Bright colours are a feature of Kai’s work. Kamal Kassim/Gulf Today
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
Opera Gallery Dubai is hosting the works of American artist Kai (till Dec. 5). Born in Los Angeles to a French-Tunisian father and Mexican-American mother, the multicultural artist started to develop his passion for art as early as the age of fourteen, on the streets of his hometown. Four years later, he entered the California Institute of the Arts, a leading school of contemporary art. He then pursued further studies at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. His time in Europe made him realise the importance of creating a message that supersedes cultural and linguistic differences and sparked an ambition to create works that speak to all.
He trained in Italy and Holland to study the work of Flemish Masters. A unique style, social criticism and the ability to convey powerful messages underlying his works, is his signature. It is the social commentary that continues to make him stand out and propelled him to worldwide fame. He has collaborated with celebrities and global brands and is featured on the covers of established newspapers and magazines. He has worked with singer Chris Brown in an event that saw all his pieces sold out on the very first day of the exhibition.
It was in 2015 Kai began partnering with Brown under the pseudonym Konfused, to produce street art pieces under the label Konfuzed x Kai collection. Kai and Brown spray-painted Porsche vehicles for Fine Art Auction Miami’s Urban Art Week, in addition to several other pieces. Seven pieces were created by the two in all over a three-day period. They were auctioned. As a multidisciplinary artist, Kai uses a wide array of mediums to convey his social and political messages as well as the emotions he seeks to communicate. After completing art school, he created his signature character IF, which stands for Imaginary Friend. IF can now be found across all of Kai’s work. The character has no colour, gender, race, physical or other distinguishable traits. As such, IF supersedes and breaks all societal stereotypes and cultural divides. Kai created IF as a relatable character that helps communicate the universal issues that tie cultures together, such as love, money, time, happiness, success and the environment. Despite the minimal features that grant IF their anonymity, it is a character most dealing with issues in contemporary society: pollution, consumerism and the frenzy of urban life. Kai’s first piece to receive public attention was a street art mural of a Marlboro cigarette pack with the term Morons replacing the brand’s name. During his teenage years, he continued to add graffiti pieces to surfaces in West Hollywood, typically with an anti-consumerism message.
In 2012 he held his first solo exhibition at the Guetta Gallery in Los Angeles titled Now Royalty, which consisted of paintings representing hip hop artists in medieval royal outfits and motifs. In 2013, he debuted his solo exhibition Lost Values at the Lab Art Gallery in Los Angeles, in which he spoofs commercial imagery. In 2014, he took both his exhibitions to Miami, in order to exhibit them at the Lulu Laboratorium. Pieces from the collection have since sold to public figures in the hip hop industry, including Lil Wayne and P. Diddy. In 2013 he held a guerilla solo exhibition in the Louvre-Rivoli station of the Paris metro. The exhibition featured sculptures of cigarette packets with ironic slogans similar to the pieces he first created in Los Angeles, and the Baroque-style oil paintings of hip hop icons from his Now Royalty collection.
The show was set-up before the station opened, as it had not been officially authorised by the city. Each piece was arranged as if it were in a real gallery, with pedestals for the sculpture pieces and secured frames for the paintings.
At the 2016 Art Basel Miami, Kai exhibited the installation piece Modern Relic, and later that year, he exhibited cement plaques in the city of Le Touquet, France. In 2017, he affixed eight cement-relief pieces on the exteriors of seven buildings in Aspen, Colorado, causing the city to consider citing him for trespassing and destruction of property after his methods were seen as possibly damaging to the heritage value of the sites! Again in 2017, he issued a limited edition serigraphy of Love vs Money, one of his messages using the character IF. The limited edition print sold out in fourteen minutes. He also painted the facade of Rag & Bone’s store in New York Houston Street.
Kai has collaborated with French actor Kev Adams and has partnered with professional athletes such as NFL player Jarvis Landry on custom collections and group exhibitions. In addition to gallery work, he has produced street art in several American cities, including Los Angeles and New York City. He has an authentic attitude to universal themes and values and an honest approach to art. “I believe in being true to what you create, being true to your ideas”, he said in an interview. “I’ve tried to avoid adapting to what’s popular. “I think art should be about creating your own world, building something you’re passionate about, something you love. That’s what makes it worthwhile. And the more love you put into something, the more it will be appreciated”.
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