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Agitational and Entrepreneurial: A Look at D.S. Kinsel

BOOM Concepts co-founder D.S. Kinsel talks about his recent residency in Rhode Island, why his art is agitational, not political, and why he's a creative entrepreneur, not an artist.

As I walked into BOOM Concepts, D.S. Kinsel warmly greets me and asks if I mind if he continues to work as we chat. About seven pieces of his work lay on the carpeted floor as he makes  critical decisions about framing them.  He stops to ask his significant other for her advice about the pieces. He greets others who come through BOOM.  He exhibits “working artist” in every sense of the word. Our interview has in the making for a while.  D.S. recently returned from an invitation-only month-long residency at AS220–an artist residency program in Providence, Rhode Island. We discussed the residency, why his art is agitational, not political, and why he’s a creative entrepreneur, not an artist.

Darrell Kinsel

Photo by Emmai Alaquiva

How was your recent artist residency?

It aligned really well with my practice and themes of my work. I had a full-room installation titled No Fly Zone. It’s the third time I’ve done it. Third time’s the charm. I had a print show of some new work, and then I heard a lot of usage of the word “nigger” and “nigga,” from people on the street—a lot of these people were not identifying as black. So, after I got my stuff done, I did some street art, and created some agitational propaganda based posters talking about the usage of the word “nigga” and “nigger.” I put questions on them such as, “how many niggas do you know?”; “Do you say “nigger” or “nigga?” They were just some statement pieces. I really felt that the African-American and black voice was missing. Providence is a diverse place. It has a high Latino community, so I was taken back by the usage whether it be through hip-hop terms or attacking terms. I also heard it as a form of appropriation.

[My street art] was not well received. I was asked by the organization [AS220] to take it down and create an artist statement before putting it back up. It was a really interesting experience. It also made me think about how my street art practice fits in with my art gallery practice. I ended up turning the posters into coloring books that will be coming out soon. They had great facilities for printmaking. It was a great experience. Good to get away from the pressures of running this space [BOOM]. I also did over 100 hours of volunteer work with their youth program. Mostly teenagers. It was very similar to the demographic I work with here.

Is your work political?

No. It’s agitational. I don’t know enough about politics for my art to be political. Maybe when I’m like 60, I’ll have that political [influence]. I’m still forming my ideas through my work, so it’s really a place for agitation, but also a place for beauty and a place of calmness. A lot of the recent work that you can find on the internet and on my social media is agitational.

Darrell Kinsel

Photo by Emmai Alaquiva

We’re not artists; we’re creative entrepreneurs. That’s hip-hop. That’s how it goes down.
Who are the artists and others who inspire you?

Dingbat, David Hammons, Basquiat, Fab 5 Freddy. David Hammons is at the top of that list. For sure, over Basquiat, as a contemporary artist. Practicing… you know when Trayvon got killed, you saw [Hammons’] hoodie image from the ‘80s come back. He’s done a hoodie installation. He’s done a basketball hoop installation. He did this blond-haired blue-eyed Jessie Jackson billboard back in the day in the ‘80s, I think, that says, “How you like me now?” The community defaced it because they thought a white artist did it, and he had to come and say, “I made it.” David Hammonds is truly an inspiration.

But also local artists…Ms. [Tina] Brewer, Ayanah Moore. I mean, she’s not local, a lot of these people aren’t local, but they’re based here. Or they were based here. Entrepreneurs like Nate [The Phat Barber], Emmai [Alaquiva], what Justin [Strong] and Tim [Guthrie] were able to do. So…we’re not artists; we’re creative entrepreneurs. That’s hip-hop. That’s how it goes down.

So I really look for inspiration in my peers, and the artists we support here at BOOM. Even if artists think that we may be giving them a leg up, or giving them support, they’re really teaching our team how to curate, what style is hot, what’s trendy, what are youth into, how are people practicing.

How did you start BOOM?

We’ve been here a year and a half. It started as a conversation on Twitter with Thomas [Agnew] from Jenesis magazine, discussing where are there spaces just for people and art? Me, being tired of working in my basement at home and just wanting separation for my craft. And some bigger folks on social media platforms picked up on my agitation of the lack of space and seeing Pittsburgh come into its own and people being more attracted to the city. Thomas and I matched up with needs for the space. This space used to be a mixed use office, and when [the previous tenants] left, we wanted to jump on it immediately.

We really felt that Pittsburgh needed more spaces, more leadership, and more voice from black men. And Thomas and I—being able to connect. Him, with the magazine and being a designer, it’s kind of like that media arts piece. Me and my studio practice being a traditional arts piece. Us both being inspired by hip-hop is a perfect marriage.

Hopefully it continues to work. We have a great team of women and others supporting us! We wanted to show people it can be done.

