Keith Allyn Spencer


Keith at work at his studio.

Keith at work at his studio.

Shits & Giggles  exhibition installation shot. Photo courtesy of Skylab Gallery, Columbus, Ohio.

Shits & Giggles exhibition installation shot. Photo courtesy of Skylab Gallery, Columbus, Ohio.

Hi Keith! Can you tell us a bit about your background and what motivated you to become an artist?
Hi! In kindergarten I was put in ‘timeout’ and remember scribbling in the corner super dark. I’m not quite sure what happened afterwards, but that moment seemed important.

You list dates and dimensions in your image list in a unique way. Can you tell us more about the significance of dating your work in the future, and listing the size as say, medium, standard or small
Dimensions listed as XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL, XXXL, or XXXXXXXL are related to t-shirt sizes – the body. I will start using real world items as a scale reference now, for example: "Size: iPad", or “Size: pocket Bible", or “Size: weiner-dog mix", or “ ...pull-out sofa sleeper", or “..2006 Jeep Commander", even “Eggo Waffles Family Pack” maybe.

Listing an earlier date suggesting I created the work as a two-year-old is silly. It does make me think about that year. I am pretty certain I only use dates I’ve lived through or hope to live through. With future dates, 2033 for example, future dates indicate an artwork to truly reveal itself by that year, just kidding, maybe. It does make me think about that year, too, though.

Some of your titles are quite long and can be funny, unintelligible, or cryptic. How do you go about titling your work and what do you hope it adds to the experience for the viewer?
Archiving things my family says, collecting hearsay, online adverts, social media lingo, headlines, or even fumbled truisms are titles. The titles become tweets and eventually get paired with artworks when ready to go live online: favs with favs. It adds insight.

 Can you give us more information about the 'Selected Reading' list on your website?
Yes!, this is or was a list of good deeds (see below) you could choose from instead of purchasing my art. There’s no follow up. The exchange helps the work to become a more direct political force. I don’t think some galleries like it. There are exchange variations so everyone’s halfway happy. #StrangerThings .

Grow Hair to Lower Back, Cut & Donate it to Locks of Love

Offer to Remodel a Less Fortunate One’s Kitchen

Be a “Big Brother/Sister” with the Boys and Girls Club

Adopt a Highway

Give Your Grandparents a Foot Massage

Plant a Tree

Fill a Large Trash Bag With Litter from the Street

Prevent Illegal Whaling

Flip a Found Coin to "Heads"

Donate Groceries to the Needy

Sweep Your Neighbors Porch

Donate 1% of Your Income to an Artist

Send a Bouquet of Flowers to a Bedridden Person

Defend a Stranger in a Street Fight

Baby-sit Your Friend’s Children for a Couple Hours

Help Prevent Forest Fires

Tutor Illiterate Adults to Read

Upkeep a Community Garden for One Year

Give Blood

Start a Donation Drive

Aid an Illegal Immigrant to Gain Citizenship

Host a Block Party

Dress Up as Spiderman and Visit Sick Children in a Hospital

Subscribe to Your Local Newspaper

Open the Door For a Stranger

Give Your Spouse the Day Off

Kindly Take a Telemarketing Survey

Buy a Homeless Person a Meal

Donate a $100 Worth of Toys to Toys for Tots

Replace Worn/Missing Basketball Nets at Your Local Park

Be the Elementary School Crosswalk Guard

Give an Unusually High Tip to a Waiter/Waitress

Rid of Unwanted Neighborhood Graffiti

Give Your Baby’s Old Clothes to that Nice Lady Who Works at the Laundromat

Make Dinner for Parents of a Newborn Baby

Host a Potluck

Purchase a Plane Ticket for a Parent to Visit His/Her Child

Help A Person Stranded on the Side of the Road

Donate your Wedding Dress

Assemble a Tangible Photo Album for an Old Family Friend

Adopt a Pet

Donate Blood

Spend Time Conversing with the Elderly at a Retirement Home

Petition to Demolish a Decrepit Building

Volunteer at an Animal Shelter

Prevent a Home Foreclosure

Start a Scholarship Fund

Establish an Artists Residency for Only Artists with Families

Call and Pay for a Taxi Cab Ride Home for an Intoxicated Person

Be an Organ Donor

Register to Vote and Participate Regularly in Elections

Read Books Often to Children at a Nearby Preschool HeadStart Program

Give Back to Your Hometown

Upkeep an Elder’s Yard

Purchase a Round of Coffee and Donuts for an Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting

