While personalization for individuals is well under way, brands are just getting around to customization. Kevin Reed knows this.
Case in point: Most brands aim for consistency when they show off their logos and, as a result, miss a key opportunity to evoke an emotion or reaction associated with their brand. But that’s changing in the all-important event space.
Or at least that’s the thinking behind Kevin Reed’s Studio, which is assembling customized, thought provoking and emotive art installations for top brands. And it looks like consumers are heeding that call. Inc. observed that luxury retailers like Louis Vuitton are “blurring the lines” between art and commerce. In other words, art can add value to luxury brands. So can it do the same for yours?
Grit Daily caught up with artist Kevin Reed himself — at The Lead — to get a closer glimpse of what goes into art installations and most importantly what top brands are getting out of them.
Grit Daily: For the uninitiated, what’s behind the resurgence in branded art installations?
Kevin Reed: Depending on your level of skepticism, there are many answers to this question, but, for me, optimism prevails!
I think there’s a symbiosis happening. Brands are ever-more interested in connecting in a more personal, authentic way to their audience. In order to make a large-scale impact they need to provide something that individual audience members can interact with and want to share. Social media interactions and re-shares really dictate a brand’s success, at least from a marketing standpoint, and I think the best way to do that is by collaborating with an artist to create that “w0w” factor.
From the artist’s side, brands have financial and spacial resources that are typically unmatched by an artist’s own resources. I’ve always had a vast imagination. I started creating large-scale “works” with my grandmother as a kid on her farm. There was never any limit to the size and scale of what we could do together because of the seemingly unlimited resources of nature.
She was a natural reuser and repurposer which is where my instinct to reuse construction refuse and utilize materials that are typically looked at as too “rough” to be fine art materials comes from. Being based in the city there is obviously a limit on space and financial resources as an individual. Collaborating with brands means those limits are greatly increased. Suddenly my imagination doesn’t feel stifled.
The brands I work with understand this symbiosis and while there are always boxes to check (a brand logo and one or two style goals for an installation for example) they understand that I’m looking to express my own creative vision as an end-goal. So long as I check those boxes they give me, my creative freedom is something the brands view as an asset to achieve their goals for authentic audience interaction and I get to design works that truly feel like me on a grand scale.
GD: Right now, brands get orders from your “shop” in Bed Stuy?
KR: Yes! My shop is actually my studio in my home. I’ve always been one to make the most of what I have so for many of the orders I complete them in my studio itself, using the yard adjacent to my studio (what was intended as the master bedroom of my apartment) for the more intense power tool portion of the build and then assemble and finish everything in the studio.
Now that I’ve started to engage in much larger-scale installations and sculptures I end up utilizing almost every square inch of the ground floor of my apartment to do so. I have a very large living room and for my most recent installation for The Lead Innovation Summit (an 8ft x 16ft living wall with aesthetic details on the front and the back) I pre-built the wall in my living room!
I had members of my crew staining and painting individual elements of the installation where my dining table normally lives, a giant wall erected in the middle of my living room, other crew members working in my studio and studio yard assembling detailed elements of the installation according to the plans I’d drawn, and myself installing LED lights into a hand-cut logo that would be the centerpiece of the installation on my kitchen island! Now that I’ve wrapped that installation I’m in the process of turning my living room back into a living room until the next big one (which should start in a week or two)
GD: Who’s on the Kevin Reed Studio team?
KR: It varies from project to project but my lead team member is Jessica, another artist based in Bed Stuy who happens to live 5 doors away from me. She was originally recommended to me by a friend who is an art director and set decorator in the film industry and when I connected with her and told her where my studio was she exclaimed, “you’ve got to be joking me!” and explained that she lived so close.
Jessica is an insanely hard worker and shares my vision for the biggest and best work possible. Her commitment to my vision is uncanny. There’s also Dara, an incredible woman from Ireland who came highly recommended by Jessica and really brightens my studio with an incredibly positive attitude and attention to detail. Next is William, an old friend from college that I actually hadn’t seen in about 15 years and who is my studio strong man. Up until this past year, when my studio really started taking off, I would do everything by hand and by myself much of which involved using brute strength to put all of these giant elements together.
When I knew I needed to expand my studio past just me I reached out to William. William is a very talented actor and explained to me that he had little to no construction/carpentry background. I assured him I could teach him everything he needed to know and his greatest asset would be his height and strength. I proved myself quite right on all fronts and he’ll be my go-to guy whenever large-scale elements need to be constructed while I’m working on the more fined-tuned parts of an install. Last is Rocco, a jack-of-all trades artist and photographer who also lives in Bed Stuy and is my install guy.
When these projects move from my studio to their final location I have to take everything apart into easy-to-assemble components, load them into a truck and bring them to location, often assembling them in less then 6 hours. Rocco has a very similar eye to me and has been around sets and work like this for so many years that he’s an incredible resource to essentially have two of me on sight for final install.
GD: How heavy duty are we talking? What tools are in the shop?
KR: I’d say we’re talking pretty heavy duty. I use everything from your most basic hammer, screwdriver, wrench set all the way up to the most heavy duty wood shop tools you can imagine. The limit tends to stop at automated equipment.
I really focus on making everything by hand (even my designs are drawn by hand as opposed to on a computer) so for the foreseeable future I don’t imagine myself having any computer-based tools in the shop, but I’ll never say never.
