Kelsey Tynik's sculptures and installations transform space and energy, encouraging play and whimsy. Using a variety of materials like wood, paint, and fabric, her works create objects of colorful fantasy that reach out to the viewer in wonder. Originally from New Jersey, Kelsey Tynik currently resides in Storr, Connecticut, where she is getting her MFA from the University of Connecticut. In this interview, the artist and I discuss the impact and importance of dreaming and world-building, as well as the process of accepting and enjoying being an artist.

Artist Statement:

As children, we are encouraged to play, explore and fail. As adults, that encouragement declines. Instead, we are encouraged to keep busy, interact less, and cast off our fantasy worlds. My work investigates glee and sentimentality realized through material, technique, and play. My work allows the adolescent in us to thrive. It provides fantasy without shame or guilt, and allows us to engage with the present. The exchange between the viewer and the work removes the adult preoccupation with the daily grind and provides a space for make-believe. My work offers a chance for repressed play to overflow and, in turn, gives the opportunity for unification of humanity through experience.

Image Description. A mixed media sculpture by Kelsey Tynik made of paint, fabric, and wood on display in a white walled gallery. Image courtesy of the artist.
Mixed Media Installation by Kelsey Tynik

Let’s talk about your journey getting to where you are now. What brought you to art? Have you always been a creator?

I’ve always been a creator. As a kid I adored (and hated when I did a bad job that day) Pappy Drewitt, a TV show teaching kids to draw. I also always loved world building whether it be within drawings and art making directly or, as I grew up, with my barbies or my Sims world. There was always a fascination with world building and fully designing the creative experience. I think that interest is what landed me in window dressing and displays for the entirety of my corporate experience. I worked creating worlds within windows, predominately for Alice and Olivia by Stacey Bendet. It was a wonderful place to be creative and be able to physically have my hands on everything I was working on, which is important for me. After many years of working a nine to five gig, I left to spend more time in the studio. I had a daily practice that needed more attention. Eventually I applied to graduate schools and am currently halfway through a three-year program at The University of Connecticut.  There was no way I wasn’t going to be an artist. I tried, haha. When it consumes your body, you have no choice but to accept it and enjoy it. 

Although you work with a variety of different materials, fabric shows up often in your work. What draws you to working with fabric and textiles? Would you call your work soft sculpture?

I spent years painting. I was convinced I was going to be a painter and would never spend hours laboring over the three dimensional again. This came after spending so many years inside a window, building lovely but tiresome sets. So, my relationship to canvas and painting is very personal. It is something I have always practiced. When I had very tiny New York studios, I would work on smaller pieces of canvas, always exploring the texture and color. On a larger scale, I am drawn to the fabric/canvas relationship when it’s taken off the stretcher bars. Realizing I could have a loose and energetic experience with paint and fabric and then manipulate it into a shape I was happy with was exciting for me. With fabric, I am able to sew pieces together and other previously discarded fabric might join the piece. I hand sew these items with embroidery thread using a multitude of stitching. The embroidery thread acts as another form of mark making. I do consider my work soft sculpture that now shares the stage with wood structures. For me, the draw to fabric is my history, but also the tactile experience of the material. I love that I can touch, squish, fold, and lay the material flat. There is an element of being able to be in the material itself that is attractive to me. 

Image Description: A view of Kelsey Tynik's studio. Soft sculptures of a variety of colors and materials hang from the ceiling and lay on various tables. Image courtesy of the artist.
Kelsey Tynik's studio

Your artwork is so playful, sometimes reminding me of pieces from a game. Can you talk a bit about the element of play in your work?

Ah, yes! The element of play is a cornerstone of my work. I have spent a lot of time exploring this – why its important to me, why it shows up so often in the work, and what is actually means. I recently read Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Stuart Brown, M.D.  It showed me how important it is to play and how it shapes us in our adolescence and into adulthood. There is actually a style at which certain people play. When I left my corporate job, I nannied when I wasn’t in the studio. This often fueled my practice. Kids are hysterical. They are so honest, open, and unique. Nothing solves a studio rut like drawing with kids for an hour. They come up with the most interesting shapes and stories associated with their exploration.

