Lance Kagey makes righteous art. To be specific, letterpress art that makes people stop, do a double-take, and frequently ask for more. For nearly 10 years, as half of the design team (with Tom Llewellyn) of Beautiful Angle, he has been creating a series of thought-provoking, Tacoma-centric guerilla art at the rate of one new wheatpaste poster design a month. Their ongoing project is a paean to Tacoma, its icons, and the dark, inchoate poetry that makes our city what it is. But Kagey also flies solo with his art, and we checked in to talk about his new installation at the Woolworth Building.
SPACEWORKS TACOMA: Hi Lance. Your concept for your Spaceworks project was to recreate the aesthetics of your letterpress studio inside the Woolworth windows. I hope that means there is intention behind this almost symphonic arrangement of art and vintage printing press equipment…Surely your “clutter” doesn’t look this gorgeous all the time (if it does, I think I’ll just go shoot myself right now)?
LANCE KAGEY: Surprisingly, this is a pretty faithful recreation of the aesthetic of my studio space. My kids say I’m one tragedy away from being featured on the Hoarders show. My space is very full of visual stimulus. It’s organized chaos. It inspires me as I create. I appreciate the total experience that people have as they visit my studio space.
ST: Please identify your 3 favorite objects in the window and explain what they are and what they mean to you.
LK: 1. Right near the corner is a big cast iron apparatus that is both beautiful and functional, graceful and industrial. It is a perfect example, in my opinion, of the Tacoma aesthetic. The machine is used to round the corners off a stack of paper.
2. I love folk art. In the far end of the window, perched on top of an old street lamp base is a piece I call the “Virgin of Guadalupe”. I created this piece back in 2002 while visiting Guadalupe Ranch in West Texas. Made from drapery hooks, a cheese grater, a little electric motor, bottle caps and a lid from an Uncle Ben‘s rice container, among other things – this piece illustrates the metaphor of the mundane becoming the sacred.
3. There is a collection of hand-bound books and other handcrafted ephemera. I relish the evidence of the artisan’s touch in our lives. The smallest thing done well becomes artistic.
ST: What is the significance of the word YES?
LK: This clutter is literally a window into my personality. The word YES was a gift from a friend, Jay Hember, who hunts down old letters and rescues them from the landfill. This word really fits my character. I am very optimistic about life. Even in the miseries, I think love shines through.
ST: Will you be doing a letterpress performance during the show’s run?
ST: You and your longtime artistic collaborator, Tom Llewellyn, recently gave birth…The baby’s name is Rotator, and it’s an oversized, über-cool, limited-edition magazine. How has your life changed since Rotator was launched? When will the next issue come out?
LK: I’m a little over-committed at the moment. The Rotator magazine project is still evolving. While challenging, I’m really happy with the finished piece we created together. It truly is an intrinsically collaborative process. Our next issue is way behind deadline but should be coming out within a month or so.
ST: Other events coming up?
LK: Tom Llewellyn and I will be presenting at TEDx Tacoma on April 17th.
ST: Could you sketch a piece of letterpress equipment that doesn’t exist but you wish did, and email it to me?
LK: The best I can do is attach a picture of the Hugo-esque Automaton [the Franklin Institute’s automaton built by Henri Maillardet, in 1810]. I could use one for sorting type and putting away all of the mess I generate.
ST: Pretty great show the other night, hmm? [We ran into Lance at the first Cathedrals concert in Tacoma showcasing alternative music in amazing spaces; in this case, a Presbyterian church.]
LK: Pickwick is so good; I really enjoyed Maldives as well. We have a great music scene in the Northwest currently. There really is an amazing amount of talent regionally. The current popular genre is a lot like my studio, lush, multi-layered, complex narratives with a deep attention to craft.
ST: Thank you, Lance!