I love to adapt my shop to every project’s needs. As far as my heavy-hitter arsenal goes: a skill (circular) saw, jigsaw, table saw, drill, nail gun and compressor, drill press, and chop saw are my big guys. I’ve been eyeing a radial arm saw for quite some time and imagine that will be the next addition to my arsenal once the right job comes in that I deem “requires” it.
GD: And those have names, too.
KR: Hah! Some of them certainly have nicknames. I was calling my drill “old faithful” for the longest time because it’s a corded drill (I hate relying on battery packs) and because I ruined the chuck (locking mechanism) on it about two years ago which should’ve rendered it obsolete but instead just left it making the most obnoxious clacking sound when operated.
Sadly “old faithful” finally bit the dust in the eleventh hour of my last installation. I bought the same exact drill to replace it but its not obnoxious sounding or old so maybe I’ll call it “new faithful.” I think the rest of the arsenal get addressed by their proper tool names most of the time, except for the table saw that I’ve definitely referred to as “Scary Mary” once or twice because, A: I think table saws are terrifying – I get so close to the blade and frequently use them for dangerous ripping operations that can easily cause kickback and B: because it’s a portable table saw so it doesn’t have the sturdiest base and has been known once or twice to threaten to topple over during the most precarious cuts.
GD: What’s the “identifier” that makes a particular installation a “Kevin Reed installation?”
KR: It’s definitely the wood. As much as possible I try and salvage my wood from construction dumpsters or other dump sites in the city that are destined for landfills. There’s so much remodeling and new construction happening in New York right now, particularly Brooklyn and often old wood gets discarded because it’s easier than refurbishing it.
When I can’t use entirely salvaged wood I only buy the “shittiest” construction grade plywood and lumber – the stuff that’s meant to go under the finished product or inside a wall. From there I give it all the love and attention it deserves: carefully cutting and painstakingly sanding the wood and finishing it in unique stains that I hand mix in the studio to created these “marbleized” beautiful standout pieces.
I also use concrete, metal, plants and light in my installations. I think a Kevin Reed installation looks like it comes from the Earth, that it’s connected to the natural world, no matter how wild or extraterrestrial the initial idea and final product may also look.
GD: We’ve seen your work “evolve” over the years. What’s driving that?
KR: Two things: a dissatisfaction with stagnation (or my own perceived stagnation) and a desire to move and be active. I’m always pushing myself to expand my practice and explore new techniques and materials. It keeps my brain happy! That’s also an advantage to working with brands and clients as opposed to just working on my own work in a bubble.
An outside force will frequently have an idea for their project that is something I’ve never done before or a material I’ve never worked with and because my clients have such a profound trust for my studio’s capability to deliver something beyond their wildest imaginations they give me the opportunity to expand my practice and my material knowledge. The other half of my work’s evolution comes from me being a human with a body that needs to be active. For years my studio was a two-dimensional studio.
I would do drawings and paintings for myself and for galleries and for private commissions and collaborate with brands in that way as well and it left me sitting at a desk or at best standing an painting at a wall for 12 hours a day or more. It was really beginning to wear on me and I felt as though my body was atrophying. When I was in grad school my whole thesis presentation was a giant mixed media “trash” installation made from industrial trash I would find around my studio adjacent to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. I remembered how good it felt to be active and use tools to create my work.
So, at the end of 2018 I started a push to incorporate that type of work back into my studio practice. Admittedly my work had become much more polished and tight over the years since I completed my Master’s Degree so I had to refine the way I was making sculptures and installations which led to smaller versions of the work I do now and eventually to a collector who came to my studio to buy some drawings and left with drawings and so many ideas of brands I could collaborate with to bring these large-scale-sculpture-pipe-dreams to life!
GD: What do brands need to “know” in order to “start” on an installation with you?
KR: First off, brands need to know that there are no limits to what my studio is capable of and what they can imagine. I mean, obviously I’m not going to make them a Jeff Koons sculpture (eek), but if they can imagine something and can give me one to five boxes to check then I can make it happen. Obviously, the final outcome will involve wood and most likely one or more of the four other elements I mentioned before (concrete, metal, plants and light) but as I said, I’m constantly expanding my practice and my material knowledge so if you can come up with a brief concept I can turn it in to a full fledged idea, design and reality!
The only other important thing to remember is that if you work with my studio it’s going to be a collaboration. I’m not just a fabrication house. There’s no advantage to working with an artist’s studio if you’re going to deliver a finished design and say, “Make this.” The point of working with my studio is to benefit from my imagination and ability to expand on your original idea.
The best clients I work with understand this and, in the end, they get an installation that achieves everything they originally intended and then jumps past their wildest imagination with all of the additional elements I bring to it.
GD: What’s one conventional wisdom about installation art that’s just plain wrong?
KR: People often look at installation art as wild or impractical. I think often clients – brands especially – will immediately go for a mural or a painting in a space that is actually much better suited for installation. In fact, as far as emphasizing authenticity and interacting with an audience, I think that installations take what murals can achieve a step further.
In the case of a studio like mine, I can develop a mural idea or a 2-dimensional space into something twice as visually appealing and with even more of a sense of wonder and awe than a traditional painting studio or mural house can.
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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on July 15, 2019.