George McKim has an MFA in Painting. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Diagram, elimae, The Found Poetry Review, Ilanot Review, Scissors and Spackle, Dear Sirs, Shampoo, Ditch, Glittermob, Cricket Online Review, Otoliths, Blaze Vox, The Tupelo Press 30/30 Project and others. His chapbook of Found Poetry and Visual Poetry “Found & Lost” was published by Silver Birch Press in 2015. A poem from the chapbook was nominated for the Pushcart Prize by Silver Birch Press in 2015.
Geosi Gyasi: You’re a visual artist living and working in Raleigh, NC. Could you tell us a little bit about the place where you live and work?
George McKim: Raleigh, NC is a smallish city that is probably more known for technology and business than for the Arts. It is a fairly conservative city in a conservative state in a conservative region of the country. I moved there because of the job opportunities and wound up staying there. My art studio is in my house and I make it work. In a couple of months I’ll be renting an art studio in an artists collective studio space called ArtSpace in downtown Raleigh.
Geosi Gyasi: What does it take to become a visual artist, if I may ask?
George McKim: If you don’t make a living from making art or writing poetry, which I don’t, you have to have a passion for it or else you will not have the will to persevere. I have had a “regular” job as a graphic artist at a printing press for twenty-five years and I have continued to paint and write in my “spare time”. I have always heard people say, or imply, that “artistic talent” is an ability that you are born with and not necessarily something you can learn. That may have been the case when visual art was more about technical skill and being able to accurately reproduce the illusion of objects and people in a three dimensional space on the flat surface of a canvas. Visual art has changed in the past one hundred years so that technical skill is not valued as much as it used to be. Having said that, I displayed considerable artistic technical skill, or talent, when I was young and I was encouraged to study art, which I did, I went to college and got a BFA in fine art painting and an MFA in fine art painting.
Geosi Gyasi: How do you combine your work as a visual artist and poet?
George McKim: That is a great question and a difficult question to answer. I have been a visual artist most of my life, but I have only been writing poetry for six years, I began writing poetry at the age of 56. I would like to think that my visual artwork is “poetic” but I don’t really know what it is that makes a painting or visual art piece “poetic”. There does not seem to be a formula for making “poetic” paintings that I know of. I have tried a couple of times to literally combine painting and poetry by pasting a printed poem onto a painting, but didn’t like the way it worked out (or didn’t work out). In my chapbook “Found & Lost” I placed the written poems and visual art next to each other on facing pages and I feel like that is a more interesting and successful way to combine written poetry and visual poetry for me at this point in time. I would like to think that my excursion into poetry writing has influenced my visual artwork in some way.
Geosi Gyasi: I learned from online that you make paintings on canvas, paper and collages. Could you briefly tell us about what these media are?
George McKim: Painting on canvas is (or was) considered to be the most serious and highest form of visual art. It is (or was) the most practical and permanent way to make a large visual art statement. Painting on paper lends itself more to improvisation and experimentation because the materials are less expensive and more disposable if things don’t work out as planned. Collage, generally speaking, involves incorporating photographs and/or illustrations and/or found materials and/or images into the drawing/painting process. Collage was invented by the Dada poets in the early twentieth century and is often considered to be visual poetry depending on how images are combined.
Geosi Gyasi: Between writing and painting, which one is your first love?
George McKim: Painting is my first love, possibly because I have been doing it for so long and I feel confident in my abilities as a visual artist, I feel like that if I have some paint and canvas I can make something interesting happen. Writing poetry is more challenging for me. Poetry and Art can both be about total intellectual and creative freedom and they both are born in the same universe of the mind. I like the way that poetry and art can be dissociated from reality and can create a different way of imagining the world.
Geosi Gyasi: What motivated your studies in painting and why not poetry or writing?
George McKim: Possibly because my father was an architect and not a writer. I showed some talent as a young person in painting and drawing and was encouraged to persue that avenue. I was going to study Commercial Art in college, but I changed my major to Fine Art Painting because I was so inspired by the artwork I saw in the painting studios at the university I attended.
Geosi Gyasi: Tell me something about your publication, ”New American Paintings”?
George McKim: New American Paintings is not my publication, but rather a somewhat prestigious magazine type publication that has a national and international distribution and is comprised of artwork submitted by artists from all across America. I had some of my paintings in the publication about ten years ago.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you make a living out of painting and drawing? What about writing?
