As a child, Kyla Hawkins would spend hours in her room alone drawing.
Kyla says that isolation was key to her becoming the artist she is today. Though, her paintings are much different now than what she created as a six year old. Growing up, Kyla didn’t speak much. She spent a lot of time alone as the youngest of three siblings.
Kyla, 24, started painting seriously her sophomore year of high school. During that time, she focused on portraits and realism. She’d tear pictures out of magazines and spent hours, sometimes days, trying to recreate them. Eventually, realism bored her and she wanted to explore the ideas in her mind.
Now, Kyla describes her work as “pop surrealism.” In her paintings, skin can be blue, fingers can be tentacles and hair can be jellyfish.
She paints distorted figures that are anatomically incorrect or “flawed.” She’ll purposely contort the people in her paintings to exaggerate features she wants to draw attention to. It all leads back to her pursuit of body positivity; the paintings don’t shy away from stretch marks, sagging skin or low-hanging breasts.
“Those are things we beat ourselves up so much about, and the world does as well,” Kyla says. “So, if I can bring this image to light, and you look at it and enjoy the painting, you can enjoy those features for what they are.”
Kyla says body positivity is one of the many themes she portrays in her work. It’s something she struggled with in the past. In high school and middle school, her classmates bullied her for her size. Although, the bullying didn’t stop her from being expressive. She had the unlikely combination of being both shy and confident. Kyla wore cool makeup looks and dressed how she wanted to dress. People told her she was different or weird. She took the anger she felt from the bullying and channeled it into art.
Eventually, she found reassurance through art that sidelined the bullying. Her art teachers at school told her she had talent.
“That gave me an extra gust of wind underneath my wings because it was very hard sometimes,” Kyla says. “Bullying was almost an everyday thing for me on the bus, but whenever I produced something that was nice, I was like, ‘Wow, this is who I am and I can be who I am.’”
Kyla also weaves themes of addiction into her work. She used to go to weed, pills and alcohol to cope. Kyla says at that time, those were things she thought were a part of the definitive artist’s lifestyle. In her head festered the idea that she had to struggle in order to feel like she had lived. But eventually, she started to question the cycle.
“It got repetitive,” Kyla says. “I asked myself, ‘Am I doing this to create or is there a dependency on these substances that isn’t linked to my creativity?’ I did some soul searching and put those images into my paintings.”
It’s those images – colorful portraits of people stuck in a moment – that make her Instagram look like a gallery of Tim Burton characters.
Kyla doesn’t paint full-time. She worked as an accountant at a hotel corporate company before she got laid-off because of COVID-19. You can buy Kyla’s art by connecting with her through her Instagram, Khawkins Kreations, or Facebook.