Interview: Artist & Animal Behaviorist Ken Gold
I recently had the opportunity to meet artist Ken Gold, and I was intrigued by his kind demeanor, encaustic art technique (which involves applying layers of brightly-colored wax onto his photography) and even his “everybody’s got to pay the bills” job as an animal behaviorist for film and TV productions. Ken has a terrific studio in the Albany-Carroll Arts building (located at the corner of Albany and Carroll [go figure] in Garfield Park).
Hello Ken Gold. What’s your story?
I’m originally from California, but I have lived on and off in Chicago for 15+ years, with a few years off living in the Netherlands and Singapore. I am a self-taught encaustic artist.
What attracted you to encaustic art?
I have been taking photos for most of my life, and was looking for a technique to collage my photos into one-of-a-kind pieces when I saw a demo of encaustic painting. Although the artist wasn’t doing collage or using photos, something clicked in my creative brain that told me this would be an exciting medium in which to explore some of my ideas.
I love the encaustic medium for its texture, ability to layer and the vibrancy of the colors. I am not much of a planner when creating, and I experiment a lot with color and texture. In one sense I find encaustic forgiving, in that I can scrape off and redo parts I don’t like, although when creating sculptures the fusing process is very unforgiving. I primarily use a mini-torch or heat gun for underlayers and the torch or a sealing iron for fusing the final layers. Then I scrape or score.
How, sir, does one teach oneself encaustic art?
I bought the R & F starter set of colors, a griddle, a heat gun and some brushes and started to paint on 5 x 7 fiberboard. In 2007 I received a CAAP grant, which enabled me to take the R & F workshop offered in Chicago. It was very worthwhile, affirming that I was doing things safely (and archivally), and exposed me to the entire R & F color palette.
Sweet. It sounds like you’re always pushing the envelope. You seem very passionate about your art. How do you balance your job as an animal behaviorist with your passion?
As my work often takes me out of town, and encaustic is not an easily mobile medium, there are frequently extended stretches of time that I cannot paint. During my travels I continue to take lots of photos, sketch ideas and gain inspiration from nature, architecture, and visits to art galleries and museums. When I am back in Chicago I try and spend as much time as I can in my tiny studio in the Carroll-Albany Arts Building in Garfield Park.
To digress for a minute, I’d love to hear more about your work as an animal behaviorist. Before working in the film industry, you worked with a zoo in Singapore?
It’s one of the best zoos in the world. They also have a true nocturnal zoo, only opened after dark, which is truly a magical place.
Cool. And what did you think of Singapore?
The city is interesting. To me they took the worst parts of America, which are the consumerism and the industry, and they kind of built a monuments to them and cut away the forest. But the zoos are in the middle of a tropical forest, so that’s very nice and they have one of the best animal collections in the world. When I came back to the States, I was kind of burned out on zoo work and answered an ad for a job with American Humane to run the program that I’m part of.
What do you like about your day job?
I like it; it’s a lot of travel, it’s being your own boss; it’s thinking on your feet a lot. You get to look out for the welfare of animals and you get to be on film sets, which can be either great or troubling.
When is it great?
When they have the money to hire well-trained animals with good trainers and you’re working in a city like Seattle or Austin, Texas so when you have days off there’s stuff to do. I’m doing a job in Des Moines this winter; I’m not sure what I’ll do.
They probably have a Wal Mart . . . maybe a Starbucks?
(Laughs) As long as they have the Internet.
No kidding. What’s a bad film?
The animals aren’t well-trained; they’re asked to do a lot of difficult stunts so I may have to step in to intervene a lot.
Do the producers think of you as an adversary?
Sometimes. If they’re a SAG production they’re obligated to have us there or at least let us be there. We aren’t paid by the production so we don’t have to answer to the director, and sometimes that pisses them off because everybody else has to listen to them, but I’m autonomous.
Who pays you?
We’re paid by American Humane Association, which gets a grant annually from a collaboration between the SAG and the Producer’s Guild. The screen actors care about the animal actors and want to make sure they’re protected.
Cool. Ok back to your art, how does it evolve?
It all seems to evolve in an unpredictable way, but looking backwards, a very systematic way. I like taking photographs of architecture and shapes and patterns, and I incorporate that into my sculptural work too although my sculptural work is becoming more figurative. But I’m doing a lot of robots too. It’s a series on totems or icons. I travel around and see lots of different kinds of totems whether they’re Indian totems from North America or religious statues from Asia or Africa or whether they’re robots, they’re all kind of totems in my mind.
Robots are popping up quite a bit, aren’t they? But sort of out-of-nowhere. One would have to have been extremely prescient to have foreseen this trend anytime before December, huh?
When I lived in Singapore, Asian culture was much more into the Manga stuff. I grew up on Astro Boy and that’s very big there with collectibles and figurines, stuff like that. It could be a generational thing because we grew up on the Jetsons and people my age have money to buy stuff like that.
But the future is here; the ultimate “robot” is the Internet, isn’t it? It just doesn’t look like we thought it would.
Huh . . . I guess.
Author’s Note: I am very accustomed to this type of response after I pontificate all over somebody.
Many thanks Ken. Your work is gorgeous and it was interesting to learn more about you and about encaustic art.
To contact Ken Gold, visit his website or email: Kengoldart@aol.com. And check out the Spring issue of CS Interiors for more about the Albany-Carroll Arts building.