s a niche and it is probably what I’m most well known for globally.
I’m still not making money from art, it costs me money! I enjoy it because it’s what I want to do, not what I have to do. I do it alongside a normal job as that gives me the freedom to do what I want creatively. I’ve tried to be more business-like with my art, but it takes the fun out of it for me. I worked for a furniture hire company, I was a painter and decorator, a labourer, a cook, a gardener. For the last two and a half years I’ve been working for the Heart of The Tribe Gallery, which is nice, it feels like my dabbling in art locally paid off because I got recommended for the job of manager as a consequence.
The gallery has taught me a lot about being an artist, but it still doesn’t make me want to do it as a career, as it’s so hard work, so hit and miss! I think it’s important that you create art for yourself, not others, that’s where the soul is. A lot of artists struggle when they try to monetize their art, they try to bend their output to what they think will sell, rather than what they want to create, which for me takes a little bit of the magic away.
It’s really important for me to do it because I love it. If someone commissions me I can still enjoy creating that, but it has to be in my style.
How supportive is your family of your art?
Massively, my Mum is probably the reason I enjoy art so much, although she’s more craft-based. She studied furniture making, stained glass, we studied photography together when I was a teenager, which is where my love for it began. She took me to museums and exhibitions and shared her love of art, design and crafts. She’s always said happiness and kindness are more important than wealth, which really struck a chord. She comes light painting with me, she’s a great assistant and has great ideas. (she also does a great chicken impression)
My partner Dave is supportive too, good with ideas, and comes light painting with me when he can. He’s very practical and creative, he’s a perfectionist, which is nice as I like things to be close to perfect. He thinks a little differently from me so we work well together.
In my twenties, my friends would get dressed up and we’d create photography together. Light painting can be a very communal activity, so this group participation aspect has developed well, especially as more people are introduced to my work, nowadays everyone wants to get involved. My son who is 8 joins in when I do screen printing and he comes light painting sometimes. We paint creatures together, he always wants to be something extravagant like a dinosaur or a chameleon. He’s helped me paint a mural, but his attention span is way short!
Do people make money from light painting?
A handful, but less by selling prints or images, more by doing tutorials, advertising, courses, making tools and youtube content. A Spanish friend does experiences, works with councils and organisations on experiences that then get funding. I’d like to create a book one day, a nice rounding off of all the things! Because I don’t just do one thing, I do lots of experimental photography, it would be nice to produce a coffee table book with all the different work I do.
The idea of having an exhibition is nice but stressful, all that focus on one period of time, in one place. It’s exciting, but a book could be enjoyed by anyone, anywhere in the world. Also, I love art books, a huge percentage of my student loan went on art books.
What do you most enjoy about making art?
I enjoy the social aspect of it, spending creative time with people that I love and am inspired by. I often collaborate with others, and go on incredible international light painting journeys with groups of likeminded people, world class light painters. Closer to home I often work with Phill Fisher or Dominic Bell who bring out my best creatively. Also, many of my friends are my models and muses. Especially Natasha who appears in hundreds of my photos.
I really enjoy creating portraits of people that make them happy and feel good about themselves. A lot of my art is focused on a person, a face. I don’t ‘take’ photographs of people, I ‘make’ them. Some of it’s quite ‘space-age’ or ‘etherial’, and I do the projector photography working with nudes in the studio, and I’ve also got a series of portraits taken in my bath. I never edit any of my pictures, partly out of laziness, but mainly because I enjoy doing things in-camera. There’s no post-processing, I might adjust the levels slightly for printing, but there’s no photoshopping. The picture I take of someone is them. It’s great to give someone who maybe thinks they are not beautiful a picture that shows they are.
I don’t photograph models, they are all normal people, my friends mostly. One woman asked to be photographed but then when she got to the studio she said only her mum and boyfriend had seen her naked, she was really nervous, so I took my clothes off and did the shoot naked too and she quickly forgot about being uncomfortable.
My role as a person of artistic interest in Glastonbury has been significantly enhanced by my organising of the Glastonbury Mural Trail. It’s now a fully-fledged role, I only meant it to be a year-long project, but it’s grown into this massive entity that people love. That gives me an obligation to make it continue to be even more wonderful. It takes a lot of time and effort, but I really enjoy the outcome and other people’s enjoyment of it, visitors, locals and the artists involved. It really inspires people, other towns contact me asking how they can do their own. The mural trail and managing the gallery makes me feel validated as an artist. It makes everything a bit more real. My light painting has taken off in the light painting world too, it’s what I’ve got the most attention for personally. I appear in the documentary ‘The Path of Light’ and I’ve even managed to bag myself an official sponsor by the Spanish company Light Painting Paradise. I also had my first solo exhibition of light paintings in 2019 at Art Catto Gallery in Portugal which felt like quite a milestone.
Could you see yourself teaching?
Light painting has a very communal feel, light painters are a global community, a family, it’s a pleasure to share the joy of it with others and I’m interested in doing that, but I’m not sure it’s a career choice. I have hosted a couple of light painting workshops at LUZA International Festival of Light in Portugal and I have thought about creating online tutorials, not to make money, but to help others. Light painting is like magic and it’s nice to share magic. I’m thinking of having a photo booth during my upcoming exhibition where people can come and experience it. Its something I’ve done in the past and its very rewarding.
I want to play around with screenprinting more, maybe paint another mural, and try other unusual photographic techniques. The light painting has turned into experimenting with manipulating light. So I do multiple exposures, water portraits, and the projector stuff.
I’m having a Solo Exhibition at the Heart of the Tribe Gallery in April (2022). There will be old and new work, photography, screenprints, drawings, stencil canvases, and some of my stop-motion films hopefully.
I will also continue to expand the Mural Trail.
What’s your relationship like with the town of Glastonbury?
Glastonbury is a place where you can be whoever you want to be and you’ll find your tribe. I love that it’s full of unique, creative characters doing interesting things, who in other places would be deemed ‘weirdos’. Weird is interesting. No one wants to be normal by normal standards, because that’s boring. It’s out of the box creativity.
The town and the festival influence each other, but the madness and difference of the festival have Glastonbury to thank, because the town attracts people who think outside the box, which rubs off on the Festival. I’ve been to every Glastonbury Festival since I was 3, except one when I was in Australia for a year. It’s the summer get together, everyone I know hangs out in a field and lives their best lives for a week. Sometimes we try to bring that back to town, wearing what other people would consider festival wear. Like flamenco Monday when ten people, including guys, dressed in flamenco dresses and danced round the town barefoot drinking beer for an afternoon. We started outside the King William, bumped into more people that wanted dresses, (I’d been given a sack of them), and ended up in the Crown singing and dancing. I guess that was Art!