Meet Cat Artist Kira Kuck
One of the best things about attending the Fancy Feast/Friskies "Together We Can Recycle" Earth Day art gallery event in New York was meeting my fellow artists, about a dozen of whom were in attendance.
We'd all been given the same assignment: Create a work of art that incorporates Fancy Feast and/or Friskies cans, no larger than 36"square.
One of the works, "Milo's Heaven," was a beautiful mixed media piece with brilliant primary and secondary colors reminiscent of Andy Warhol's work.
Near the end of the evening, I met its creator, Kira Kuck, an effervescent cat lover who didn't look at me funny when I asked for a photo of her with Flat Skeezix. In fact, I think Skeezix had a little crush on her.
KAREN: Kira, your work, "Milo's Heaven" was one of the most striking pieces in the TogetherWeCan exhibit - which is saying a lot; every piece there was a work of genius. What was your inspiration?
KIRA: Wow! What a compliment I must say how kind of you to say that it was striking! I have to say that my inspiration came from my handsome Milo and my love of Andy Warhol. I will elaborate on Milo since he is the star!
Milo found me one day in a parking lot where I work. I was walking to my car and I saw this black little fur ball come running and meowing to me. He was tiny, dirty, and covered in kitty poo. I didn't hesitate one minute but ran to my car with him in hand, took out the tissues I had and started to wipe him down. Not knowing what to do, I took out a cardboard box that I had in my trunk, ripped off the top and placed him in it in my passenger seat. I went to the grocery store and got a can of wet cat food to open up for him which he gobbled up in recordtime!
I frantically called the ASPCA, local shelters, etc. only to find that he was too young to even be considered for adoption even after I pleaded that I would pay for all of his medical bills etc. This brought me to tears, I didn't know what to do. I live in a one bedroom apartment in NYC with my boyfriend and my cat Maggie who my boyfriend is already allergic to.
After spending the day with Milo, I became more attached to him, he was fearless, vocal, and just full of spunk for such a youngster. I pleaded with my boyfriend that I couldn't not keep Milo and helped him to understand that I knew I could give Milo the best home he could ever have. I swore that I would bathe Milo regularly to keep the dander down and vacuum like crazy to help him and his allergies.
As a result of being bathed regularly, Milo is the only cat that I know now that LOVES water and baths!! He is very skilled at opening the trashcan, dribbling his toys across the floor and sitting on command! He is a smart one! We will celebrate his first birthday in August.
Milo has been my source of inspiration for many photos and ultimately "Milo's Heaven." Milo poses well, and loves the attention that he gets from me. In the composition of "Milo's Heaven", I used the repeated images of the cat food because I felt that on that day that Milo found me, he must have seen me as a source of endless food, shelter, and love and took his big chance and risk of running up to me and meowing. So in essence, that day, Milo found his Heaven in me.
KAREN: The minute I saw "Milo's Heaven," it reminded me of Andy Warhol's work, with brilliant bold color and a Warhol-like composition, but with more passion than the typical Warhol. Which (if any) artists have influenced you?
KIRA: BINGO! Haha! Yes, you are correct, I live, breathe, paint, idolize Warhol. Warhol has influenced me for many years. I always loved his use of bright colors and recognizable images from popular culture. Warhol's is very influential to me, I love what he said about art and life in general. His attitude and comments are hilarious to me and I am intrigued by his life.
When I was in High School and in our small town they had a Warhol exhibit which was shocking for such a conservative, (boring) town. I went with a friend at the time, and they had a room with Warhol's Cow wallpapered in the room, then they also had about 50 floating "silver pillows" in the same room. It was that moment for some reason that I connected with Warhol's work.
In that same exhibit I remember examining one iteration of his famous "Marilyn." I saw what either appeared to be a hair or a piece of a paint brush in the work. It was that fiber or hair strand that I was mesmerized by, to think that either that hair or fiber came out of Andy's wig, or brush, and wow, that was embedded in Marilyn forever... blew my mind!
My art teacher in High School, Marcy Avery is who changed my life and introduced me to Warhol. She felt that his style, color palette and just not so serious attitude with life and art was identical to me. For years I tried to create work that was more "classic", but after failing and my art looking like garbage, I learned to let go, have fun, and paint with freedom... and that's what Warhol gave me.
KAREN: I was fascinated to learn that you are an engineer by day, which suggests that your left and right brains are both running at full throttle. Have you always been an artist, or is it a passion you developed more recently?
KIRA: I think I am an oxymoron, at least that is what I say about my life thus far. I have always been fascinated by science and math which is my turbo left brain, but some how my right brain has always fought with my left.
I come from a legacy of engineers, going back to my Grandfather, so it seemed the "right thing to do" when I graduated from High School. Additionally, my paternal Grandmother was Chinese. So if you know anything about Chinese grandmas, it is "Kira you must go to school and be a Doctor, Lawyer, or Engineer, but you must go to college and that is what you will do!" (On a side note, this same Grandma was extremely gifted at painting, watercolors and particular, so I now smile that she pushed me into such a career field, yet possessed the artistic talent that she had.)
So the long of the short, I have always been an artist, from the time I could hold a pencil, I would choose drawing over Barbie, and I could entertain myself for hours with some crayons! My passion has been so deep within my soul that I have struggled with my pursuit of how to have money to survive, but how to pursue what I love. My dream has always been to be an artist, or even have a gallery that I could showcase local artists and have local benefits and charity events.
I'm now more inspired than ever at making my dreams come true, and I credit this inspiration from the TWC event. Having met other artists that were doing what they love truly inspired me and it was all of their support and praise that has now given me the motivation, courage and confidence to figure out a way with all of this "will!"
