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A Visual Q&A with Artist Oskar Keogh

What a sincere pleasure to receive not only a poetic response from artist Oskar Keogh, but to have original visuals to suit! Keogh, “famously the only non-famous member of [their] family”, first grabbed our attention with playful digital gradients, bright colours, artful comics and romantic love notes to their partner. We chatted with Keogh about their absurd zine collab with Emelia Steenkamp and upcoming hand poke tattoo endeavors. Our conversation further traverses the topics of camaraderie, companionship, finding purpose in practice and, in the words of Ross Gay, “tendernesses” in life.

Some of my favourite pieces of yours are personal expressions of love and romantic gestures to your partner. These cards and comics are so charming, artful and rare. I suppose being in love can be a huge inspiration for many people: symbolising hope and uncommon connection. Can you tell us more about your experience?

Ever since I was smaller, about a child’s size, I’ve been emitting a kind of echolocation to determine the whereabouts of a great love. The signal has bounced off of a few unfortunate and unsuspecting individuals, but eventually my partner Tatiana answered the call. I find this to be miraculous, and I hope to never lose sight of it, or of her. Ultimately, a sense of gratitude drives all my expressions of love, whether it’s illustrating a comic strip or cooking her breakfast.

Another favorite of mine is the brilliantly absurd collab zine, which you made with Emelia Steenekamp. For those who haven’t seen it yet, can you talk around how it came to be?

Emelia is an extraordinary writer, her friendship is a real gift. We had been plotting a collaboration across our time zones to no avail. We had just about consumed the whole world and remade it in our image, when Emelia had the brilliant idea of exploring our shared curiosity for forms. That is to say, documents, certificates, reports, contracts, and the like. She wrote the words and formed the document, while I created corresponding images. The whole thing played out like a conversation between a deviant bureaucrat and an unintelligible hieroglyphist.

What are some of your favourite pieces?

My absolute favourite piece just so happens to be the worst thing I’ve ever made. It’s a clay head I made in my first year of uni, it’s modeled after my dear friend and esteemed artist Mia Darling. It is only scarcely human in appearance. It’s currently on show, sitting on her front stoop, guarding her house against an array of Austrian curses

It’s safe to say that most creative parents birth artsy kids, what was your context to how you got where you are?

My parents were and are rather renowned South African actors, a profession which they warned me against from a very young age. I am famously the only non-famous member of my family. So, speaking from the depths of my anonymity, I think my origin story is very much one of being the painfully visibly gay kid who was teased a great deal. I much preferred sitting with the teacher and drawing pictures during break-time, which I think has actually paid off for me.

What are some of the themes you find yourself circling back to in your work?

My memory is a kind of failed state, so I find there is an ominous circling of crows that precede any generous idea I might have. I don’t often think clearly, so my dreams are a great resource because they have their own blurry logic. Dreams and memories hold the greatest potency for me, and informs much of what I make. Alongside this, I have a keen interest in subjects like friend’s faces, outdated diagrams, microbial life, religious scripture, children’s literature and how moths have been led astray from the moon by an overabundance of lamps. I dwell on that last point an awful lot.

It can be tricky and even seemingly impossible to look into 2021 without a shudder (there’s hope there too), but can you share some things you’re looking forward to? It doesn’t have to be related to your art at all.

There is much to be uncertain about, but I am allowing myself to be cautiously optimistic. My hope for 2021 is that it becomes a juicy, cybernetic-sentient, dystopian vision that the early eighties promised us. If that doesn’t come to fruition, at the very least I will be pursuing my MFA degree which is thrilling. I’ve also recently taken up stick ‘n poke tattooing with the help of the talented tattoo artist Fabi Holm. I plan to offer my services, but moreover I’d like to be entirely covered in self-inflicted tattoos by the end of the year.

For those out there who weren’t blessed enough to attend your grad show, what were you exploring there at the end?

My exhibition “Bite an Intellectual and all you’ll taste is Dog Biscuit” was very much my venting frustration toward some aspects of intellectualism and academia. While studying, I found myself getting into a ton of theoretical binds that left me feeling very flustered and confused. So, I decided a better use of my powers might be to simply write and produce images that were playful and irreverent. I attempted to create a colourful little world with a motley crew of object-characters that live inside it.

What place do you think artists have in society these days? I mean, perhaps we just ought to keep practicing, reflecting, playing and commenting. What do you think?

Oh boy, I’ve sat through long periods of time where I have mercilessly questioned my worth as an artist and my choosing this path. Then I remember, I am practically unemployable in any other field, so I have to make it work. Of course these days one might feel a little absurd if you’re not, say, a healthcare worker or an environmentalist (I know I do). Even though I have vague and anarchic ideas about what a society is and should be, I do think every job is important.

Follow Oskar Keogh on Instagram.

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