Talk Crafty to Me – An inside look into Arrowmont instructors’ connection to craft, Gatlinburg and studio practice.
Artists-in-Residence Grant Benoit and Maia Leppo interview identical twin instructors Kelly and Kyle Phelps. The twins grew up in a factory environment in Indiana where they were inspired by the blue-collar working class. Kelly and Kyle recently co-taught “The Narrative Figure,” July 10-16, 2016 at Arrowmont.
What is a non-art inspiration in your current practice?
Definitely music, I think music is the soundtrack to our work. My hometown is a pretty big inspiration. We grew up in a blue collar, working class environment. Seeing the factories, boarded up warehouses, these are inspiration for Kyle and I, even though they are eyesores for other. We like to tell stories of the hay day of the working class, we are proud of that upbringing.
What was your first ah-ha piece of work that you made?
We were expected to work in the plant, so it really wasn’t on anyone’s radar. But once we got into high school, we saw people applying to college and pursuing art so we took a class in college and loved it. Our ah-ha moment wasn’t until graduate school when we started to exhibit our work. We got into an exhibition that we placed pretty high, and a critic wrote a wonderful article about us, but then he said ‘the twins worked looked like Hummel figurines.’
Tell us about your studio space. What is your favorite part of it?
American Craft deemed it “the world’s smallest studio.” We have a home studio, partly because we have all the amenities and technologies at the University. In our eyes a studio is a romantic notion, down town studios you don’t get into, but we are more likely to work when we get home from work.
Best piece of advice you have gotten?
Don’t believe the myth of the starving artist. Don’t get caught up in titles – designer or artist, it’s all the same. Especially with clay there are so many different facets and you can go in any direction you want. I enjoy art because its everywhere and we are the makers of everything – our jobs, our careers, and every facet of life. I consider factory workers as artists; they are the craftsmen. I learned mold making and welding in the factory. Those are interchangeable with artists. I think it’s important for young artists to understand craft and hand skills. More and more students are tech savvy, and getting away from learning to train your brain and your hands to work together. They are too intrigued by instant gratification.
What special talent would you choose if you could magically gain one?
Have the ability to create more time, or stop time; there is never enough time to do what you want to do.
What are you currently listening to in your studio and why?
Kyle and I are pretty hard-core; we listen to hard-core rock, punk rock and Ska. We grew up around the hard-core scene.
Any shows or exhibitions coming up?
We are represented by Hooks-Epstein Gallery in Houston, TX. We have a second solo show there in October called “The Blue Collar.” We are teaching at Penland next year.
You both dress alike every day and have the same tattoos. How did this come about?
Since we are the last of 8 kids, we were always sharing things. We grew up in a poor working class environment. We grew up together and shared everything, even our twin bed. We just really embraced it. Some twins do everything in their power to separate, we don’t. We have the same tastes. We are one person in two different bodies. It’s not a gimmick; we became professors together, had sabbatical together, got tenure together.
For more information about Kyle and Kelly and their work, visit https://www.craftcouncil.org/magazine/article/american-made