Shades of Yee
Before Xsjado, before SHOCK, before Stay Fakey, and before butt-sliding down rails in VG23, there was a unique individual that looked at the world and saw something different than the rest of us. And fortunately for us all, that person is still here, still blading and still creating. Though he’s recently had knee surgery and is adjusting to the recovery, he’s found new inspiration in the smooth line and boundless possibilities of brush and paint. So we asked how life is back in his hometown, what it’s like dealing with injury, and how discovering a new creative side just might open new doors for this innovative talent. The search for these answers uncovered more than expected, exposing the many shades of Kevin Yee.
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Kevin, before we get too far into this, please tell people where you are, when you relocated back to MN, and how long youʼve been painting.
Hey ONE, thanks for this opportunity! I moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota about a year and a half ago. Iʼve been making art for a long time in spurts but in the last two years I have been working towards making it more of a discipline.
Right on. That’s interesting you call it “discipline.” Now that we’ve got all that covered, how are things going in MN? A big change from SF?
The first year was pretty hard but things are improving lately. I just got a job as a prep cook and I really enjoy it. I have reconnected with a lot of really old friends from when I lived here in high school, as well as made some new ones. My sister and her two kids live here so I am loving being around to watch them grow up. Itʼs definitely a big change from SF. Mostly I think about how I miss all the friends I left in the bay area. Also, I miss how colorful the bay area is visually and culturally. Blading wise, I really miss skating bowls. But there is a lot of rad stuff going on in Minneapolis as well that Iʼm finding out about more lately. This move has turned out to be a good way for me to start moving on to a new phase in my life.
Most people saw recently when you posted about injuring your knee — what exactly happened?
I hurt my left knee a few times in the last year and after giving it some rest, my first day back skating I completely tore my left ACL. I was out filming a trick with Jeph and I landed in some grass and my knee totally gave way. I knew right away I was screwed.
It hurt like hell and I started screaming so loud that the neighbors came over with ice! I got the surgery a month ago.
But silver linings and all that, right? Now you had time to fill…
Iʼm not sure what the silver lining is… Maybe that itʼs given me more time to work on getting my life together and making art. Maybe Iʼll come back to blading in a while and have a new take on it, who knows?
What was the first painting you did in this series? And what does it mean to you?
The first painting is of a house with a schoolbus in front. I did that one before I left San Francisco and it is about when I lived in Kansas during middle school. I left little pieces of collage to indicate different things that were influencing me at the time: Jesus is the school bus driver, there are some X-Men fighting in the grass, “Amerika” is across the house, and ominous little quotes scattered about. It was actually a time in my life that I felt the most happy and in sync with my environment, but it was short lived so there is that dark feeling in the painting. When I started that one I was trying my best to remember that time and reconnect with my younger self.
I see a lot of mixed media in your work. How does an idea come about? Do you have a plan going into a piece — like you find a texture or picture and decide to build something around that — or is it more organic and random?
Well for the most part I donʼt really know what itʼs going to look like when I start. I think thatʼs part of the fun. I sometimes have an idea or a couple references when I start, but other times I just start making marks on the page and it develops from there. A lot of the time I get interested in the lines that Iʼm creating and start to see what they are becoming and try to help them get there, although along the way they might become something else entirely. Before too long Iʼm inside a little world Iʼve created and thatʼs when it gets really fun. I would say that for the most part my process is more organic and random than planned but a plan helps me get started in the beginning or get out of a bind in the middle.
What all materials are you working with?
I work on paper using pastels, water colors, crayons, pens, paint pens, ink, pencils, charcoal, really anything that I can get my hands on. I used to do a lot of collage as well but lately Iʼm not as into that.
As a creative person, do you think your artistic impulses on blades or a canvas come from the same place?
Iʼm not really sure. The blading and the art both come from me, but who or what am I? I used to obsess about this question but now my approach is to just let it be. Like how stirring up the water makes the reflection harder to see. Making art feels really different than blading for the most part. Making art takes a lot more patience and discipline for me but that may be because I am newer at it.
What other painters or artists or people have inspired you in this direction?
Some artists that I really like are Keith Haring, Basquiat, and Jackson Pollock. When I see their work I am really wowed and I feel like I could go in a similar direction. I donʼt really look at other artists work and deliberately try to copy it but itʼs kinda like when I was a grommet and I saw Jon Julioʼs skating and really identified with it because I knew intuitively that I could go in a similar direction. There are other artists that I see and Iʼm like “Man I could never draw that realistically” or whatever, just like if I watch someone like Brian Aragon skate Iʼm like “No fucking way could I ever do that!”
Have you ever sold a piece of art youʼve created? Would you?
A couple people have expressed interest on social media but I havenʼt finished any deals yet. I am definitely down to make prints for anyone interested. Itʼs a little harder with the originals but if someone was really interested I would be willing to work something out. I actually have a show on December 17th in Minneapolis where I will be selling my art. If anyone is interested you can buy a ticket through my page to support my fee to show that night: http://www.rawartists.org/kenjiart
People reading this are used to the idea of blading and the trial and error process it entails. Basically, if you mess up you fall and get hurt. Whatʼs the trial and error element like in painting? Guessing itʼs more forgiving to a degree?
Well yeah, I donʼt expect to tear my ACL or break a wrist making art! And thatʼs part of why I like it… But I think with art and blading you just have to keep practicing and your work will develop naturally. With art I try not to judge myself too harshly or compare myself to other artists because that just bums me out and demotivates me to make stuff. The biggest error for me at this point with art is not taking the time every day to make something. And I think art for me is more important as a therapy than as a way to stand out.
Whatʼs a painting skill you aim to work on further developing?
I really like dipping my paint brush in black ink and doing portraits lately so I think Iʼm going to keep working on that. I really like Japanese brushwork thatʼs kind of spontaneous and zen-like. I think it would be cool to combine that style with the kind of mixed media surreal looking stuff Iʼm doing.
How large are these pieces? Itʼs impossible to get a sense of size through the computer.
All of the pieces with collage are 18×24 inches and the others are all 8.5″ x 11″.
Are there common themes that find their way into your art and view of the world?
Iʼm not sure, since each piece feels like a world on its own. But I think my desire to get into a spontaneous flow of movement really translates into the way the pieces look. Getting into that mood is really the goal and whatever comes out of it I tend to be cool with.
How bad do you miss blading right now?
Iʼm not dying to blade, my feeling about it is mostly just curiosity. I donʼt have any official sponsors and Iʼm satisfied with the work I have done in the past. When I got injured in the past I felt like I had to come back strong because the vision I had for my skating wasnʼt complete. Now the curiosity is whether I can come back and find a new vision. Hopefully something that keeps me out of the hospital!
When will you be healthy enough or some rolling?
Well the doctor said 9 months so itʼs looking like around next summer.
Sights on another edit or section?
I have some footage floating around right now that hasnʼt been seen. Some older stuff for Stay Fakey and some stuff I filmed in New Orleans for Jeremy Raffs new video. No plans for after the surgery, Iʼm just going to ease back in and see how it goes.
Well we canʼt wait to see ALL of it. Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, Kevin. Good luck with the recovery and the continued development of your art!
At Top: “Beach Trip” by Kevin Yee
Portrait by John Haynes