Like Something on Facebook,

Dismiss Old Grudges

Anonymously Purchase Several Pizzas to be Delivered to a Fire Station

Be a Surrogate Mother

Pick up a Hitch-Hiker

Hire a Felon

Add Time to an Expired Parking Meter

Provide Cleaning Supplies to a Battered-Women’s Shelter

Notify a Person If/When They Have Something on Their Face

Participate with End of School Campus Celebration Activities

Mail $20 Cash to a Random Residential Address

Buy a Round of Drinks

Buy a Round of Drinks to All in the Establishment

Jump-Start a Random Stranger’s Automobile

Help a Friend Move

Invite a Couple of Unrelated Soldiers to Thanksgiving Dinner

Start or Maintain a Neighborhood Watch Program

Deliver Bad News

Coach a Child-Sports Team

Organize a Large Event to Strengthen a Community’s Economy

Pay for the Removal of a Gang Tattoo

Buy a Lemonade from a Lemonade Stand

Show Your Mailman How Greatly Appreciated He Is

Take Your Children and Their Best-Friends to Chuck E. Cheese

Donate Your Used/Brand New Prom Dress

Take Care of Your Colleague’s Pet During the Winter Holidays

Let Your Neighbor Use Your WiFi

Organize a Flash Mob

Donate to the Alzheimer’s Association

ReTweet a Request to Your Thousands of Twitter followers

Don’t Honk at an Elderly Person Driving Badly

Allow Your Child to Play Only a Few Hours of Videogames Per Day

Take the Bus to Work Instead of Your Automobile

Prepay for Your Funeral Expenses

Throw a Baby Shower


Do Not Bother Your Landlord with Problems You Can Easily Solve

Place Someone Else’s Shopping Cart into the Outside Shopping Cart Bin

Let the Other Person Go First

Do Something Good and Don’t Tell Anyone

Can you give us the backstory on the auto covers project?
It was important for me to be in Dallas and important to make art there. Kevin (Rubén Jacobs) and I got strategizing – he made it official via Pushkin & Gogol. Years back, he mentioned doing something at Home Depot and I thought about how much I hated Home Depot. I also despised Wal-Mart, Hobby Lobby, and Papa John’s. These became the four install sites for the first 4 car covers.

My wife had suggested the cover. Instead of trying to drape these large plastic painted paintings I had over a rental car, I’d just paint the car cover and fit it over the vehicle, easy. Somehow it made sense to illustrate a car on the car cover. But, the initial four depictions were generic, the sites were gross/negative, the draping and documentation of the car cover felt staged, and all around just impersonal.

A second iteration of six car covers were intended to be influenced directly by El Paso, Texas, USA, my hometown and co-birth site of the lowrider yay. As source for inspiration, I absorbed all car customizations I could see: aesthetically made or not. The covers were painted on my mom’s driveway and shortly after installed together in the parking lot of Peter Piper Pizza, my childhood eatery. I gave participants 40 tokens for letting me cover their car with my covers. It was sort of a bribe, but also a gift, and also specified a time length to cover it — however long it takes to blow 40 tokens. Since then, they have been installed in places relevant to my family and I. They’ll creep out occasionally. I might just start using them daily as car covers what the heck why not?

Some great testimonials from the installations:

“WHAT tha FUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!?” – an employee exiting Home Depot’s front entrance.

“Whattya got under there? A Lamborghini?! The only Lamborghini at Wal-Mart.” – person

“That Uggggly.” – person with child in tow.

“Coooooooooooooool!” – kid at Peter Piper Pizza.

