2010 Interview conducted by Michael McSteen
M: You’ve been an artist as long as I’ve known you, maybe over 20 years now, can you remember what first inspired you to be an artist?
K: Yes, I think well over 40 years now I can remember picking up the pencil, professionally now for over 33 years…. man I’m gettin’ old. Starting with my first job when I was 14 with Image Graphics.
M: Let’s start there… you remember drawing as a child?
K: My parents must have seen something spark early on because all I got for Christmas or a birthday would be art supplies. I was never obsessed, it just seemed like drawing was something we did naturally. My brother Steve having me draw cars, Pat and I designing treehouses. I had a friend in grade school, Paul Ellis, he refuses to acknowledge this, but he could draw extremely well for a kid his age. I was so blown away that I set myself on a mission to practice until I could draw as well as he. Paul went on to become a Doctor…. what a genius.
M: Sounds like a bit of an obsession to me….
K: Hmmm… maybe so. My mother had taken some art courses in her youth and she had these great Famous Artists Painting Course books. These guys were the real McCoy…. Albert Dorne, Norman Rockwell, Robert Fawcett, Ben Stahl…. these books referred back to all the Masters, Michalelangelo, Leonardo, Renoir, Picasso, all the way up to the early modernist movement. Plus, they had naked models posing in them and of course, we loved ’em. I still have them today. I still refer to them now and again.
M: I’ve seen your portraits, oil paintings, but I watch you spin out cartoons, corporate graphics, concert posters, product labels, it seems you were inspired by more than the traditional styles.
K: Well, growing up in the late 60’s early 70’s we were immersed in Looney Toons, we loved the MGM classics, then came Zap comics, RC Crumb, The Hobbit, album covers, psychadelic rock posters, Mad Magazine, when I say we, I guess I’m reffering to my brother Pat, he and I were closest in age and we ate all this imagery up like candy. My brother Steve was into vans and eventually we were airbrushing vans, rods, bikes. All this graphic work I do always felt like something that came naturally also, I still fight hard when I’m painting, that’s a real challenge. My bread and butter tend to be from the graphic work, but I’m a painter at heart.
M: How was it you started working at Image Graphics?
K: Our neighbors across the street in Wonder Hills were the Gilferts, they had kids that were friends of ours. Sarah Gilfert was an artist, weaver, sculpter. I was always mesmerized in her home studio, she was very hip, cool and mentioned to me she had a friend in the screen printing business that was looking for a part time artist. She always saw something in me also, the art bug.
Randy Shoup had sprung from Ohio University art department and started a small t-shirt printing shop in uptown Athens, Ohio. He was generous and small enough at the time to hire me. I’d thumb in to town before I could drive, catch a ride home with my father, who was the Ohio University Sports Information Director at the time. During school, I’d ride the bus in to town instead of home. We worked hard, but it was better than mowing lawns.
M: You became an integral part of Image Graphics and helped the company gain some notoriety.
K: Randy was a real mentor, taught me everything I know about graphics, printing. I became a full partner when I was 18, and worked there until i was 25.
M: I know during this time, you had the opportunity to do work for Bob Marley and the Wailers.
K; Sinbad’s Reggae Records was opened in Athens by a guy named Phil Alloy, must have been in the late 70’s. One of the first Reggae Record shops this side of the Mississippi. Phil and his wife Valerie were into Reggae before anyone knew what Reggae was. Image Graphics was right down the street and when Phil landed a contract with Bob Marley to do t-shirts and merchandising for Bob’s US tours, he had us do the art and printing. I was really blessed with the opportunity, they liked my stuff and we ended up doing a lot of work for not only Bob, but Rita, The Melody Makers, Tuff Gong, Neville Garrick and more. Phil and I designed the original Bob Marley Museum logo, which is still in use today and our t-shirt “tribute to the king” is part of the centerfold collage on Bob’s Legend Album. I could go on and on, but I have spent some great time in Jamaica, met most the Marley Family and still work with Phil today.
M: I know from your portfolio the list goes on and on…
K: Really does, for a Southeastern Ohio boy, that doesn’t advertise, I stay quite busy. In 1988 I founded Uptown Dog T-shirts and we continued to design and print for a number of great accounts. If you browse the portfolio, I tried to mix it up with designs that span years, it’s an overwhelming task, a lot of this art was designed before the days of personal computers. And there is no way to show it all. Very few t-shirt designs are shown because we literally had thousands.
M: The Uptown Dog was a fun place, I remember a dozen employees juggling a lot of work.
K: I think we topped out at 18 employees, with Allen Jung, my partner at the time and myself, it was a crazy time. It’s a young man’s game. At some point my wife realized my art was taking a back seat to my entreprenuial pursuits and opened my eyes to the fact I was doing very little good art, my time being spent playing boss, which I was never very good at. So after 10 years with Uptown Dog, my younger sister Mary, who had been an employee for quite some time, purchased the company and along with my youngest sister Colleen, still run the shop today. I had spent around 25 years uptown Athens, and I longed for my country, home studio.
M: Then came Kevin Morgan Studio
K: Yes, it’s been really wonderful. Our home sits in one of those classic Ohio calendar settings and I have been lucky enough to enjoy a lot of time with my family. My wife Janet is an Alexander School teacher, we have three amazing kids, Hannah, Noah and Liam, all with their own amazing talents. Our house is designed in an open format and i can crank out the art, while still hanging out with the family. I’m a bit of a recluse, but the Studio is a revolving door of my crew, friends and clients, so the energy is still there. We have a number of great clients we enjoy working with and if it doesn’t look fun, we don’t do it. I have a small crew that carry a number of loads, and that lets me concentrate on the art.
M: Where do you see all this going?
K: I have tried to set my course before and it doesn’t work, I’m always surprised by what’s next and I tend to walk that path laid out for me. There are a couple new developments in the works, one of which is to have a number of my designs available to the public via a web store we are working on and we are also producing large steel sculptures that will be available on consignment. I’m always looking for more time to paint and explore other mediums. I have a feeling wherever it goes… I’ll be busy.