KAREN: Do you often paint cats, or was this a one-time exception?
KIRA: I have painted some cats in the past, but this was the first time that I was truly happy with what resulted. "Milo's Heaven" gave me so many ideas moving forward. In fact, I just got a photo from my boyfriend's aunt of their beloved rabbits that recently passed away, and I am thinking of a way to create a similar piece with their darling rabbits. So, I'm going to toy with the idea of painting people's pets!
KAREN: You obviously have had training as an artist -- when and where?
KIRA: All of the credit goes to my amazing art teacher Marcy Avery from Yorktown, VA. Mrs. Avery changed my life. Her passion for art and teaching students was incredible. Just thinking about her brings tears to my eyes, because I can't say in words the inspiration and meaning to my art that she was able to give me. She always said that I had a gift, but she was able to help me dive deep into my soul and truly relinquish the creative energy and passion that I had buried deep within.
Mrs. Avery changed the way I see the world, literally. She taught me how to see life and images through an artist's eye, through shapes, and composition. She challenged me, we battled over her critiques, and I remember the one time she gave me a "D or an F" on one of my pieces. She knew that I hadn't put my heart into my work and that it didn't represent me, and that it was rushed... She always pushed me and expected the best from me and now, it all makes sense.
KAREN: When I saw "Milo's Heaven," I thought maybe you'd collaged on photo enlargements of the cats, because they are so purrfect! I'm a stickler for the eyes, and you really nailed it. Upon closer inspection, I figured out that they were painted -- and you did a phenomenal job of it. Are cats a frequent subject for you?
KIRA: Actually, the cats in the painting were photographs... I took photos of Milo, enlarged them in black and white, used an acrylic medium over the top of them to create a bit of shiny texture, and then I painted over the top. I had never done this before, and my initial thought was to do an acrylic transfer, which I failed miserably at! So this process unfolded as I was experimenting!
It turned out pretty cool, and I liked the depth and texture that it created, and thank you for the compliment of the eyes! Milo has really cool eyes, when he was young they were blue, but as he matured they became a vibrant yellow with rings of burnt sienna and greenish blue around his pupil. He was such a good model, I kept grabbing him to look at his eyes so I could paint them properly. I've often drawn cats, I did a stippling drawing of one of my cats in the past, and some minor paintings, but this was the first larger scale one for me. Milo was such a great subject, in fact, while I was painting he sat on the table right next to me!
KAREN: We've talked about Milo. Tell me more about your older cat, Maggie.
KIRA:"Maggie" is approaching her 7th birthday. She is another rescue, one of my friends found her in the middle of the road years ago. Maggie is skilled at giving me kisses on my nose! Both of my cats are domestic beauties: Milo is solid black with a white patch of fur on his chest and tummy, and Maggie is my gorgeous Black and White Tuxedo. I always say that Maggie is dressed for formal events at all times, yet she doesn't have any invites (yet) to a formal ball!
All of the cats I have ever known have been rescues, in fact, my Mom has seven rescues! I'm a HUGE advocate for rescue cats!!
KAREN: What is Milo's favorite Fancy Feast flavor?
KIRA: Milo isn't picky, he'll eat anything, but he LOVES anything with tuna in it!
KAREN: The TogetherWeCanRecycle project was done to promote recycling and Earth Day. Do you recycle? Do you have any tips for people who mean to recycle, but just don't get around to it?
KIRA: I am so neurotic about recycling. I always keep plastic bags in my car to keep the cans or cups etc. that I accrue during the day to recycle when I get home. My honest opinion for anyone that doesn't recycle, take a trip to your local landfill... that will change your ways. I remember being a kid going to the landfill with my parents, (I always cut the soda 6-pack rings so seagulls wouldn't get their beaks stuck) and I used to get upset at the sight of all of that trash..... Sometimes our mentality of "out of sight, out of mind" is what prevents us from knowing the benefits of recycling until it is in plain view...
KAREN: Do you sell any of your work, and if so, where could my readers go to buy it?
KIRA: Right now I am working on creating a portfolio as TWC reignited my passion. As I mentioned above, I am working on painting family and friend's beloved pets in a similar fashion to "Milo's Heaven." If your readers are interested, just tell them to email me at kiraalexis AT gmail DOT com. I'd love to paint their pets and I'm flexible with ideas of how to best represent their beloved animals!
KAREN: I don't know about you, but the exhibit really set my soul on fire -- I couldn't wait to get home and create something! What did you take away from the exhibit?
KIRA: I couldn't agree with you more! I was just so happy to meet so many similar minded, compassionate, creative individuals! I felt this indescribable "comfort" in the room that night meeting people, I felt like we were all kindred spirits!! This event gave me what I needed most confidence and motivation. I can't tell you how cool it felt to watch as onlookers took a look at my art, and the fact that my name tag said "artist" underneath of it. It was surreal, it was inspirational, it was the most amazing feeling I have had in my life!!
KAREN: Will we get to see you at next year's TogetherWeCan exhibit??
KIRA: As long as they will have me, I'd LOVE to take part again!!! I even think that the ASPCA etc. needs to get on board with artists... heck, why can't we bring awareness about adopting pets through art, I think we have an amazing group of artists with tremendous talent that could really create many special things in our communities!!
KAREN: I would love to see that happen! Thanks so much for taking the time for the interview, and good luck in your artistic endeavors. I hope to see you next year!
Eighteen works from the exhibit, including art by Roberta Flack, Jennie Garth, Kahi Lee, Kira, and me, were auctioned off to raise money for America the Beautiful. The remainder will be displayed at Purina Headquarters in St Louis, MO and other TogetherWeCan locations across the country to promote the recycling of pet food cans.