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Checking in: Kelly Kozma on Experiences Worthy of Making Art About

Kelly Kozma is currently preparing for a group show at Paradigm Gallery + Studio in Philadelphia, PA, set to open this July. The artist is known for her process driven works that are filled with pattern, vibrant colors, and chance; using embroidery, drawing, and painting to create geometric and abstract pieces.

Whitewall reached out to Kozma, based Media, PA, to check in on how she’s doing during the COVID-19 pandemic. While her husband is working at a hospital, she’s having to balance taking care of her three-year-old son, managing her own well-being and frame of mind during this uncertain moment, all while finding the time to devote to her art whenever she can.

Armani Hotel Milano

Courtesy of Armani Hotel Milano.

Kozma shares with us how she’s staying connected, what she’s reading and watching (hint: like most of us, it’s mostly on Instagram), and what’s keeping her hopeful.

WHITEWALL: How are you doing?

Grand Hotel & de Milan

Courtesy of Grand Hotel & de Milan.

KELLY KOZMA: On the broad spectrum, when I step back and really look at the big picture, I’m….ok. We—my husband, three-year-old son, and I—are safe, we are healthy, we have food, access to water, TV, internet, and crayons (very essential). My husband is still working at the Veteran’s hospital in Philadelphia and I’m grateful he is still getting a paycheck and glad he can continue to provide essential services to those who need them. But I’m also anxious and kind of hating that he has to go to a hospital every day. The day to day is tough, especially trying to entertain a three-year-old. I’ll have about three to four good days in a row, and then I have a bad one. That seems to be the current pattern. The uncertain timeline is bewildering.

WW: What are you listening to, reading, and watching?

Armani Hotel Milano

Courtesy of Armani Hotel Milano.

KK: Listening: I made a mix on Spotify the other day called “Stay Home & Listen to Kelly’s Mix” and I’ve mostly been listening to that. No real theme or flow, just a bunch of my favorite songs, beginning with Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights, and then ranging from Ween to Paul Simon to Kurt Vile and ending with Toto’s Africa. I basically just wanted to hear all of my comfort songs.

Reading: I don’t really have the focus for this right now. If reading Instagram posts counts, then I’ll make that my answer. I try to read the news to stay informed, but I kind of have to limit that to maintain a certain level of sanity. Oh, and I guess a shit ton of children’s books! My kid is obsessed with Skippyjon Jones by Judy Schachner and I highly recommend it for any age!

Watching: Just finished rewatching Friday Night Lights in the studio. Started Better Things, it’s amazing. Reruns of Peepshow and Party Down, shows that I know will make me laugh. And a bunch of Instagram live streams.

WW: What are you cooking?

KK: My husband does most of the dinners, he’s pretty aces in the kitchen. Usually a smoothie for breakfast (although I find myself getting stingy about the yogurt, milk, and fruits I’m using). I got in a faux fight on Facebook about the best pasta shape. I said penne with chopsticks because you can get a penne on each stick and then pick up other stuff, making it the perfect bite [laughs]. But long story short, a lot of pasta too.

WW: How are you staying connected?

KK: Texting people I might not usually text. Calling people I usually text. FaceTiming people I usually call. Sending snail mail. Going Live on Instagram. Watching other people Live on Instagram. Putting my phone down to have a dance party with my kid. Sitting down with my husband and having real conversations about everything that is going on. I also started painting these hearts on shower curtain liners and hanging them on trees around my town (Media, PA). I feel like it’s my way to connect with my community that I’m not seeing right now.

WW: Who should we follow, too?

KK: Paradigm Gallery for sure (@paradigmgs). If you follow them, you’ll end up finding hundreds of artists to fall in love with. They are also featuring a lot of live content—virtual gallery tours, artist talks, artist process videos, etc.— which is helping me feel less isolated. Some friends and I also started an Instagram account (@mediasignsofhope) that features signs, rainbows and artwork of all kinds that people are displaying on their homes to help lift the spirits of neighbors and passersby. It’s definitely a moral boost to see the community coming together while staying apart!

WW: What are you doing for yourself?

KK: I’m trying to make art when I can. We converted our garage into a studio last year, so I feel extremely grateful to be able to walk a few steps and have a safe space to work. My work has always been very meditative and grounding for me, so I’m trying to use that as a coping mechanism/anxiety management tactic.

That being said, trying to get any work done with my son home has been extremely challenging. I do what I can, when I can. We also have days where we stay in our PJs, run around the house, do Mo Willems drawing classes online and eat cheese! And then I usually have a bourbon at night.

WW: What are you finding the most challenging?

KK: Besides trying to work with my son at home, I’d say finding a balance. I’m trying to let myself feel all the feelings as they arise, but also not let them consume and swallow me whole. Uncertainty of any kind is challenging and everything is fucking uncertain right now. And sleeping. Sleep has been challenging too, like I can’t get to it.

WW: Are you finding the time and space to make work?

KK: No and yes. No, because I lost those three days a week where my son was at school for four hours. As the primary caregiver, losing 12 hours is huge. So, I’m definitely not working in the way that I’d become accustomed to, but let’s face it, the entire world is not working in the way they’re usually accustomed to, so I guess I’m taking solace that we are all going through this together.

That being said, yes, I’m still chipping away when I can. My husband has been supportive of my practice, giving me time to sneak into the studio when he gets home from work and on the weekends. I’m currently preparing to exhibit a collection at Paradigm Gallery in Philadelphia in July. It’s nice for me to have that on the horizon. It’s keeping me driven and I feel excited about putting new work out into the world during this time when it can really bring people the joy they need.

Aside from physically working I feel like I’m just collecting information and material from my daily life to incorporate into my art in the future. I think that’s a big part of being an artist…living life; enjoying it, struggling with it; having experiences worthy of making art about.

WW: What’s keeping you inspired and hopeful at this time?

KK: My son. His name is Amze. He is a superhero with super arms. He just went from scribbling to making more detailed drawings that all have elaborate stories. He makes up songs and recites Where the Wild Things Are to me at least five times a day. He “hides” his toy cars in plain sight and gets so excited when I find them. The few times I have cried in front of him he comes up to me, hugs me and says, “Did that help?”. It did, it does.

He drives me crazy. He throws toddler tantrums and doesn’t listen, and I feel like I’m going insane. But then the hug thing, so it all evens out, I guess.

Basically, my answer is about community. My people are what is keeping me hopeful. The group text with my mom friends; the artists I’m watching live on Instagram; FaceTiming with my mom and sister, my friends all over the country, in other countries. Those faces keep me hopeful and inspired.

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Featured as a digital cover of our Winter 2023 Experience Issue, Shepard Fairey spoke to Whitewall about how he came to use art as activism.
Liza Lou’s Kitchen was one of the last artworks I saw when life still felt normal. It was up in “Making Knowing: Craft in Art, 1950–2019” at The Whitney, and it was undeniably a showstopper.