Within the work, play is important as a tool to making and also in the experience of the work. When producing, there is always a period where intuition and play have space. I sit, touch, and rearrange the work. I allow myself to play around with all the items in the studio, there is nothing too precious.

In experiencing the work, the pieces are meant to be slightly off putting – people often find them guttural and representative of an organ that you want to snuggle with. The work appears playful and exciting at first, but once a bit closer, it holds and maintains its boundary. They have gusto and authority. They are wacky and sweet. Powerful and tender. They hold enough contradictions that they feel playful and welcoming with a tinge of hesitation, similar to that of a very interesting game. 

What do you feel is the key element that ties your work together?

I am realizing that the duality of the work holds it all together. This can be visual or conceptual. I am working on pieces that involve grinding and carving wood with fabric pieces in mind. I ask myself how I can create tension, dialogue, and intrigue in these works. I use the wood to justify and highlight the loose nature of the fabric. There is a shift in intuition when I come to the wood. Wood needs to be sequenced, considered, and planned for. There is an ease with textiles that I can not bring to a two by four or a piece of pine. This is why these pieces function so beautifully in tandem. These sculptures are soft and hard, in struggle and in love. They are squeezed too tightly and pathetically dropping. They accept and reject one another. The vibrancy of the paint and the natural finish of the wood play in lovely conflict.

Image Description. A mixed media sculpture by Kelsey Tynik made of fabric, paint, and wood is on display in a white walled gallery. Image courtesy of the artist.
Mixed Media Sculpture by Kelsey Tynik

Can you tell us about a time when there was a shift in your work? What led to that change?

There have been two very large shifts in my work. One shift was when I finally “caved” and began making sculptures. And I was happy doing it! I resisted this for a long time due to circumstances – studio space, location, accessibility to materials, burn out, etc. I swore off the three dimensional. I told myself I would just work 2D…that lasted all of two weeks. 

The other large shift is my shift into wood. This is new and exciting for me. The material always seemed familiar to me; my dad owns a contracting business that gave me a kinship to the material. I always felt it spoke my language in a way that was unexpected – using such a rigid material to exude play and spontaneity. Once I found pine and the grinder, it really changed my work both in production and aesthetics. The process of working with wood is a slower more systematic process than what I do when I paint and use fabric. I really enjoy the dance between both. 

What person (artist or not) inspires you the most?

Oh man, so many – do I have to choose just one? Amelia Briggs, Carl D’Alvia, Natalie Baxter, Meg Lipke, Genesis Belanger, Olivia Bax, the list goes on. It’s so important for me to see contemporary artists creating work that inspires them. 

What are you looking forward to?

I’m really excited for an upcoming show at JEFF gallery in Marfa, TX. It is an amazing group of artists and I’m honored to be showing alongside them. I’m also looking forward to spending extra time in my studio. I just completed building a grinding and sanding booth so that I can work inside and control the dust (Northeast winter will drive you to build indoors). I have also created an organized peg board tool cart that rolls. I’m not OVERLY organized in the studio, more like controlled chaos, so whenever I take the time to build new organizational systems it makes me excited to work. 

Image Description. A mixed media sculpture by Kelsey Tynik made of fabric, paint, and wood is on display in a gallery. The structure is largely blue and blue vertical stripes adorn the walls behind the sculpture. Image courtesy of the artist.
Mixed Media Installation by Kelsey Tynik
Image Description. A mixed media sculpture by Kelsey Tynik made of fabric, paint, and wood is on display in a white walled gallery. Image courtesy of the artist.
Mixed Media Sculpture by Kelsey Tynik
Image Description. Two framed mixed media, 2D pieces by Kelsey Tynik hang on a white wall. Image courtesy of the artist.
Two mixed media paintings by Kelsey Tynik