Here comes the sun. Edward “Ted” Kinsella III, 28, swings to the curb. Neat and trim, eyes bright, enviably luxuriant hair parted as though by a knife, he exudes youthful vitality and emits light. Yet viewing his work online, I was expecting Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces, “Hold the chicken salad...between your knees!”—bottled rage, glowering impatience, brooding darkness. Well, he looks like a young Nicholson. Still, his current work is dark-ish: people imprisoned in snow and dead trees or beneath animal hides and pagan masks. From whence come these apostates, wild-eyed women, squinters, skulls and clench-fisted men? Is this Kinsella’s vision of himself struggling to escape?
A faux farm store offering soup-bowl-sized cups of coffee and overpriced gadgets is an excellent place to get after the truth. It is evident from the outset that our interview appointment has filled Kinsella with dread.
“Not to sound ungrateful, but I am not sure why I was chosen for this profile. I don’t feel ready. I believe that I have just begun to find my voice as an artist, so I don’t want to share a lot of past work.”
By “past” he means pre-2011. But even then he was drawing pictures with skill, producing for Rolling Stone, St. Louis newspapers and magazines and others. It was at his recent Ghostprint Gallery exhibition in Richmond that Kinsella revealed the figures trapped by snow and deadwood. He says these are among the first to reveal his deeper and more personal truth, a dramatic departure from earlier efforts. They are Ted.
Sterling Hundley was Ted’s instructor at the Illustration Academy in 2005 and 2006. He understands why Ted is reluctant to show past work. Hundley explains:
“In the beginning, before we believe that we are capable of doing something, we need to see it for ourselves as something measurable, quantifiable. Knowing how to arrive at a destination is a skill-set, often mislabeled as art. Finding one’s own voice goes far beyond that. The true artist seeks what is immeasurable, unquantifiable and beyond public inspection. This is a personal place where outcomes are unknown and standards are determined by the artist’s intent. That place is internal. Only you can know you are in it.”
Ted also received much love and encouragement at home. He reveres his parents, Colleen and Ted II, who divorced when he was two, but who’ve played vital roles throughout his life. He speaks with pride of his five siblings. He adores his grandmother, Jeanne Lindburg, who has invested deeply in Ted’s education. Why did she put money toward his artistic pursuits? “Because that was all he ever wanted to do. It made him happy. How could he be anything else?” Grandmothers know us before we know ourselves.
At Ringling Kinsella discovered the Illustration Academy, enrolling as a student in both his junior and senior summers. Later, he worked at The Art Department (TAD) Richmond studio. These two educational experiences brought contacts and friends, refined skills and personal exploration.
George Pratt explains the separate approaches at the schools: “At the Academy there is little time to focus on foundational skills. Students are expected to be at a certain level when they arrive. It is a short and sweet slam of information designed to shorten the time it takes to make the leap into professional practice. tad, on the other hand, is a full-fledged program that starts from the ground up and takes students through a fully-realized art education, covering many more avenues, topics and skill-sets.”
Working with Mark and John English, cf Payne, Sterling Hundley, George Pratt, Brent Watkinson, Gary Kelley and Anita Kunz, Kinsella grew quickly. Hundley was particularly influential. Observed Pratt, “Most students have a hard time finding something to say in their work—their picture-making skills advance quicker than their content skills. Sterling is methodical about hammering out meaning in his images—that was gold to a serious thinker like Ted and he grabbed it.”
John English, co-founder of the Illustration Academy and TAD, has seen a lot of talent in his time. He doesn’t place much stock in it. “There are more important variables that come into play for a developing illustrator or artist than talent.
Persistence and courage are critical: You must stay in the game long enough to find yourself and develop something uniquely yours that elevates and distinguishes you. Ted now understands that to stay in the game he must keep pushing and exploring.”
After Ringling, Kinsella traveled to New York to show his book. He called at Rolling Stone, Vibe, Penguin Publishing, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and others. After that, he came home and waited for his career to begin. One thing led to another and he began to build an impressive book. But after a series of low-pay assignments, some satisfying, some not, Kinsella was stagnating. He looked outside himself for change.
In June 2008, he went to Paris. Later that year, he followed a girl he loved to a Little Rock apartment with wall-to-wall carpet and a workout room. The setting made him miserable.
In 2009, he took off to visit his sister and his college friend and fellow illustrator Andrew R. Wright in Chicago. He then decided to move there. None of these venue changes lessened his despair.
Wright recalls, “Ted was asking a lot of questions that he didn’t have clear answers for. Even if he thought he had the answers, he lacked the confidence to put them into action.”
Kinsella fell into the trap of many young artists: He subjected himself to too much thinking, not enough doing and far too much beer. But he didn’t want to be just any young artist— he wanted the free air of self-possession. Instead, he felt imprisoned by half measures and low expectations. Like the woman in Snow Mask II, he was frozen. Like the human forms in Hibernation and Dormant, he was immobilized and fallow. From Richmond, his teacher Sterling Hundley noticed.
Hundley gave Kinsella the break he needed by offering him a studio position at TAD in Richmond. There, Kinsella began to demonstrate a deeper and more personal artistic vision. Looking back, he credits Hundley, Wright and friend Jeff Love with pushing him to discover his true self. Wright was there to witness it: “Once he moved to Richmond everything seemed to clarify for him. He began producing images that were more honest than any others of his I’d ever seen. He was making images for himself—not ones he thought would get him a lot of work. Ironically, he ended up doing just that.”
Wicklund says she believes the difference between “then” and “now” is the power of his editing, compositionally and technically. Past work was composed of layers upon layers; rather than remove, he painted over. Today he starts with a drawing on tracing paper that he transfers to Stonehenge Paper. At any point, he can erase—edit—the drawing before he touches the work surface with finishing materials. This allows more time to focus on color, shading and other techniques that convey deeper meaning. Adds Wicklund, “His compositions lack excess, but remain evocative and rich. That is not easy. It’s easier to convey a message in 500 words than it is to make the same point in a single sentence. The difference is people are more likely to respond to a single sentence.”
Before taking my leave, Kinsella brings me to the Saint Louis Art Museum to show me a painting. In a passageway near an emergency exit at the rear of the museum, I look at Plaza After Rain by Paul Cornoyer, a wet, somber scene in New York around 1900. Kinsella looks at it as though regarding an old friend he hasn’t seen lately.
“It used to hang by some bathrooms in the basement,” he says, “but someone promoted it to this second-story passage. The artist kills me with the use of neutral colors in the body of the painting combined with the pops of color in the atmospheric background. Cornoyer really knew what he was doing.”
Today, Ted Kinsella knows what he is doing. He also knows where he’s heading. Yes, he may make detours and find dead ends. Explorers do that. But as long as he stays in the game, applying his intelligence and keeping his courage, trusting himself and editing wisely, all roads will lead back to one essential truth:
Ted Kinsella is an artist. “How could he be anything else?” ca