Kingman Studios: A warehouse of experience-driven art

Bryn Mawr artist Brant Kingman at a spot designed for selfies at his studio.
Bryn Mawr artist Brant Kingman at a spot designed for selfies at his studio.

Kingman_7A heart pierced with arrows marks the entry for Kingman Studios at the old Glenwood-Inglewood campus in Bryn Mawr.

Inside the art studio, there is a larger-than-life Jesse Ventura bobblehead sculpture, “pop art” created with hundreds of pop cans, bronze sculptures that have appeared in museums across the country, and selfie stations where people can sit on a gigantic chair or pose inside a picture frame lit in rotating colors.

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The artist behind the eclectic pieces is Bryn Mawr resident Brant Kingman. Aside from his artwork, Kingman is famous for planning wildly creative events and drawing city scrutiny for popular parties at his former Northeast studio.

“I call myself an experience designer,” he said.

Today Kingman is keeping a lower profile, but he’s still dancing (he’s a regular at Dance Church at the Tapestry Folkdance Center), he still holds “modest” private gatherings, and he still loves to bring people together.

IMG_0228Convening people, holding their attention and generating conversations are more satisfying than creating art few may see, he said. And Kingman knows how to hold someone’s attention. He’s hosted fire performances in the backyard  next to Bassett Creek, in which Burning Man performers are accompanied by acoustic musicians. He makes wooden “fire sculptures” with sparklers and fuel-absorbing wicks to burn the pieces away layer by layer. One piece awaiting the flames is called “Burning Heart.”

“My intention is to get people to focus on love,” he said. “It’s kind of cool to have art which isn’t acquired for its lasting qualities but its ephemeral qualities.”

At 6,800 square feet, the current studio is larger than Kingman’s previous studios on Grand Street in Northeast and above Gardner Hardware in the North Loop. The new space holds a stage and several areas designed for intimate conversation, as well as a six-foot replica of a Chippendale doll chair. One interactive piece is a spaceship he made with his son, age six at the time, which incorporates a coffee urn, vacuum cleaner, microphone and fog that blows out the back.

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Kingman is a long-distance runner, and as he ran by the Glenwood-Inglewood water bottling plant about three years ago, he noticed fresh activity on the campus. His studio had previously been evicted from Northeast and displaced by redevelopment in the North Loop. So when he learned a new owner had taken over, he asked if there was any vacant space.

“I was the first tenant,” he said.

The campus at 225 Thomas Ave. N. is also home to Utepils Brewing, marketing consultants like Top Source Media, and the European auto shop Further Performance.

Kingman arrived in 2015 with a bit of fanfare. As part of the move from the North Loop to Bryn Mawr, Kingman requested help from burlesque performers to dance on crates, a nude model to pose for one last drawing at the old studio, acoustic musicians to play in the stairway, and photographers to capture the action.

The Bryn Mawr warehouse holds a wide array of Kingman’s work, all of it elevated on palettes and wheels to keep above water that seeps into the flood-prone spot.

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Much of Kingman’s work incorporates found objects. A platform is made entirely of lumber lifted from the trash. He’s worked with old rusty nails and created sculpture with his mother out of burdock burrs.

At age 88, Kingman’s mother is suffering from dementia. Although it’s difficult for her to carry on a conversation, he said she has endless patience for collecting material and assisting him with sculpture.

Kingman recommends using art to reach loved ones with memory loss. He routinely draws postcards for his mom with messages like: “You’re the cream in my coffee,” that echo a song she once sang.

“No matter how frustrating it may be for you to care for a dementia sufferer, no matter how far from the genius your mom, dad or granny or gramps might be, you can still shower them with love,” Kingman writes on his Facebook page Art 4 Dementia. “And it’s the only thing they will remember, because the feeling of love is a different kind of memory. It is a bodily sensation of comfort and security. And as the mind erodes, connections fail. Those connections are like the strands of a web that hold us securely in place.”

Kingman is now designing a traveling exhibit to spotlight how art can help people understand dementia sufferers.

“Basically people are stranded in the moment. That’s an unbelievably big challenge,” he said.

The exhibition is slated to appear at Plymouth Congregational Church next spring.

Kingman also has a hand in an upcoming show at the New York Museum of Modern Art devoted to Club 57, a hub for creativity in the East Village in the late 70s and early 80s. Once a member of Club 57, Kingman recalls working with artists who painted on newsprint and posted the work around Manhattan.

“Nobody knew who we were,” he said.

Kingman left New York in the mid-80s after he was shot in the chest. He was one of several people hit by the so-called Penn Station sniper. The New York  Times reported that the unidentified sniper wounded six and killed one person in a series of random shootings near Pennsylvania Station between the spring of 1983 and winter of 1984.

“In a way I’m grateful to the person who shot me,” Kingman told the Times in 1985. “It’s an incredible feeling to be totally incapable of anything but breathing and have so many hands helping you to survive. It gave me tremendous confidence in the world.”

Today, Kingman continues to find meaning in the experience. If not for the abrupt return to Minneapolis, he would have installed the Club 57 paintings on a New York street, he said.

Kingman_2“Most of my paintings would have been lost to urban decay,” he said. “Because I was shot, some were saved, and I’ve dragged it around all these years.”

Kingman said museums typically gravitate to his “contemporary relic” pieces laden with images he calls cultural fossils, like Egyptian scarabs and fire-breathing dragons. But Kingman currently prefers sculptures that are less polished, including some that he’s left in their half-finished forms. The raw pieces represent the state individuals should be in, he said: “A work in progress.”

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  • Christopher Meeks

    I’ve known Brant much of my life, and he’s a creative force that adds mightily to the world. Even though I’m in Los Angeles, I feel his easy laugh and his sharp mind.

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