May 23rd, 2018
Jesse Gussow


Artist Ken Tackett’s work is oddly alluring and strangely grotesque. His use of bright backgrounds draws you in and the foreground  imagery is unsettling, but you can’t look away, much the same as an accident on a highway.

The more you look at his work the more you see the humour in it, too. No one is distressed: everyone is happy. No matter what life throws at you, you take it with a smile.

He also does some really awesome fine art paint pieces that work well with his subject matter. The details, the colour palette and brush strokes are just so phenomenal and work so well. The muscle structure and colour tones work well with his subjects.

Where are you from?

I was raised in a very small town in New Hampshire but have been living in Amarillo, Tx for the last decade.


How did you get started on your artistic journey?

After playing the video game, Golden Sun, I grabbed a How to Draw Manga book from Antarctic Press and started drawing on notebook paper. After many years, I eventually got better.


Where do you get your inspiration?

I usually listen to music and act out scenarios and emotions in my head. When you do this, you eventually get a flash of something visually interesting and from there it’s a matter of transferring it to paper (or computer).


How would you describe your style?

One of my professors described it as “edgy with bright colors”. I consistently get the feedback that my work is disturbing but also beautiful and cheerful. If asked to assign a genre, I go with Lowbrow art.


What does your work say about the world today?

While I always try not to be mean, a lot of my work is meant as a sort of sneer at popular art trends and public attitude. For example, many artists today follow a trend of portraying crying teenage girls, relationship issues, heartbreak, and other general melodrama. On the opposite end, we have art that tries to be inspirational much like the hollow quotes and platitudes people post on their feeds all the damn time. My work currently makes fun of both. I portray girls usually in a state or in the process of doing something grotesque and smiling all the way. It’s my way of sneering at melodrama and undue optimism by saying “the world is absurd, deal with it, and don’t stick your head in the dirt or the clouds”.


What's the worst job you've ever had? Why was it so bad?

I don’t really have any commission horror stories yet, but the worst day job I ever had was working in a call center for directv. Inadequate training, terrible management, inconsistent rules and frequently changing schedules all contributed to a miserable 2 years.


What is your complete process for a piece, from start to finish?

I work out the general idea and tone in my head and then I make a very rough digital sketch in Photoshop. The purpose of the sketch is mainly to get the proportions and shapes released. In Adobe Illustrator, I make every shape with the pen tool, so breaking down the design is essential. I then drag the sketch into Illustrator and build all the shapes with the pen tool. Once completed, I drag the vectors back into Photoshop to add any texture or effects needed. It’s a very simple process.


How many brush strokes do you think you've made in your entire life up to this point?

Hard to say, perhaps 500,000?


What kind of music do you enjoy? Do you listen to music while working?

Up until recently, I was mostly into metal, particularly Power-metal. I love fantasy, so music about knights and dragons was as natural as peanut butter and stuff that goes well with peanut butter. Recently I have been getting into other genres like synth-wave, electronic, and other alternative genres. I got into synth-wave thanks to Hotline Miami, and I know I’m not the only one. Perturbator and Carpenter Brut are some of my favorites from the genre. I even enjoy the occasional rap music, primarily DMX, Pink Guy and Cupcakke and yes, I generally work with music. What I listen to depends on many factors like my mood, the art itself or even if I just bought something new. At time of writing, I have a habit of playing the song Little Dark Age by MGMT on loop during the whole process.


What's with the teeth in your work? The fangs, the teeth bullets and the teeth in the drink?

Anyone who follows my work is aware that I like anatomy, but I also try to avoid what’s most common. It is very common in art dealing with anatomy to use disembodied hearts and eyeballs. While there is a lot of art involving teeth, teeth are so incredibly versatile that the possibilities are endless. Teeth can be disturbing by being where they are not supposed to be (like in a can of food), by being large, by being misshapen or even by not being attached to a person. In a lot of my works, they are used to create a sense of unease in an otherwise bright and cheery picture. There is a lot of symbolism in teeth, showing your teeth and baring your fangs are unmistakable threats. A toothy smile can be genuine or a mask to let someone know that you are annoying them. My style is fairly simple, so effective visual shorthand is very valuable.


Who are some of your influences?

My biggest influence is probably James Jean, in my opinion the greatest living artist. His concepts, colors and shapes have been very influential for many years. Ippei Gyoubu is also very influential in his use of Adobe Illustrator. His colors in particular lend a lot to my imagination. Charlie Immer is the one who ignited my love of anatomy when I first saw his work in Hi-Fructose.


Anyone ever freak out on your because of your work? If so what was that like?

Surprisingly, not really. A few female relatives have stated (behind my back) that they find my work disturbing and I had a gallery owner (who later ripped me off) politely decline a painting he thought was too disturbing, but I have never really gotten direct negative feedback in that manner. I had a gallery show years ago where one painting had a glass doll with glass organs being dissected. A little girl came to the show with her family and said to me that it was her favorite. I suppose I avoid controversy because while some of my work may have an edge, I make a point of not making work that is legitimately hateful, negative, or sadistic. If it ever did happen, I would probably just shrug, everyone has an opinion. If that person really had a bee in their bonnet, they might up end driving people to me, “this persons work is horrible, do NOT visit his social media!” We’ll see.


What are the biggest challenges that artists face now, that they didn't have to 50 or 100 years ago?

Much more competition. While the cost of living is definitely higher, the ease in which people have the means to express themselves means a lot more competitors. Just getting noticed is exceedingly difficult. I would know, my Instagram has less than 200 followers. Amidst this tidal wave, you have to create work that instantly grabs people and stops them while they scroll through 10,000 other posts made in the last hour. It’s tough, but it can be done.

Your fine art work is incredible. Do you prefer your illustrative pieces or your fine art pieces? What medium would you still like to do that you haven’t?

I’d say I prefer my illustrative pieces. The nature of digital illustration makes it easier to get exactly what I want from my idea. They also tend to have more grabbing power than my fine art pieces. If I had the opportunity, I’d say making vinyl sculptures or working with a 3d printer would be fun.


Do you prefer Oreo or Fudgee-O cookies?

I’ve never had the latter so I would say Oreos. Just the original kind though, I don’t like the other flavors.

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