Josh Keyes

Josh Keyes is an absolutely incredible artist – his skills with a paintbrush are scary. Based in Portland, Oregon, his recent pieces see him exploring the mess man is making of nature with graffiti daubed over beautiful scenes. His latest print release ‘Descent’ turned the internet into a frenzy when he released an edition only limited by being available for 48 hours.

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So Josh… instead of doing a limited edition 150 print run for your Descent print, you had it on sale for just 48 hours through Pixelpoint Artistry and the limit was ‘however many you sold in that time’. Why did you decide to try that out?
I have noticed more and more artists selling editions in this way and wanted to try it out. Most of the limited editions sell out very quickly and I often receive a hefty stack of emails from folks who were not able to purchase one. The time release gives collectors an opportunity to add a print to their collection without the stress of being at the computer at the time of the release. David of Pixelpoint and I thought this would be a good crowd pleaser, and judging from the feedback from customers think it was.

Were you expecting it to go quite so crazy?
I had a sense that Descent was a popular image, but had no idea it appealed to so many people. I am thrilled it is an image people responded to and it seems to have generated some interesting discussions about graffiti and the environment.


Is this the future of selling print editions for you?
The time release is an new method, and I think it has been very successful, but I will also continue publishing limited editions.

You’ve moved from doing photo realistic, cross sections of nature interacting with urban life in an abstract setting to photo realistic pieces of art being desecrated by graffiti. Why did you flip that up?
I think like anything that you do for a long period of time, there is a point when you desire to make some changes. I have worked in that style for over ten years. There were concepts and narratives I wanted to work with that did not fit that diagramatic formula. I was a little anxious about making the shift, but feel that I have opened to a larger world, and it has given me more freedom to express a larger spectrum of ideas and possibilities.

The ecological cross-sections (for want of a snappier description) are incredibly sought after as prints – is it easy as an artist to fall into a comfort zone of doing something you know will get a great response?
Of course. I think it’s a challenging place to be as a creative person. Do you make what sells, or do you listen to the work and let the organic process guide you. I think if you listen to the market or to what critics think you should be doing, the work will loose its light and die.

How much research did you do you to create the graffiti tags in these newer pieces – are they real or do you just make them up on the spot or did you pick up ideas from when you had work on show at Dismaland?
I find graffiti around town in Portland, Oregon. Sometimes I try my hand at a tag but I’m not that great. I try to find graffiti that is lyrical, almost like abstract painting, it has a charge. I do alter the colours of the tags to create harmonic relationships with the imagery. I don’t know if Dismaland had an affect on my recent work, but it was such an honour to show alongside some amazing artists, and especially Banksy, who has been a strong influence in my work and thinking. He is a brilliant satirist.

When you make a decision to pursue photo realism, you must have been aware how much practice and focus that takes. Do you thrive on the challenge?
I actually have a very low attention span, and I have a ton of ideas. Working in an immersive world, painting to the edge, takes a little more time than my earlier work. I enjoy the challenge and if you look closely, my surfaces and details are pretty loose. They look tight from a distance but part of my current love has been looking at the impressionists, folks like Monet and Sargent. I want these to be paintings made of coloured mud, not just a photo-realistic copy. I have a show with Thinkspace Gallery this August and I am working with some new imagery and techniques, and yes, there will be a barking shark.

Of course! Where can we see more of your work?

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