“I awoke from my nap, looked out the window and had to take a double-take, had to rub my eyes again. I thought I was still dreaming!” – senior citizen at Kendal at Granville Retirement Community For Cool Old People.

You are a professor at Denison University. How does teaching relate to your studio practice? How do you balance studio time and teaching?
Often a student makes something and I’m like, “Geeez!, I wish I made that!”. I just try to let some time slip by before recreating it. There was one moment I gasped when realizing my painting class did not look like painting class. Nobody was using paint, forget about stretchers, but, which is fine, since I think about painting expansively anyhow. I don’t want a student feeling like they need to paint themselves in a corner, so to speak, unless a student literally does paint themselves in a corner, then that’d be great! A+

 Can you walk us through the stages of planning and making a work or starting a series?
Working as a serial artist has never been a conscious effort. The lineage that binds each body together is tethered tightly by say color, form, and disruption. I don’t consider them separated, yet, they are, and I think I am trying for my art to be much more interwoven into the family dynamic – home, vacation. I do worry if I’m going through gimmicks, get trapped in skittle art.

Is drawing a part of your practice?
“I mean, listen, we're talking about practice, not a game, not a game, not a game, we talking about practice. Not a game. Not, not … Not the game that I go out there and die for and play every game like it's my last. Not the game, but we're talking about practice, man. I mean, how silly is that? … And we talking about practice. I know I supposed to be there. I know I'm supposed to lead by example... I know that... And I'm not.. I'm not shoving it aside, you know, like it don't mean anything. I know it's important, I do. I honestly do... But we're talking about practice, man. What are we talking about? Practice? We're talking about practice, man. [laughter from the media crowd] We're talking about practice. We're talking about practice. We ain't talking about the game. [more laughter] We're talking about practice, man. When you come to the arena, and you see me play, you see me play don't you? You've seen me give everything I've got, right? But we're talking about practice right now. We talking about pr... [Interrupted].” — #AllenIverson 

Are there any overarching themes that you keep returning to in your work?

"Nothing is not nothing. Nothing is something.” — Ethan Spencer

"The object has not become less important. It has merely become less self-important.” — Robert Morris

“Context shapes content.” — Rodney Mullen

"Don’t fake the funk on a nasty dunk.” — Shaq

“Lo que se ve no se pregunta.” – Juan Gabriel

“Kids give you a life other than your own.” – Elizabeth Murray

What have been some of the biggest influences on your life and your work thus far?
Elizabeth Murray said it there best and That’s it! It’s all right there, direct and indirect influence from loved ones, deep and valuable personal relationships make the greatest impact. <3

What is a typical day like for you?
4:55am: awake, coffee with my best friend xo<3, television news on in background (check phone periodically)
6:15-7:55am: meet up with Denison Early Morning Basketball Committee, 5-on-5 pick-up games (check phone periodically)
8:20am: get kids on school bus, second cup of coffee, dog walk (check phone periodically)
9:00-1:00pm: studio time, office hours, class prep (check phone periodically)
1:30-4:20pm: class (check phone periodically)
4:30pm: head home, dinner, help with kid’s homework (check phone periodically)
8:30pm: kids to bed, relax with best-friend xo, b-ball game on in background (check phone periodically)
10:00pm: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz (check phone periodically)

Who are some of the artists that you look at the most often or most recently?
Adriana Elena Spencer

