Born and raised in New Orleans, Aidi Kansas honed her chops here in Houston. After graduating from the University of Houston, she launched her art career, inspired in part by her grandfather, a Costa Rican-born merchant seaman who also dabbled in painting. Kansas’ artistic expression focuses on presenting pet portaiture in vibrant colors and graphic imagery, bringing to life the personalities and character of these beloved creatures.
H: What spurred your passion for pet portraiture? AK: I have always loved animals, but for different reasons I never got to keep a pet for long as a kid. About the time I was graduating from U of H, I got my first puppy as an adult – my Jack Russell terrier, Bobo. A few months later, I took a trip to New York and happened to see the Chuck Close exhibit at the MOMA. I enjoyed his take on faces and portraits, and I guess I was thinking about Bobo back in Houston. So, as soon as I came home, I locked myself in my studio and started trying to take that inspiration and, using my own voice, paint a proper tribute to Bobo.
H: When you first started painting, you nicknamed your work “Puppy Pop Art.” Your technique is reminiscent of pop art, but the fact that you paint animals gives it an unexpected twist. How did your style develop? AK: I really don’t use “Puppy Pop Art” anymore. It works as a description because I think my painting style and sense of humor have always fit the pop art movement, but I think people should know my work rather than a brand name. Originally, I focused on using color to capture the emotional essence of that unique relationship between pet and owner. As I did more portraits, I started to experiment more with the natural design elements that are part of each dog’s face and the negative space within the portrait. I think that has brought a new element to the work, and the paintings are more interesting as a result.
H: Where did you first show your work? AK: Martha and Jack Meier, of the Jack Meier Gallery on Bissonnet in Houston, gave me my first big break on the gallery scene. Martha thought my work was refreshing and original, even though it was very different from everything else they carried.
H: Each dog’s true personality emanates from your paintings. Is it difficult to see through the animal? AK: It takes a little background work to get the personality to come out. The best source is always the pet’s owner. I like to hear a few stories from the owner to give me some insight into the subject’s personality. By using vibrant colors and staying away from the dull white, black and brown of reality, I think I capture that pet/owner relationship. Having a pet is great because you can enjoy all the fun red, orange, yellow times without having to worry so much about the more serious grey and brown times that are part of any deep human relationship.
H: Do you spend some time getting acquainted before starting the working process? AK: At the beginning, I would go visit the pet before starting a painting. That’s just not possible anymore, so I spend some quality time on the phone with the pet’s owner, just trying to get to know them and their pet. Then the owner will send me some pictures. The best ones to work from are interesting face shots – but something that’s consistent with the pet’s character.
H: How long on average does one portrait take to complete? AK: Depending on what else I have going on, it can take about a week.
H: Do you work on several at a time or do you prefer to focus on one? AK: I usually work on several at a time, because I feel that letting a painting rest and going back to refine it is all part of the painting process.
H: Do you feel that you take yourself and your art very seriously or are you able to have fun with all of this? AK: In general, I try not to take things too seriously. Animals are about fun and joyful love. But, once I get started, I take painting pretty seriously, especially when I get started on a commission. The fun is seeing the reaction of the recipient or the tears when they’ve seen their pet painted in an endearing and commemorative light, especially those that have lost their loved ones. It is truly a rewarding experience.
H: Are you planning to bring your work to Houston any time soon? AK: I plan to be part of the Astroworld Series of Dog Shows in Houston, from July 15-18. H
Aidi Kansas is now exhibiting at Sterling Gallery, 308 Royal St., New Orleans and can be reached at www.aidikansas.com, email@example.com, (504) 482-5859.