Darrell Kinsel

Photo by Emmai Alaquiva

What do you wish more people knew or understood about your work?

I’m not really concerned with the understanding. I wish more people knew it was available for purchase and acquirement. You don’t have to come directly to the studio. You can get really affordable reproductions online at redbubble that come in pop culture items of wallets and mugs. It’s not just a fine art practice. There’s also a really accessible commercial piece to my work, that I don’t think people see because I might be identified as an activist or community-based artist.

People don’t understand that painting is not just painting. You have to think about archiving and what you have as stock. Being an artist is like a small business. Writing grants…that is all a part of my practice. It’s not always fun.

How has your upbringing influenced your art?

My parents really encouraged us to be individuals and to pursue who we are and who we want to be, what we want to be, and to value community, so I think a lot of the things I was raised with are continuing on through this space. It’s directly reflected. There’s going to be a lot of people visiting. We have an open door. We try to be warm and welcoming, [we are] respectful of folks, we help where we can, and we know we need help as well.

Why do you choose to stay in Pittsburgh?

Because of Jasiri X, because of 1Hood, cause Ya Momz House, cause Natural Choice. Kelly Strayhorn. Because of BOOM. You stay because LaToya Ruby Frazier. How ’bout that? How bout Kyle Abraham. Yo, there’s good soil here. I need to grow a little more. It’s just crazy…all these things that you want are not that far, and in the digital era, you don’t have to be in these media centers. I could just keep naming folks. Me and my partner, want our base to be here. It doesn’t mean we can’t try our work in other places, but we don’t have to be based there. (And when I compare my existence to other contemporaries in places…like Baltimore, Cleveland, Providence, even folks I met in New York who are on a similar career path…we are killing them. We’re killing them here. When you think about cash in hand.. or the ability to maneuver or social currency. Artists here are killing cats in other markets. My practice is not all about direct arts sales though. So somebody who has a different market might struggle here.

Darrell Kinsel

Photo by Emmai Alaquiva

What’s standing between you and what you want to achieve next?

An application….about six of them. Writing another grant. Time. That’s all. Time and waking up tomorrow. That’s the only thing that’s stopping me.

What’s the greatest challenge facing artists in your field?

Being an artist is cool right now, and it’s really en vogue, so that’s a challenge for professionals. The market is really saturated with hobbyists and the imagery of hobbyists without the studio practice, the studio work, or the strong work ethic. My first grant was titled, “success is a job” so I just try to live to that value and I don’t think people realize that. We live in a visual society where every platform must come with a picture for imagery, and anybody and everybody has access to these tools. I think we just take all of these things for granted.

How would you describe your dream collaboration?

A dream collaborator is your partner. If you as an artist can have a strong collaboration with your intimate partner, or if you have a studio mate, I think that is always going to be fulfilling your dream because there’s that support, and there’s also that new creativity, and thankfully, I have both. I have a great partner to collaborate with, and I also have a great studio mate, who’s also our creative director.

We live in an era of ideas. Someone will pay for the ideas. That’s the art world.
What advice do you have for young people who aspire to do what you do?

We live in an era of ideas. Someone will pay for the ideas. That’s the art world. That’s what fabricators are. If I have an idea, I get a fabricator to make that thing, and they’re good. But just be willing to share your ideas. Also respect your ideas enough and write them down. That’s really simple and really powerful. Respect your own ideas enough to write them down. Even if they’re not visible to you, just write them down. Take action, work hard, and don’t worry about being the best, just be the hardest working.  I don’t know if I’m the best artist, but I’m the hardest-working artist though, for sure, and I’ve had people tell me that. And I’m not worried about being “the best.”

Darrell Kinsel

Photo by Emmai Alaquiva

Think back to your teenage self. What would you tell your 16 year old self?

I’m self-taught. I didn’t go to a school, or university, or college to do this. You know? I would tell him, yo just keep doing you! I’m not really supposed to be here or doing this. Yeah, just keep doing you.

If I wasn’t an artist, I would be_______________.

I would still be a creative entrepreneur somehow. I would say I would be a florist maybe, but then that’s an artist. Everything I’m thinking of has some sort of creative design element. I am way more than an artist already.  I’m an administrator, I’m an organizer. I’m a cultural interpreter. I do social media. I do social media strategy, but I look at that as digital graffiti. Social media is digital graffiti.

Artists need_______________to do their work?

Access and money. Money can always get you access.

Any final thoughts?

Support your local black artists. Come to BOOM. Support with your dollars! Art galleries are small black businesses.


Check out D.S. Kinsel’s solo exhibition, A Place in Mind, at FIELDWORK Gallery, December 4 – February 26, 2015

About the Author

Patrice is a high school English teacher and college counselor in Pittsburgh, PA.


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