Keysper's personified prints bring everyday objects to life in recent exhibition, 'Objectifying Humanity'

Category:  The Arts
Wednesday, March 4th, 2020 at 10:39 PM
Keysper's personified prints bring everyday objects to life in recent exhibition, 'Objectifying Humanity' by Zeila Hobson

Samantha Keysper is graduating in May with an animation major and a printmaking minor. A nonbinary student, Keysper likes to be called “all of” the pronouns and accepts he/she/they.

Their earliest memory of creating art dates back to elementary school. “In first grade, we were assigned weekly journals that had to have a drawing accompanying it. I would draw characters from my favorite cartoons, or the game I was playing that week and write a story,” Keysper said.

Their love for cartoons and video games endured into adulthood and influenced Keysper’s decision to pursue animation as a career.

“I looked into animation a lot when I was young; I really liked seeing things in motion and the work that has to go into animation. Having grown up with all those classic, old cartoons, I always wanted to make something like that.”

A child at heart, Keysper also attributes their choice in degree to child-like creativity and a love for the warmth of nostalgia.

“I always implement feelings and motion into my work. My professors can tell I’m an animation major just by looking at my print works; I take what I know from animation and put it into my other mediums.”

Keysper prefers to make their images more animated, for lack of a better word.

“You can feel the life in them,” they said. “I work as if I’m finishing a frame from an animation and bringing it into an illustrative piece.”

This concept was fully realized in Keysper’s show, “Objectifying Humanity,” which hung in Bates Gallery from Feb. 17-21. The show featured different prints created by Keysper that presented human figures with objects for heads in different settings. Though the figures do not have faces, their positioning and the detailing in their obviously human forms made them incredibly emotive and lifelike.

“I’ve always wanted to connect myself with painting. I’ve always found myself to be a poor painter. I want to get better with watercolors especially. Printmaking was my way of using paint,” Keysper said about their decision to study printmaking.

Keysper’s show also featured two impressive watercolor paintings of the same subject matter (personified objects) in print form.

“I like to work with my hands a lot. Being an animation major, in a way I’m always sitting down,” Keysper said.

They love animating, but needed something more tactile to mobilize them and fire up their work ethic; printmaking is their way of doing that. Keysper’s favorite print from the show, titled “Rainy Work Night,” was inspired by their sister.

“I’m very, very close to my sister,” they said. “The drawing represents my sister. The outfit specifically— from her being a nurse aid. I was thinking, if she came out of work and it was a rainy night (she works the second shift so she gets out really late), and she saw a box of cats, she’d end up with a box of cats in her house.” Keysper explained that their sister cannot resist helping an animal in need.

Echoing the artist statement for “Objectifying Humanity,” they said, “A lot of my pieces are characters I’ve created based on the idea of a person [and] combined with an object and maybe their job. My sister is the first one of that bunch.”

The objects chosen by Keysper were based on a mix of inspirations. Some of the objects directly relate to the personality of their subject, some were based on a situation imagined by Keysper, and others are directly related to the job of the subject. Their sister, Leona, is an umbrella because Keysper imagined her saving kittens during a downpour, but she has also been a shield of sorts for the artist. Her personification as an umbrella speaks to her natural role as a protector and caregiver.

Other prints are more literal: one features a telemarketer with a telephone for a head. “I love puns and wordplay and quirkiness,” Keysper said.

Their humor is apparent through “Objectifying Humanity.” Many of the prints were portraits of other people, but Keysper included themself in the show, too. Some were “representations of times that I’ve had poor mental health.”

Portraying themself in androgynous clothing, Keysper’s self-portraits are bulky, square TV monitors (called CRT TVs) projecting one word: “HELP.” The CRT TVs bring back warm memories of watching cartoons in the ‘90s.

“I connect with TVs in the sense that my emotions can switch as quickly as a changing channel.” Keysper continued: “It’s a way to project my stress and other emotions.” Undercut with this layer of darkness, their humor shined even brighter in the show.

On exploring gender identity in their work, Keysper explained: “These CRT TV heads you see are usually embodied with a simple body and sweater; I’m trying to make it androgynous so that other people can connect with it.”

Keysper strives to connect with a wide audience while presenting themself earnestly. “The body I have is not necessarily what I want or how I see myself, so I’ve always tried to make it as androgynous as possible in my work. You can’t really tell if they’re a male or a female; they could be anything.”

Earnestness is somewhat new to Keysper. Regarding their nonbinary identity, “This is my first semester really embracing it.” Keysper recounted that nearly a year ago, they cut off 33 inches of their hair. With a huge smile, they said, “It felt really good. It was like a mop on my head to me for the longest time.”

They couldn’t stop there and eventually went even shorter. “I like this haircut a lot more. I don’t want to be seen as one thing or another.”

Keysper also admitted that they used to wear a lot of “shapeless black.” Now, they are wearing bright colors and mixing up more feminine and masculine designs to show who they are and what they feel. Masculinity and femininity are not mutually exclusive, a fact Keysper is happy to illustrate with their appearance.

Keysper’s advice to LGBTQIA+ members in the closet, and artists in general, is: “You gotta break out of your shell. Personally, I was holding myself back on speaking about who I am and what I am, because of the experiences of my friends who had a hard time [coming out].”

They went on to mention a close friend who came out to their family as he/they and was facing backlash for it. “But they’re holding strong and standing up for who they are — I just needed to start doing that,” said Keysper. “Breaking out of my shell made me realize who I am and the fact that I can be so much more than what people have seen me as. That blew up my art — trying to push it forward and get myself out there and trying not to be afraid. It’s very difficult to not be afraid but even just taking baby steps is a way to go.

“One of my baby steps was cutting my hair. I gave myself a deadline at the beginning of the semester that I was going to do it and put myself out there by ‘this date.'"

Laughing, they said, “I did wait until the last second to do it, but I did it.”

Regarding the acceptance of their gender identity on campus and overall experience at EUP, Keysper said: “It’s been really nice. I think in terms of the art community and in general, I’ve been really lucky. I’ve connected with a lot of people of various majors.”

Keysper’s belief that we are far more than the labels ascribed to us by society is practiced in their personal life. “I like to connect with other artists on an artist level without labeling them with their major,” they said. “I’m very much a jack of all trades. I don’t ever stay in one spot, so I do not view other creators like ‘he’s a ceramics artist’ and ‘she’s an illustrator.’” Instead, Keysper views them as “simply artists,” capable of mastering many mediums.

Keysper’s plan after graduation is to save money for a couple of years by working, and they want to expand their portfolio by doing commissions and freelance pieces.

Their ultimate goal is to have their own brand that is true to their animation style. Keysper’s advice to people who don’t understand gender identity issues is simple. “Just accept me for who I am. I’m still the same person; I’m just showing you more pages in my book.”

To see more of Keysper’s work and/or to commission a piece, follow their Instagram: @omega_sam_art.

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