George McKim: No. If you look at my Art bio on my website you will see that my art has been exhibited in various group exhibitions in galleries and museums in the Southeast, which means that various art gallery and museum curators think my artwork is good, but for some reason I have not sold that much of my artwork over the years. I think that has a positive side in that I have the freedom to paint whatever I want without having to worry about whether or not it will sell. I don’t think success in art is measured by financial success. Poetry is more difficult to sell than painting, in my opinion, because it has a smaller audience than art.
Geosi Gyasi: Your recent book of Found and Visual Poetry, “Found and Lost” was recently published by Silver Birch Press. Could you tell me about the synopsis of the book?
George McKim: First of all, let me just say that I am very grateful to Melanie at Silver Birch Press for publishing this chapbook. I think they sort of went out on a limb to publish this book because it is somewhat out of the ordinary as far as the poetry and the artwork are concerned. This is my first chapbook and it’s a tribute to some of the great poets of the twentieth century. I started by choosing some poems by various well-known poets and I used a variation of the William Burroughs “cut-up” technique, which is an aleatory literary technique in which a text is cut up and rearranged to create a new text, to create the “Found Poems” in my book. Some of the poems in the book are a “mash-up” (combined and rearranged) and a repurposing of several different poems by other poets to make one new “Found Poem”. All of the text in these poems came from poems by other poets. The process was one in which I did not start the poems with a pre-conceived theme or a pre-conceived notion of what the poems would be about. I would select a word or words and arrange them on a page and wait for word associations to spark my imagination and then I just used my imagination to create an amalgamation of words and lines that were interesting to me.
Geosi Gyasi: Could you briefly distinguish between Found and Visual Poetry?
George McKim: Found Poetry is appropriating and re-purposing and re-mixing existing text from just about any source. Visual Poetry is more about is appropriating and re-purposing and re-mixing existing text and visual images and also adding visual images and passages using painting and drawing and collage methods. Visual Poetry is more difficult to define because it can include many different images and text.
Geosi Gyasi: How did you get into writing?
George McKim: At some point in my life, I think it was in my late twenties, I became very intrigued by poetry but I did not consider the idea of writing poetry until about twenty five years later. I remember at some point during that time I had this paperback book titled “A Controversy of Poets” that was published back in the sixties or seventies I guess, but I was amazed and fascinated by how deep and absolutely freed from rational thinking and creative the poems in that book were, it blew my mind. When I was fifty six, I think I was somewhat disillusioned about making art and I was reading some poetry and I thought to myself, you know I think I’ll try writing some poetry and I made some feeble attempts and I kinda got hooked on reading and writing poetry after that.
Geosi Gyasi: Which artist is your greatest influence on your drawings and paintings?
George McKim: Van Gogh is my greatest influence but I look at all kinds of new, exciting, inspirational contemporary art which can easily be found on various social media sites on the internet.
Geosi Gyasi: Are there any writers who have influenced your work?
George McKim: James Wright is one of the first writers that I remember being really taken by, his poetry is amazing. The Dada poets, in particular Tristan Tzara really interest me. Jackson MacLow is an incredible poet. I like new experimental writing of all sorts.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you see yourself writing more books?
George McKim: Yes, I have written three chapbooks of poetry in the past 6 months and all three have been submitted to various alternative presses and hopefully will be accepted for publication. One of the chapbooks is titled “Grand Theft Poetry” because the poetry is basically lines of poetry stolen from poems by other poets. The book is comprised of Cento poems which are a type of Found Poetry. The title is a variation on the title of a popular video game titled “Grand Theft Auto”. The other 2 chapbooks are short prose poems, one is titled “Ghost Apparatus” and the other is titled “Dear StAbby”.
Geosi Gyasi: On your site at tumblr.com, you’re described as a painter, poet, revolutionary, vagabond, seeker, sea monster, torrential rain storm, amateur brain surgeon, wilted lettuce, prophet, priest and so forth. I’m eager to know who a vagabond or seeker is?
George McKim: Well…. that little faux bio is totally “tongue in cheek”. The whole thing goes like this – “George McKim is a painter, poet, revolutionary, vagabond, seeker, sea monster, torrential rain storm, amateur brain surgeon, wilted lettuce, prophet, priest, nascar driver, broken mirror, inventor of the wheel, a million blinking eyes, mime, leper, television evangelist, axe grinder, ice sculptor, snake charmer, gondola operator, mushroom cloud, shaman, sham, sheik, busboy, ballet dancer, lumberjack, a burning ghost, a burning bush, a burning cloud, the rain was born with dark eyes, inventor of the milky way and devout follower of Zoroaster.”
I’m not a vagabond, but I do feel like I’m a seeker in that I am always seeking new avenues of expression in poetry and visual art.