The Genteel
November 18, 2017
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Emerging UK-based artist K-Tee. Photograph courtesy of K-Tee.

An artist's job description is often complex to pin down; they must produce art, which can be both deeply moving and blank of all expression. It can turn the world upside down, or help flatten it out. Such expression can be surreal in a way that agitates the senses, or unnervingly everyday in its form.

Up-and-coming British urban artist known as K-Tee certainly demonstrates the innumerable and complex paradigms of the artist's role within her latest work, which sees her transform weapons of horror and destruction into beautiful gilded pieces of art that resonate with a playful innocence.

The 'grenade' theme has consumed the attention-grabbing artist's time and energy for the past couple of years, and has resulted in a tangible buzz around the work of Hertfordshire-based K-Tee. The affecting beauty of her work juxtaposed with the provocative choice of object makes for a compelling and conceptual experience. Intrigued, I took the opportunity to speak with K-Tee to discover the inspiration behind her ideas and the allure of the hand grenade.

grenade art k-tee london artist
 Colourful grenades. Photo courtesy of K-Tee.

"A friend of mine is really into collecting WW2 memorabilia and I am fascinated with the subject so when I [first] got to hold an American World War 2 grenade, […] I was struck by how small and beautiful it was," explained K-Tee.

"Not many people can say they have actually held one of these lethal objects especially one so old. I admired the beautiful curves and the tiny pin just big enough for your finger, the irony of such a pretty object struck me."

The idea "jumped out to me and I had a vision of making one of these big and that was it. I just knew I had to do it, I knew it would make an amazing looking object."

K-Tee's 'grenades' had first caught my eye at the Lulu Guinness store in London's Convent Garden, where they were part of an exhibition curated by the Beautiful Crimes Art Group in the run up to Christmas last year. 

Particularly eye-catching was the 2-foot grenade simply entitled "Crystal" which incorporates a camouflage pattern and is adorned with 11,000 Swarovski crystals all attached by hand. A perfect replication of the geometric precision embodied in an American World War II hand grenade, this instrument of war was re-imagined in such a way that its original purpose became lost in the glimmering brilliance of reflected light.

One of a series of four, "Crystal" is joined by the neon fuchsia "Pink Flock", the hand painted "Ming Vase" and finally "Gold", which comes complete with 24-carat gold plated handle and pin.

K-Tee's background is interesting because, although a graduate from the Kent Institute of Art & Design, she was never comfortable in the refined air of Art College. As she explains, "I can't say art college, on a whole, did much for me as an artist, which sounds daft I know but if it taught me one thing it was don't go to University and study art, get out there and study life, go get a job."

Don't go to University and study art, get out there and study life, go get a job.

Compelled instead to plough her own path, K-Tee's particular artistic vision has been honed and made distinctive within the creative and highly disciplined arena of movie prop making.

Securing her first freelance job helping to build Harry Potter's Hogwarts Castle, she has gone on to work on some big budget Hollywood blockbusters such as a number of James Bond movies, superhero flicks Captain America and The Dark Knight. K-Tee had a hand in creating the fiendishly cartoonish masks worn by Heath Ledger's Joker and his criminal associates.

While helping to finance her artwork, her experiences in such an environment have also played a strong influence in K-Tee's artistic direction and ambition.

As she confirms, "I think it's safe to say being a prop maker in the film industry has made me into the artist I am today. There's no way I would have the imagination I have if it wasn't for [the film industry]. My mind is filled with ideas, as I know how to make anything, which therefore expands my creative mind. Anything is possible."

This feeling of unlimited possibilities courtesy of the fantasy that surrounds Hollywood movies has played a big part in K-Tee's latest work. It was while working on a movie prop production that she first came across an authentic hand grenade and immediately saw her vision crystallise before her very eyes. This idea was merely reinforced by her 12 years of experience in the construction of props and the practical 'know-how' to ensure a perfect physical reproduction of that vision. 

Every artist needs to define themselves through the individuality of their work and for K-Tee, who has been trying to break into the London Art Scene since 2009, her 'grenades' feel like the first cracks in the edifice. Previously, she had approached galleries with her canvas paintings and was met with a stony silence or a muted response.

K-Tee London artist Ming Vase grenade
K-Tee's Ming Vase grenade. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Rejection can be the seed of success in many areas of creative endeavour, especially for an artist, and so when K-Tee received a damning critique of her paintings from the Lazarides Art Gallery something clicked inside. She explained the effect of the brutal assessment to The Genteel.

"It totally opened my eyes. Yes, my paintings were well executed, but they were nothing new. They didn't stand out from the crowd and they just weren't good enough. This advice came from a gallery I would give my right arm to be in so I decided to start thinking out of the box."

It takes a certain ingenuity to go from old grenade to Ming Vase but K-Tee's out-of-box thinking has borne fruit. Currently working on extending the range of grenades to include smaller sizes, materials and price range, the London art world seems to coming round to what she has to say. K-Tee hinted at some intriguing developments.

"I've recently been in contact with [a] couple of big galleries and both are interested in the pieces, so I'm currently waiting to meet them both which should happen in the next few weeks. I won't be so bold as to mention which ones - I guess people will have to follow me on Twitter or Facebook to find out if they are interested."

Back to the day job and K-Tee is looking forward to seeing one of her movie heroes working with props she has helped put together. Hollywood superstar Tom Cruise will be toting a big gun made by K-Tee in his forthcoming film entitled 'Edge of Tomorrow', due for release later this year.

From big guns to big grenades K-Tee seems to be building a niche transforming instruments of war and death into things of aesthetic beauty, celebrating the design and engineering involved in their creation. Although possessed of a redemptive quality, K-Tee's grenades are primed and looking to blow a hole in the exterior wall of the art establishment.

K-Tee has finally arrived. She just needs to pull the pin.

Related: It's a Wall - Get Over It!

Related: The Monuments Men

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