Alex Ebstein

Alicia Gibson

Alicia Little

Allison Reimus

Amna Asghar

Angela de la Cruz

Angela Dufresne

Anna Betbeze

Anna Buckner

Anna Kunz

Anna Plesset

Avery Singer

Britny Wainwright

Carrie Mae Smith

Carrie Moyer

Carissa Carman

Cecilia Salama

Cheyenne Julien

Christie Blizard

Corydon Cowansage

Dani [Leventhal] Restack

Dianna Molzan

Dona Nelson

Donna Huanca

Dora Maurer

Eileen Quinlan

Ellie Honl Herman

Em Rooney

Emma Kohlmann

Estrid Lutz

Field Kallop

Gina Beavers

Heather Johnson

Hillary Doyle

Ida Ikbald

Jackie Gendel

Jamian Juliano-Villani

Jess Fuller

Josephine Halvorson

Judy Glantzman

Julie Torres

Jennifer Sim

Jennifer J. Lee

Jenny Kim

Jessica Dickinson

Jessica Simorte

Joanna Pybus

Kate Steciw

Katharina Grosse

Katherine Bernhardt

Katherine Bradford

Katie Bell

Kate Bae

Keltie Ferris

Kristy Hughes

Laura Swanson

Lauren Pakradooni

Leigh Tarentino

Letha Wilson

Lin May Saeed

Liz Roberts

Lumin Wakoa

Lynne Ghenov

Maiken Bent

Mandy Lyn Ford

Margot Bergman

Maria Walker

Marina Adams

Martha MacLeish

Mary F. Coats

Melanie Parke

Mevlana Lipp

Micaela Vivero

Michelle Rawlings

Mimi Cabell

Morehshin Allahyari

Nathalie Du Pasquier

Nell Painter

Noam Rappaport

Pay Fauxn

Phyllida Barlow

Phoebe Stubbs

Priscilla Tea

R. Lord

Rachel Harrison

Rachel de Joode

Rachel Klinghoffer

Rachel Lin Weaver

Rebecca Morgan

Ruth Root

Sadie Laska

Sally Glass

Samantha Bittman

Samantha Robinson

Sarah Braman

Sarah Cain

Sarah Ludy

Sascha Braunig

Sheilah [Wilson] Restack

Sofia Leiby

Sonya German

Sophia Flood

Sophie Ramos

Spencer Carmona

Suzanne Silver

Tannaz Farsi

The Composing Rooms

Yevgeniya Baras

Is there anything that significantly supports or destroys your groove or energy in the studio?
Bad moods are the worst.

Has there ever been a book/essay/poem/film/etc that totally changed or influenced you? What are you reading right now?
The Sea-Wolf by Jack London impressed me. The story really helped me to forgive and love my dad again. 97.4% of the books I have read have been gifted to me, or found abandoned/forgotten somewhere? Currently, I am awaiting the next one.

What do you listen to while you work? Is this an important part of being in the studio?
I don’t listen to music because I don’t want anyone to know I am inside my office working, just kidding, sometimes, though. Discover Weekly all day.

Can you tell us a bit about your workspace? What are absolute necessities in the studio?
It’s either campus office and/or home garage setup. Home-studio is preferable. Popping in and out of the studio while flipping pancakes, or folding laundry, or separating siblings is the best. Calculated time in the studio is too stressful and usually not productive. During the regular semester, art making happens in-between class times, meetings, or office hours, which functions like home – minus the pancakes.

How do you navigate distraction or lack of motivation while working?
About every three weeks or so I am ready to call it quits and fulfill my creative pursuits elsewhere: playing more pick-up b-ball games, decorating for special days, teaching, or dog walks. Then, right when I am about to stop making art, I get an abnormal amount of likes on a post boosting my drive forward for real.

How important is the place where you live to your studio practice? This could include geographic location, city, neighborhood, community, etc.
Where I live has more to do with the professionalization of being an artist than art making, I am hesitantly saying. I am thankful for the internet, though. Not living around other artists and many art happenings makes it nice not having to worry about going out. I do care. I love (art) community and, I don’t know… It’s nice to only worry about dinner sometimes.

Any advice from your past that has stuck with you or helped you?
Just make something interesting.

What is one question that you wish people would ask about your work?

Do you have any other news, shows, residencies or projects coming up?
News? Yes! I have Bell’s Palsy, a weird temporary semi-face paralysis condition. Recovery is 2-6 weeks.; solo show at DePauw University in fall of 2018, thanks, John Berry; an artist book soon published by Pink Jacket, Contributors Inc., a collaboration between Mimi Cabell and Phoebe Stubbs; then I don’t know, a lot of talk mainly; I’ll probably install some plastic paintings on garages somewhere.

Thanks for taking the time to talk with us!

To find out more about Keith  and his work, check out his website.