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Artist Spotlight Visual Artists

Kyla Hawkins’ pop surrealist paintings tackle themes of body image, mental health and addiction

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.’”

Photo courtesy Kyla Hawkins.

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

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Visual Artists

Got any old records? Artist Cadence Hodes can spend up to 20 hours painting patterns on vinyl records

There’s not a lot you can do with a scratched up old vinyl. Cadence Hodes thought so too when some roommates left her with a bunch of their old records when they moved out.

Then inspiration struck.

She saw her cousin’s friend use an old record as a mixing palette. Cadence says she thought, “why not use it as a canvas?”

Depending on the size, Cadence can spend up to 20 hours painting a single vinyl. She’ll paint a layer, waitt for it to dry, and then paint another layer. When she first started painting, the “Law & Order” theme song that played once an hour made her notice how she lost track of time as she painted.

Do you think it’s Bluetooth compatible? Photo courtesy of Cadence Hodes.

What started as a fun hobby bloomed into a small business. Cadence started gathering attention when she made an Instagram for her art. She paints when she’s not at school or studying for her master’s in counseling from UMSL.

When she first started, she chose which records to paint by the look of their label. She’d comb through vinyls at Goodwill or estates sales for labels with vibrant colors.

Cadence paints one of several layers onto Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark.”

Now, Cadence does a lot of custom orders. People ask her to paint records that have an emotional significance to them, like a couple’s first dance or whatever their loved one’s favorite song is.

Cadence says she does get some criticism for buying new records just to paint on them.

“I get that and I don’t disagree, but if someone wants it, I’m going to do it,” Cadence says.

Cadence’s vinyls cost from $125 to $225. Browse her online gallery here.

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Visual Artists

St. Louis-based artist and poet Bryan Payne creates mosaics from pottery shards found on Mississippi River banks

For most people, the objects that wash up on the banks of the Mississippi River are nothing more than trash. For artist Bryan Payne, they’re his medium of choice.

Among discarded Styrofoam cups, broken bricks, plastic soda bottles and other discarded garbage, Bryan finds desirable items decades, sometimes a century old.

“It’s like ‘I Spy,’” Bryan says. “I read the river and look at signs of where debris could be.”

He’s not on the lookout for any debris, though. Bryan mudlarks, or scavenges the banks of rivers for artifacts of the past. He mostly keeps his eyes peeled for broken pottery shards that he can turn into mosaics.

Mudlarking originated in London, England in the late 18th century. Mudlarks would search the River Thames at low tide for items they could sell. Now, it’s more widely a hobby for artists and historians. Mudlarking in London eventually became so competitive, people had to get permits from the city in order to do it. A permit isn’t necessary in St. Louis, however.

Bryan says he only knows of one other mudlarker in the area.

Mudlarkers are notoriously secretive of their spots, Bryan says. He reads the river to speculate where the best debris could be. One spot he likes to share with people is near Lumiere Place and Casino downtown. There, he finds old casino coins people might’ve thrown in the river, or metal objects from the Union Light and Power Plant upstream.

Artist Bryan Payne uses pottery shards he finds in the Mississippi River to create mosaics like this one.

He looks for things with lines: pottery shards, lost necklaces; anything that can create some kind of story in his mosaics.

“I can make a whole other shape, a whole other life with that,” Bryan says.

He’ll find inspiration from almost anything: a Styrofoam mattress pad stuck in the sand, a cracked plastic hat, a broken Bengal bracelet. Trash isn’t just trash to him, he says.

“I know it’s disgusting and we need to pick it up, but it has its own beauty,” Bryan says.

Though much of his art is based off his mudlarking finds, Byan also curates galleries and does work with the City Museum. He plans on finishing a screenplay this month after writing it for seven years. The movie is based off of events that happened during the Great Flood of 1993, when the Mississippi devastated countless families in the St. Louis area.

If you’d like to buy Bryan’s art, contact him through his Instagram.

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Visual Artists

Artist Q&A: With a pilot pen, portrait artist Liam McKinnon draws the imagined characters in his mind to life

Wielded with a Pilot pen, Liam McKinnon draws the imagined characters in his mind to life.

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Visual Artists

Webster University art student Rachel Regan uses vivid imagination to paint surreal portraits.

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“Rainbow Man” Acrylic on canvas 11″ x 14″
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Visual Artists

Painter Jasmine Raskas draws uses art to make sense of the world and her rare disorder, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome

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