Miracle On 13th Street

When I think of KBANKS I think of oranges. Big meaty grapefruit sized oranges, Navel not Valencia with thick rinds, like the skin of a rhinoceros. But more on that later. 

I met Kev during a typical Boston summer where the heavy air clings to your clothing and hair. This was 1989--a time when air conditioning was a scarce commodity, beyond the meager budgets of students drinking through their summer session for the most part, and was only to be encountered in movie theaters and other rarified places. Not dorm rooms, not class rooms and most certainly not the student slums of Allston. So summers were sedate. People didn’t go too crazy. We’d spend sedate evenings at someone’s place with some cold drinks and enjoy sleepy summer conversation with house fans carefully positioned to optimize the atmosphere.

It was in these hot summer evenings that I came to know Kev. He was an art student in New York, summering in Boston before his senior year. My familiarity with his illustration preceded our acquaintance in the form of a popular poster seen on the walls of many an undergraduate bedroom…a sort of Seussian-post-punk take on the happy self-destructiveness of cigarette smoking which featured a  giant pair of scissors and an awful lot of smoke. In the dimly lit garrets of the crumbling 19th Century buildings we inhabited, we convened in the heat. At the end of the summer we found we were friends.

Some months later I alit in New York, in the garret of another crumbling 19th Century building on East 13th Street, a corner building in the thick of the happy madness of that time. East 13th Street was a landscape of squats and junkies, small-time loan sharks, bodegas with three faded cans of soup for sale, crack dealers and squats…and Kev two blocks away in a garret of his own.

As little time had elapsed between our Boston summer idyll and our reunion in New York we fell quickly into the same merciless habits of conversation, inebriation and observation. In the glorious feast of this fading age, before the advent of group SMS and cheap geo-location we organized our lives on land lines, made specific plans that required promptitude – “we’ll be on the corner of 18 and 3rd at 8:30” – and perhaps most thrillingly, we enjoyed a bounty of solitude in a city that was often empty at night. Empty enough to gather your thoughts. Empty enough to permit its inhabitants to have thoughts. Unfettered by the oppressive heat we absorbed all of the City that we could: participating, meandering and observing and I observed that unlike myself, a somewhat brash sort, Kev was much like he was in the summer: reserved, which I later came to understand was a keen visual awareness, a penchant for observation.

Now and again I would ring Kev’s bell when passing by his building. And when he was home, he would let me up. Invariably he was at work perched high atop his stool pulled up to the drafting table he works on, like some punk Bob Cratchit except that rather than a quill and an inkwell he invariably held some exquisite, Swiss-made art pen. But he was his own Scrooge. He kept himself at work at that table, not some oppressive employer. We would chat for a bit but then he would return to work and I would pop a beer and scribble in my notebook usually something about how generous he was with his beer. When I watched him work, I was aware of his keen attention to the minutiae of his drawings, the craft of applying every shadow, every hair with his steady hand. I understood his public reserve at times, his observational reveries, now reflected in the expressions on the faces of the creatures in his work. For me the greatest charm of the work are the faces and the expressions. 

Even at their most grotesque expression of caricature there is verity in these faces. I am fairly certain, along the way, I have met every one of them.

Philip Oxenstein
Brooklyn, NY
June 5, 2014

KBANKS studied at The School of Visual Arts in New York City and The Museum School in Boston. He is an adjunct faculty member at The New England School of Art & Design and founder of the Claymore Design Group based in Boston. For more information email: kevin [at] claymoregoboom.com