Kai Art Creates Limited Edition Prints On Dollar Bills

It just so happens that writing, printing, or drawing on money is only illegal when you mar it beyond recognition and it can no longer be used. Kai Art hails from Los Angeles, tries to create art that challenges the norms of modern culture, like his series of limited edition prints on dollar bills. This subversion is done with the intent of making the viewer more cognizant of the mundane and everyday trappings of life. We got caught up.

Where are you from, and where was your love for creating born?
Hello, I’m Kai and I was born in sunny Los Angeles, California. Where the cars are overpriced, and the people are shallow, haha. But yes I was born in LA, the son of two amazing parents. My father was the CEO and clothing designer of Too Cute and later became an art director. My mother is a photographer.

As you can see, I was lucky to grow up in a household where creativity was never frowned upon. But the key to my creativity was the fact that we didn’t usually have the livelihood my father wanted to provide for us, although he did his best. Due to the lack of income we moved a lot, and when we moved my parents never installed cable TV or a landline because they didn’t know when we would be moving again. With no cable TV and no phone, I spent my time playing sports, messing around making stuff out of scraps laying around, or imagining a world of my own, how I wanted things to be. I think that’s why I love creativity so much: it was my best friend.

What do you feel your purpose as an artist is?
I don’t know if I have a purpose, but I have my ideas. I think that art has drifted away from what it once was. It used to be a way of speaking to the public, and in fact it’s the only language that, if “spoken” correctly, can be understood by everyone. After some time, people got caught up in the more superficial aspects of art, and it lost its way. I’m just trying to create art that is relatable, art that people can feel, and enjoy. And at the same time I want it to be aesthetically pleasing.

 

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“Lost Values” seems to be a constant theme throughout your different pieces and projects; can you elaborate on how your work speaks to this message?
Growing up in Internet-frenzied, materialistic L.A. I was always puzzled as to what made people tick. As I grew up I realized that advertising and media were basically making decisions for people. So I decided to level the playing field by creating work that gives people a chance to think before they act. Of course, my work is just a seed. It’s up to the viewer to decide whether it’s of value to them or not.

Have you run into any issue with the way you’ve used money in your work? Is the value placed on something so fleeting what your work is truly about? Feeling imprisoned by this thing or letting it weigh you down?
The dollar bill project was awesome. It was a lot of fun and it really got people aware of the relationship they have to currency. Heck, they even sold the bills on eBay for ridiculous amounts of money! Which either proved my point or destroyed it…I’m not too sure. In any case, it was great to see the love and to have people interacting with my work.

I haven’t really run into any serious issues with the limited-edition prints I did on US one-dollar bills. The aim of the project was to get people–especially members of my generation and the generation after mine–thinking about the issues they have with money. Two of which are a penchant for fleeting pleasures and adhering to the “new slave” mentality–a tendency to become enslaved by the things that money can buy.

But in the past, I have received hate mail and was criticized over and over but that’s just part of the process.

 

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When those that view your work on social media and have an adverse reaction, would you say it’s because they’re forced to contextualize something often seen as mundane?
Most of my work is as simple as it can possibly be. I strip away all the frou-frou and strip it down to the bone. If it can stand up both aesthetically and conceptually without any extraneous fluff it stands a better chance of becoming a classic. Classic or mundane. That’s for the viewer to decide.

As for someone mocking my work, at least they’re looking at it. Above all, I create work to get people to think. If a dialogue of any kind emerges from that reaction, well then you’re surpassing my expectations and that alone makes me ecstatic.

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We noticed on your Instagram that for a brief period you were installing work in Paris. What was that like?
Paris is probably my second home outside of the United States. I studied at ENSBA (École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts), where I learned a lot of techniques and how to work in a variety of mediums.

So when I went back there this summer I had to bring my A-game, which happens to be my cement relief works. I’ve been putting them up in the streets of every city I’ve been visiting. I made sure my trip was just long enough to really take over. I think I put up something like 100-plus pieces in 15 days, which is a lot. And since 90 percent of my relief work doesn’t have any words, they can be understood by anyone anywhere.

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Is it much easier to do that kind of work there?
It’s easy to do street art anywhere, as long as what you’re doing is seen as productive, not destructive. Luckily most people see my work as productive and beautiful.

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