Interview by T.K. Mills - Images by Thirdrail Art
Konstance Patton is a natural storyteller, with an infectious laugh that can light up a room. Her glowing personality shines just as brightly in her art – whether through her ‘Be A Lover’ script, or her Goddezzes, spiritual murals evocative of the women who have inspired her.
I sat down with Konstance to learn more about her philosophies on art, and how she came to find herself at the forefront of New York’s modern mural movement with the SoHo Renaissance Factory.
This interview has been edited for concision & clarity.
T.K. Mills: Starting from the beginning, how did you get involved in art? How did your family and upbringing guide your creativity?
Konstance Patton: Right off the bat, I was born an artist. I come from a bloodline of artists and I have been making things for as long as I can remember. My family never pushed me, but if I took an interest in something, like learning to sculpt, they’d give me the tools to learn.
So, I wanted to sculpt this soap, and I thought that I could just do it. I grabbed the bar of soap, this green Zest that we had. And then, I grabbed the knife as well. I’m chopping away, chop, chop, chop. And then, my grandmother came to me, “Oh my God! What are you doing?” I was probably six and I thought I was in trouble, but actually, she was just going to show me how to use the paring knife. I was hacking away with a little steak knife. My grandma was like, ‘No! You have to do it like this…” I lived in a household where I didn’t get in trouble for that. She was like, you’re doing it wrong, let me show you how to do it, go sit over there, and cut away from yourself...
... I grew up in a house with a kiln in the basement where my grandma fired ceramics. She had a studio, and it’s crazy because I look at it now and think how much value that was to have -- an actual sculpting studio in the basement. My family nurtured creativity. My uncle is a professional artist, and he made this double wide trailer and outfitted the whole thing in wood. It looks like a log cabin. It’s on this really beautiful piece of land with a creek in the back of it, where he made mass sculptures.
I saw clippings of my grandma looking rad at art fairs, which she helped facilitate. She made these dolls and beads and would sell them to the community, sometimes straight from the studio, with people coming by to buy them. It was a lesson on how you support your arts, because we weren’t rolling in money or anything, but she made enough. She was really tough.
T.K. Mills: Something I admire about your work is your strong hustle mentality. You’re always doing new projects and collaborations. Could you tell me about where you learned that hustle instinct, and how you apply it in your career?
Konstance Patton: Yeah, that’s a Detroit mentality. Making your own opportunities is necessary as an artist. Some people want that 9 to 5 life, lawyers or doctors and what not. That just does not excite me. It never has. I always wanted to make things. But, again, being an artist, you have to figure out like where your lane is.
I had to make my lane. It was like I was trying to fit in lanes, driving, shifting back and forth... It became apparent to me about two years ago, when I really started to think what are the things I can do with my work beyond just group shows. I’ve done a few solo shows over the years – but, I wanted to do something really interesting and I also wanted to create things that are affordable to everyone...
... So, I have pieces that are very high-end. I sold my original work for a lot, but I started doing merchandising with Barron Claiborne with the ‘BIG in the Crown’ King of New York photograph. It was a way to create art that was for everyone, right? If you want to buy the print, it’s going to cost you a pretty penny, but when it’s a shirt, something you can wear... So, I start to put that mentality to my work and creating very small run Goddezz shirts, doing all the production in-house.
I do the graphics for it, translating these hand-painted pieces into a digital format and take them to the printer, go talk to the printer, figure out where to get the points, doing that process, shipping, all the stages of development.
Once I started doing that, it gave me a lot of freedom to see how I could do it myself. You can control quality that way too. Then, I worked with other artists and help them do it. I learned how to apply my hustle to make it work with art. Part of it is a way to keep me going, surround myself with people that are doing things in the same space. So, with SRF, I’m working around them even if we’re not working on projects together.
T.K. Mills: Can you tell me a bit about the SRF?
