Kione is in her second year at Wimbledon College of Art, doing her BA in Fine Art.
In her art practice she is interested in exploring ideas surrounding black culture, with an emphasis on the black beauty industry of which hair is a huge focus. She is inspired by hand-painted African barber signs and black hair publication imagery, and her mixed-media work shows the aesthetics of both.
In addition to pursuing her degree Kione is a freelance nail artist working on photo shoots for magazines etc.
In 2014 she started another side-line, designing invites and flyers, and in 2015 expanded to customising clothes and jewellery. We spoke about the inspiration being her work and more at her home.
When did you start making customised clothes?
At the end of last year I made tops as Christmas pressies for gals in my family (image attached). From there I carried on making and painting on clothing. Originally I didn’t customise with the idea of selling at all, I was doing it more from a fine art perspective and making things to wear myself.
I displayed my painted clothing along with my paintings in my April group show. Since, a pair of my jeans have been featured in the ‘Fine art’ issue of Suitcase Magazine and I have had lots of painted clothing commissions. A polo neck that I painted was worn by Shura on her Nothing’s real album cover.
I love the idea of being able to wear the art. I’m also interested in jewellery design. I made a wooden cuff in the shape of a hair portrait which I plan to bead and experiment with making more in my third year at university. My most recent collaboration was with ‘Pum pum gyals’. I hand painted earrings to sell with them at fashion weekend, which is an ongoing project.
What are your key influences and what’s the main focus of your work?
Jamaica is obviously an influence, the crazy hairstyles and stylised street artwork I see there. Black hair publication imagery, posters with photoshopped cutouts of different positioned hairstyles. But also African barbershop paintings because of the bold use of colour and text, and clear communication of the paintings.
I admire the portable quality of the paintings. I paint and collage mostly on scrap wood and like the idea of being able to carry the work around. The focus at the moment in my work is women and the black beauty industry, hair as a political subject and the influence of western beauty ideals on black women.
What do you want to come out of your work when people see it?
I like it to be open to interpretation and I think depending on the person, different aspects of the work are more appealing than others. For example many only really relate to my realistic oil painting. Others gravitate more towards my collage. I like the fact that I can switch from one to the other, If I get frustrated with painting in oil I will take myself away and make a collage. I hope that people see my influences and a bit of my thought process in the work.
There’s definitely a skill in collage though.
With a realistic painting it’s very obvious if you’ve done it badly!
And you’ve got a lot of hair magazines here!
Yes, that’s where I get a lot of my collage stuff from; ripping them out from hair magazines. I’ve got this African hair book that my friend got me that’s amazing. I just use a lot of photocopies from it.
Why the obsession with hair?
It’s something I have always been interested in. When I started at college I was quite stuck on what to start making work about. My tutor could see that hair was an interest of mine and so told me that was a great place to start. From there I’ve carried on to develop my ideas throughout my first and second years at uni.
The photography of Jd ‘Okhai Ojeikere is beautiful in showing hair as architecture and showing traditional African hairstyles as form of art, I guess the process of it actually braiding hair and hair dressing is quite similar to the process of collaging and making the work… it’s just one small aspect of black culture but I’m finding it hard to move on from the subject because it’s so broad. It’s an ongoing series that hasn’t finished yet!
That’s really interesting. Do you go to actual hairdressers for inspiration?
When I lived in Tooting everyday on my way to and from uni I’d walk past loads of black hair shops and salons which was so great for inspiration. I used to go in and ask to take photos which wasn’t always taken so well! Where I live now there’s only one, but I’m in there all the time buying little beads etc to collage with.
Are there any artists who you’re inspired by?
So many. Wangechi Mutu is incredible, she was one of my first influences. Her collage work is dreamy. Ellen Gallagher, I saw her work at Tate Modern years ago where she displayed her ‘Yellow paintings’ she’d collaged yellow hairstyles over black and white images of black women. Those really influenced me along with her wall of collages. Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Kerry James Marshall, Meschac Gaba, Gauguin and lots more.
How did you get started on nail art?
I’ve been doing nail art since I was about 13, I remember doing zebra print nails on my mum and when she went into work everyone wanted theirs done so I went into her office regularly (she works in fashion) and did manicures for a bit of pocket money. I am self-taught and started working at WAH nails when I was 17 which trained me up, now I’m freelance and do nails for shoots and music videos etc.
For me, nails, clothing and my Fine art all comes hand in hand. In some of my collages you’ll see a painted false nail stuck on somewhere! It’s funny making work about the beauty industry as I also work in it!
Find more at kionegrandison.com