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Artist Interview #7: Creative Duo Alyssa + Drew Kail

· artist interview,glass,fiber

Alyssa and Drew Kail live in Braddock, PA. They created work individually and collaboratively under the name Camp Copeland. They are currently in the process of opening up a studio and retail space in Braddock, just a few moments from their home. We were lucky enough to get a sneak peek of this vast and versatile space. Keep an eye on our Facebook and Instagram feeds for an announcement when they open up officially.

This was our first time interviewing two artists at once! It was a fun experiment, so we hope you enjoy learning more about this creative duo.

How would you describe the type of artist that you are?
Alyssa: I think of my studio practice in two tracks. One is as a fiber artist and using other mediums to create handcrafted products, where that’s a real dedication to material and craft. The other is conceptual, installation, and gallery based. I think of my studio practice in two tracks. One is as a fiber artist and using other mediums to create handcrafted products, where that’s a real dedication to material and craft. The other is conceptual, installation, and gallery based.
Drew: I am really focused on the material and making of the thing. I want to make a nice design and stretch it as far as I can while still having a quality finished product. With my primary material being glass, part of the process is experimenting to see, "how many times can I fire this or how far can I push this before it explodes."

Where are you from?
Alyssa: I’m from Warren, PA originally, then Pittsburgh, then Portland, and now Braddock.
Drew: Pittsburgh. I grew up in Whitehall, PA.

What neighborhood do you live in now?
Braddock, PA

Why do you choose to make art in Pittsburgh?
Alyssa: We were drawn to come back to this area because of the culture and the landscape. I know I’m really excited about the post-industrial space that especially Braddock is in. I’m inspired by the type of work, not just artwork, that is going on here. That energy is really beneficial to my practice. And then economically, the cost of living is just so much lower here than where we were living in Portland.
Drew: If you look at my paper prints from a few years ago, they were drawing cartoon versions of my landscape growing up as a kid. Living in the South Hills or coming to visit family in Swissvale, we would go into town and go past the big J&L Plant that was all rusted out. Or we’d go to my Grandma Goldie’s house, and we’d go across the Rankin Bridge, and we’d have to go through Homestead, and that was when the mill was there. I was maybe nine when that mill closed. So I still remember it, and I loved it. They were like these big crazy manmade amusement parks to me. When they knocked them all down, I was really bummed out. So I did all these drawings of cartoon recreations of that kind of industrial landscape. So when we were moving back, Braddock was the best place for me because the mill is literally right here and still going. We can see it from the front of our house. It’s such a big presence, and it takes me back to all the stuff I really liked seeing. So I was drawn back to the landscape of it all. And the people here are just great- you can’t get much better than the amazing people in the Mon Valley. We’ve been here for almost two years, and people still ask us “what’s like living over in Braddock? I hear it’s kind of rough” and I tell them, I’ve never been happier than living in this neighborhood. I’m so happy to be a part of this community.

What is your favorite part of being an artist in Pittsburgh?
Alyssa: I’ve found the community to be really welcoming. The only major show I’ve had since I’ve been back was through the Carrie Furnace residency. I run into the artists I worked with and the coordinators of that programming all the time- I feel like I’ve become fast friends with them.
Drew: I’d have to agree. Yesterday, we went over to Wilkinsburg’s Dream City, and we just ran into so many people we know that are artists in Wilkinsburg. And it grows constantly. We went to see our friends and they introduced us to their friends, and we’re sort of instantly connected. It’s just a nice community of artists.

What would you love to see more of in the Pittsburgh arts scene?
Alyssa: This is probably because I recently came out of grad school, but I’d love to see some more critical dialogue. To jump of off what I was just saying, I feel like there is a great community that is really warm and welcoming, but I also feel like I haven’t really seen a whole lot of “maybe this could be better,” or “what do you mean about this” or “why did you use that material.” I think that having a little more critique and open, honest discussion about the work being presented would help to elevate all of us. I’d love to see more critique sessions or opportunities to interact with shows and artwork that’s being presented as finished work.
Drew: I guess I would say, because I’m more on the product end, that I’d love to see more local shops focusing on handcrafted stuff. We just got some of our coasters and stuff into Visit Pittsburgh, and they love them. Outside of Society for Contemporary Craft, I’ve been researching where to put these kinds of things and not finding that many.

What’s your favorite music to jam to in the studio?
Alyssa: I mostly listen to podcasts. I like to listen to words and stories more than music, but I’ve been on a little bit of a honky tonk kick. I’m not sure where that’s coming from. And Drew rocks out.
Drew: I dabble in a bunch of different stuff, but I always go back to stoner metal. Purple Hill Witch is a big one for me, but then I’ll kick on a slower track do something like Kris Kristofferson 1970s.

What other things do you do when you are not making art…that is, IF you have any free time?
Alyssa: We are renovating our house in Braddock, which has kind of crawled to a halt while we’ve been working on this space. And then I work at Braddock Farms, one of the production sites of Grow Pittsburgh. That keeps me busy and tired.
Drew: I watch sports. I work on the house. I’ve been doing a lot of research on different mold making and polyurethane. I also teach some classes at Pittsburgh Glass Center.

What would you tell other artists who are just starting out?
Alyssa: What I would say is what I’ve been telling myself recently which is that you’ve got to make the time to make the stuff. Schedule it if that’s what works for you, but go to the studio.
Drew: Make stuff. I think a lot of people especially when they are starting, they need to find an extensive amount of value in the making process. Whereas I just go in and start to make a bowl, cut a couple of circles, and start screwing around with it, then fire it. The next day I’ll come in and say “well that’s garbage” and toss it, but eventually it’ll look pretty good. I don’t think there has to be a point to making. The more you do it, the better the work will come out and the closer you’ll get to having a cohesive style.

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