Konstance Patton: SRF is the Soho Renaissance Factory. SRF is what we call it to each other. The SoHo Renaissance Factory is my crew, we work side by side. We collaborate sometimes, but the collaboration is more of like going and creating things together or being in the studio together. So, we might bounce ideas back and forth, but really for me, I enjoy doing different things with different people. We met last summer while painting in the streets. We just came together in a very organic way, and realized we had a lot power working together as a unit. With SRF, we have the opportunity to be on the forefront of changing the art world...
... People are looking for something more authentic – that’s the beauty of street art. Versus, you know, the gallery experience, the white wall experience. Honestly when I moved to New York in 2005, I didn’t feel welcome to go in those spaces. I wasn’t scared, but just put off by the environment because it wasn’t really warm or welcoming to me as a young black girl... It was very intimidating.
Compared to street art, where it’s like, “come on in.” I want to create opportunities. It was one of my goals to be one of the voices of my generation, and I’m finding with my recent success I am one of those voices. I want to push forward, with love and positivity, and to do it alongside people that are doing great things. It’s good because we keep each other going, but also give each other safety signals. You know, especially now where the work I’m doing is like is semi-legal. When you see someone painting a board, it’s like a signal you’re welcome there.
T.K. Mills: Could you tell me how the Be A Lover campaign started? It seems to be a prominent part of you work.
Konstance Patton: Be A Lover! It’s everywhere. I started doing Be A Lover probably ten years ago. I love font and handwriting and script... I love it. When I was a kid, I would get in trouble in class, and you have to write something a million times... like Bart in the opening of the Simpsons, right? I was like, “Hell, yeah, I’m going to write.”
I would try to line it up perfectly and try to execute it different ways. If I was bored, I would literally write my ABCs. I would fill the page in the same way with the Be a Lover, basically the script that I wrote over and over, super repetitive. I would write it until I filled up the whole page.
T.K. Mills: Can you tell me about how you got into the street art world and when you first started getting up?
Konstance Patton: When I was a kid, I would tag walls, bathrooms, you know… I had a few phases since I was like 16. In Detroit, I was coming up with characters, throwing them up, learning how to spray paint. Just throwing paint up in alleys.
When I turned 19, I moved to Italy. When I was in Italy, that’s when I started noticing a lot more street art. I mean, I had friends that do graffiti in Detroit when we were younger. But, when I was there, I was like, “Wow! They do it everywhere.” My mind was blown by thinking about putting work up in those spaces, along the beach or especially abandoned buildings. And, that’s when I really started to have the urge to put up art pieces. Not that graffiti isn’t art, but just thinking about walls in terms of more than graffiti...
...That’s where it started. Then a few years later, we took a family trip to Germany. I didn’t speak German, but I could get around a bit. I started going to Cologne because they have a really rich street art scene. And later I got invited to a festival – that was the first time that I was actually invited out of the country to come do street art. The festival was called CityLeaks. That’s when I started really, really put pieces up. I was doing stencils of these old sculptures that I have and then wheatpasting them. It was really fun. I saw the interaction that happens, so I put a piece up and then someone else will come and put a piece next to it. It doesn’t last forever, but that’s part of the beauty of it.
T.K. Mills: Last Question. What advice would you give to artists who are just starting out? What advice would you give to your younger self?
Konstance Patton: Well, keep going. I think about my younger self and thank her for keeping the fuck going and I would say that to any other artist. I am so elated with the amount of success I’ve had because it’s something that’s real that I believe in. I will say to any artist, do not compromise your work. Don’t compromise what you think. Build your work ethic, because trying to be a full-time artist is really hard. Commit to it and figure out how it works for you. You have to find a way that makes you content to do the work, you know?
Overall just don’t give up, because once you give up, you gave up. You don’t have to bloom early. I’m already deeply in my 30s, and things are really taking off. When I was younger, I thought if I’m not in the gallery by the time I’m 35… But, that’s not the truth. Maybe you don’t want to be in a gallery. Maybe, go out and make your own fucking gallery.
Just keep going – believe in yourself and do the work. Discipline yourself, do the work, try shit out. Just try some shit out. [Laughs]