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Kelly Kozma's Exhibition at Urban Outfitters' Headquarters

Posted on March 20 2015

Urban Outfitters Interview: Inside the Home and Studio of Kelly A Kozma, UO Gallery 543 Artist
interview and photos by Maddie Flanigan, unless otherwise noted

Currently at Gallery 543 is the exhibit Chattersphere by Kelly A. Kozma.  A Philadelphian, she works and lives in her home studio on the cusp of North Philly.  It is here that she brings life to meticulous, colorful works of art.  Being from the area, she is an active part of the Philly art scene and considers the city and its wide range of residents a constant mentor.  Below, she shares more about her life and processes.  To see her pieces in real life, stop by Gallery 543 in Building 543! (Urban Outfitters, Inc. / 5000 South Broad St / Philadelphia, PA 19112-1495 // Tel: 215-454-5500)

Kelly is represented by Paradigm Gallery + Studio.


Your story

My mom often tells the story about the day I learned to crochet. I was about 8 or 9-years-old and my grandmother showed me the basic idea. I started practicing in the morning and I struggled lot. Dropping stitches, not going through the right hole, ripping it out and starting again. Hours went by and my mom kept urging me to take a break, but I was determined to make something. By the end of the day, I walked into the kitchen with a small, slightly wonky change purse. It never really stopped after that. Art wasn’t a hobby, it was something I had to do. I attended art school, dropped out of art school, went back, transferred, changed majors and finished my undergrad at Moore College of Art in 2010. It was my ultimate wonky change purse, but I never stopped trying. I’ve been working full time for the past three years and I am represented by Paradigm Gallery + Studio. One of my favorite aspects about being an artist is the problem-solving element. I think about the crocheting story a lot because I feel that passion and determination every day.


Can you walk us through your design process?

It normally begins with a very loose sketch accompanied with a bunch of side notes. It looks like chicken scratch to everyone else, but from said scratch I visualize the whole piece. Although I have a good idea of what the finished piece will look like, I also work reactively. Because my process of hand stitching is slow, it lets me evaluate the piece as it grows, making the necessary changes. And then there’s the dice.


How and why do you use dice? How does it relieve you of any pressure (i.e. choosing colors)?  Have you ever chosen against the dice?

My work is really meticulous and tight, so the dice became a way to loosen up and add elements of probability and chance to my process. I usually assign a number to each color I’m using, then roll. I use the corresponding color of thread or paint depending what number comes up. Working this way removes me from some of the decision making process, but I believe that it creates a balanced and organic quality that could not exist if I were making all the choices on my own accord. It embodies the notion of knowing when to give up control and when to exude it completely. It is extremely rare that I will “go against” the dice, but there have been a few occasions that I felt a certain color would hinder the work, so I rolled again. It’s funny because it feels like I’m cheating or something, but then I remember that it’s just me in the studio. I’m making art, not gambling.

Photo by Kelly Kozma

What are you working on now?

Currently, I am working on a series of pieces where I’m sewing punched paper circles together. Over the years, I had collected hundreds of business cards from other artists and could never get myself to throw them away. There was history in them and they represented the connectedness that I have with my community of peers. I scanned them into my computer so I would retain the information, but then I proceeded to use a hole puncher to deconstruct them. I then hand sewed them back together in random order, using the dice method to determine the color of the embroidery thread. The first completed piece contains 8,000 circles.


What is your favorite piece?

What? That’s like picking a favorite child! If I had to choose, it would be La Ultima, which is currently hanging in the show at Gallery 543. It consists of more than a hundred thousand French knots, creating the effect of a miniature carpet on paper. I remember being discouraged after the first day of stitching, thinking ‘Did I make a huge mistake? This is going to take forever!’ About a quarter of the way through, one of my close friends passed away. It was a devastating time and the piece took on a whole new meaning. As much as the stitching allowed me time to mourn and remember my friend, it also gave me strength by watching/making something grow. Something colorful, bright and full of life. It was a challenging piece, but the feeling of completing it and the memories tied to it are indescribable.

Photo by Jason Chen

What would you still like to learn?

In terms of art related skills, silk screening. I turned away from ink and printmaking in college, but more and more, I think it could be a useful tool that could push my work in a different direction. Another thing I’d like to learn is to have more balance in my life (ie: leaving the studio). People think that the hardest part about working from home is the distractions you face and a lack of motivation. For me, it is the opposite. Your work is always accessible, so it’s hard to step away from it and get out of the house. So much inspiration comes while you are away from your work, so I am trying to remember and learn to make that happen every day.


Have you ever had a mentor? If so, who was he/she and what did you learn?

The city of Philadelphia is my mentor. I am surrounded by a community of artists that range from the age of 18 to 90+. People with knowledge and experiences beyond my years and the kids that bring a fresh perspective and energy to the scene. I love our community because we all challenge each other, but everyone is crazy supportive and legitimately wants to see one another succeed. I feel like I collect bits and pieces from all of these folks, creating a master mentor.  


Photos and interview by Maddie Flanigan

See images of Kelly's work at Urban Outfitters here.

View Kelly's available artwork by clicking here.