Photographed by Nico Lopez-Alegria
Interview by Courtney DeVita
Hi I’m Kassia Karras. I’m a first year at Barnard. I grew up in Beijing, China for 15 years and then moved to Atlanta for high school. I went back and forth between the two growing up. I’m half Chinese, a quarter Greek, and a quarter Cherokee. I’m planning on double majoring in Art History with a concentration in Visual Arts and Political Science.
What were your first moments creating?
Art has always been part of my life. I started with finger painting when I was one year old, and honestly I don’t think I’ve made better abstract art since 2001. I’ve never been scared to use color, and I’ve been drawing all my life.
I started my art account in eighth grade. That negative social pressure that forces you to post on Instagram was kind of positive in terms of art because it forced me to create consistently and become part of the art community on Instagram. I got to see what other people my age were doing. A lot of the artists were also 14 and 15 and now they’re all 18 and 19, so I’ve gotten to see how they’ve grown too.
What role has social media had on your art making?
It can be a really positive business tool when the intentions are clear. My art account is mainly a digital portfolio and a way for me to commercialize my art and build an audience. When it comes to personal accounts it’s really a gray area, and kind of weird that we’re all mixing business and personal. The audience is also the creator, which is really confusing. I definitely like my art account better than my personal because everything is set out with clear cut intentions. I like being able to interact with all the other artists.
I’ve done collaborations with other small artists on Instagram and have gotten a lot of commission opportunities through illustrating people’s band covers. I just did a project with this Chinese children’s shoe company where I designed their logo and brand characters. I’ve gotten projects to illustrate for books. Instagram’s opened a lot of doors. Instagram is a great tool for artists in this day and age.
What mediums do you use?
I use Copic markers on Muji paper always. I hand draw everything and I also use my ink pens. Sometimes I’ll use water color and oil pastel, acrylic paint, oil paint, or charcoal. I use a lot of different mediums, but predominantly it’s pen and marker. Then I’ll scan the drawing and sometimes I’ll photoshop a digital background or color digitally.
How do you think growing up in two contrasting places has shaped your art?
Having lived in such vastly different and contrasting environments, it has taught me to learn from the differences. Comparing and contrasting, not only the two countries but how the people in them socialize and how different they behave, has shaped my worldview. I started thinking about the individual’s relationship to the environment once I moved to Atlanta, because I found the lifestyle to be so introverted and isolated compared to the city lifestyle. Everybody drives everywhere, and you rarely bump into friends. Whereas, in a city there’s a lot of chance and that’s definitely what I prefer - being able to walk everywhere, and not being able to plan everything. I try to incorporate that sense of spontaneity in my art.
In your artists statement you say your art style is superficially innocent, but underneath explores themes of corruption and deception. Can you expand on that?
I like the idea of a lot of tension or contrast within an image. I just did a portrait of a young boy with really bright orange and green colors, but he’s sad. There’s a story built off of that tension and I like that with broader themes as well. I do a lot of pieces about deceptive things. I did this piece with pills and limbs coming out of them to talk about big pharma and the corruption within that. I’ve really been influence by Mark Ryden and Marion Peck. Their work is really pretty to look at but there’s a darker subtext that seeps through.
Can you talk a little bit about your use of animal and clown heads that pervade your illustrations?
I think the animals I draw are very unrealistic and more like toys or masks more than a literal animal. I really like the idea of playing with the masks we wear, because everyone has that persona they put on or multiple personas. Whenever I draw clowns or smiling animals it’s to display these different masks. I like the idea that you can’t tell what they’re really like or what they’re really thinking. You can only see what they’re presenting and that doesn’t always tell you a lot. It’s up to the viewer to interpret, but often times there aren’t a lot of clues so you end up feeling like you’re searching. I like to put a lot of different elements within a piece, so you can search around and uncover something.
How did your clothing brand, O.K. Fun, come about?
I got frustrated by online clothes shopping for graphic tees. I felt like artists with really cool art were holding back in terms of what they could do with their art in combining it with fashion. They simplify drawings. It just felt like there was another way to do it. I’m also interested in commercializing my art a little more. I think illustration is the base, but there’s so much more you can do with that. I just figured out Square Space and then I got a bunch of my friends from high school and we did a fun photoshoot. I wanted to limit the clothing line to seven or eight pieces. I definitely want to put out a new line soon for winter and spring with a more cohesive theme.
How did you decide on the name of the brand?
I thrifted this sweater that says, ‘bad fun,’ which I liked, but then I ran it by my dad and he suggested not to use a word with a negative connotation. I like ok fun because it’s like a neutral good - It’s not great fun, it’s just okay fun. It doesn’t expect too much from anyone. It has a very mellow vibe, which I think reflects the art and clothing.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a some of track and album covers for a couple of rappers, and a tattoo commission. I’m also doing illustrations for the Blue and White. In general, I’m trying to make more art. I want to get to a point where I have a cohesive series that would show in a gallery space. Whether that be paintings, or illustrations blown up on canvas, I think a show would be dope to put on, and maybe with other friends’ art and live music. My main goal is to just keep making art, I think that’s the best way to improve, to just keep making art.