• Artist Editions: William Keihn X UO


    Designed exclusively for Urban Outfitters, Artist Editions is an ongoing series of limited edition graphic t-shirts created by a rotating roster of artists from around the globe. 

    Artist and photographer William Keihn helped define the visual aesthetic of the underground West Coast rock scene during the late 00's and early 10's. We caught up with the artist at his new home in Nashville, TN to discuss his artist editions designs and his latest photo work.
    Photos by Zachary Gray 


    Who is William Keihn? Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background? 
    Very literally, a 34 year old, mostly white man in a heap of other white men. I grew up in a Rust Belt city in Indiana that has succumb to the effects of deindustrialization. I grew up with a lot of interesting neighborhood characters and eventually found my way West as a young man. 

    What is the first art work or thing you can ever remember creating?
    As a small kid my folks weren't quick to buy my brother and I a Nintendo. Those things were too pricey initially. So, I crafted the console, controllers and cartridges entirely of cardboard, glue and markers. I made a cardboard television as well, plugged it in and played the best video games I've ever played. 

    Were there any artists who have been particularly formative for your art practice? Any experiences that have been particularly formative for your art practice? 
    There have been a lot of folks, artists and non-artists who have hit me with some truth. I'm a believer in going directly to your sources of inspiration if at all possible. I'm also a big proponent of identifying your constraints in an effort to usurp their definition on your output. For Werner Herzog, that meant liberating a camera in order to shoot a film. For others it might mean finding satisfaction in working with their inabilities. Perfection is a ruse. 


    You recently moved from California to Tennessee, what prompted the move? How has it effected your work?
    I missed deciduous trees and I wanted to be closer to some of the subjects of my work. That and I lost the coin toss that would have taken me to New Mexico. Contrary to prevailing attitudes, California isn't the whole world. 

    Your more recent output has been focused primarily on documentary-style photography capturing the present moment. Would you say your work and creative vision has turned outward? 
    The conditions in this country have become so abject and inhospitable for so many people and I've seen it intensify my whole life. As Milton Rogovin so sharply stated, "The rich have their own photographers." It was a very easy decision to devote more time to the literal world and a practice that removed many of the filters I had once utilized to interpret and converse with others but which often times only spoke to an insular community.  


    Tell us about your designs for Artist Editions. Where did the photo elements come from? 
    The photograph of the hand-painted truck with the skulls used for the Soft Limits shirt was shot outside of a notoriously right-wing honky tonk in Orange County. Soft limits are the rules or parameters in BDSM with which the participants are willing to engage but often times with hesitation or specific conditional negotiations. The hobby stock car on the Dicer shirt was shot at a dirt track in North Carolina. Dicing is a term used in racing which basically means doing anything to take the lead position and pull off  a win. A lot of the racers let their kids ride on their laps during the race and I hope to get that shirt to the racer's kid next time I cruise back that way. 


    What’s the best thing you’ve read lately?
    I recently reread Studs Terkel's Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do. I hadn't read it since high school and obviously global economics, technology and neo-liberalism have changed what many folks do to earn a dollar. He's a completely understated master of getting his subjects to open up with seemingly little effort. And the subjects; a cop, manufacturers, athletes, farmers, a pharmacist, a grave digger, a barber and dozens more step out from behind their roles and describe their thoughts and feelings on what they do for money. Its brilliant and humanizing when increasingly in this convenience culture, we treat people in their professional roles as automatons instead of individuals. I'm kind of glad Studs died before he was exposed to the ever-modernizing nuances of technological automation. He hated what technology was doing to depersonalize human beings.


    Do you have any advice for young artists who are just beginning to make their way in the world? 
    Log off. Talk with people different than you and your immediate circle. Find your inspiration in the real world and I implore you not to become part of the post-internet ironic entanglement, no matter how cool it makes you feel. Don't condescend to others and don't undervalue non-creative work as a means of enlightenment and self-expression. I've often made better meals than art, made better love than paintings and found more poetry in pitching a baseball than any arrangement of words. 

    What’s next for you? 
    Finding places to put my love. 


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