Mobility & exchange profile │ Kellen Spencer

The life-changing impact of travelling abroad and experiencing new cultures is impactful to emerging artists developing their own creative practice. AUArts’ Mobility and Exchange Program supports our students to study abroad, learning and sharing techniques and helps advance their creative thinking.

Images: Courtesy of K. Spencer.

Kellen Spencer (BFA ’18, Print Media) directly benefited from the Mobility and Exchange Program when AUArts supported his travel to the prestigious IMPACT international printmaking conference in northern Spain. Kellen now works in Lethbridge as a land surveyor in construction part-time, and his practice involves both photography and printmaking.

Alberta University of the Arts (AUArts): Kellen, what was your experience with the AUArts Mobility and Exchange program?

Kellen Spencer: The Mobility and Exchange scholarship that I received from AUArts (in 2018) helped me to attend an international printmaking conference in northern Spain called IMPACT (International Multi-disciplinary Printmaking, Artists, Concepts and Techniques).

I was quite interested in the location because it was happening concurrent to some exhibitions that were being held there at the time. One of them being Francisco Goya’s Los caprichos prints, which are some really incredible historical etchings that I had studied. I had the chance to see those in person while I was at the conference. Being able to see the finer details up close and within the gallery space, having a sense of the volume of work that was created. There must be 80 different etchings in the series, and they’re all in the exhibition. Being able to look at each and every one individually within the same space was quite incredible. 

AUArts: How did this experience change you?

Spencer: In terms of an educational experience, I was able to speak to quite a number of other printmakers and artists who were at different stages of their careers, both in a community-based environment and in an academic setting. I’m finding more clarity in the goals and aspirations that I have for myself.

I had the opportunity to see quite a few exhibitions from contemporary artists who are working in print media. It gave me a renewed perspective on what printmaking can be. Traditionally it is two-dimensional, but in contemporary print, people are working sculpturally or with video and installation – new techniques and technologies. All sorts of media are becoming integrated into printmaking, which is what really interests me because it’s in itself sort of a multidisciplinary discipline.

It gave me a renewed perspective on what printmaking can be.

AUArts: There were more real-life examples as opposed to the theory you learned in classes?

Spencer: Yes. In particular, looking at artist-run culture and community studios. Printmaking really lends itself to that type of culture because the equipment is very specialized. It creates a culture of sharing and discourse among a community of like-minded people, like any art in that way.

The conference also had a number of workshops that taught specific printmaking techniques that are less commonly used or not typically taught in an educational setting. It was a great opportunity to see and learn some of these techniques.

AUArts: Was this brand new to you, or you had just never seen it done?

Spencer: Something that I hadn’t seen done and was able to learn some of the technical aspects of it. It’s still to some extent a bit less accessible, but it would be something that I could introduce into my practice if I were to do a little bit more research. I know now what materials to order if I wanted to do something like that.

It becomes about sharing that information and testing and research that other people have done, so you can more quickly incorporate those materials and products and practice without having to do all that testing and research first. It can be quite costly to learn how to use a new product on your own without some tips and that type of research ahead of time.

AUArts: How did the Spanish setting inspire you?

Spencer: The architecture there was really quite incredible. Many of the venues that the conferences were held in were in historical buildings that were several hundred years old or played a big part in Spanish history. And then there was more contemporary architecture as well.

I had the chance to visit the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao and another major contemporary art gallery, Centro Botin, in Santander where the conference was being held.

I had the chance to see some artwork from really prominent contemporary artists, people like Julie Mehretu. Of course at the Guggenheim, seeing Richard Sera’s steel architectural work. Just some really incredible exhibitions that I had the chance to see alongside the architecture. Contemporary architecture, in many ways, is designed with the art in mind, in the galleries that are in Spain.

AUArts: Would you have had this experience if you hadn’t gotten the scholarship?

Spencer: Financially, I wouldn’t have been able to do it otherwise. The scholarship definitely made the trip possible.

AUArts: How did this experience impact what you’re doing now?

Spencer: I’ve kind of focused this past year on professional development, applying for grants and exhibitions, and planning for an upcoming print series that I’ll be able to create once I have more time and money to get back into the studio.

Last year, I was able to purchase a large etching press from AUArts. That was a great opportunity to lay the foundation for what could become a studio later on. Starting small, creating a space that I can use myself and then begin to invite others to see where that takes me.

AUArts: Did your travel experience change the direction on what you thought you might do creatively?

Spencer: I don’t think it really changed the direction, but it affirmed my interests and, in particular, having an interest in artist-run culture and community studio spaces. I’m involved with the Alberta Printmakers in Calgary, which is a local artist-run centre for printmaking. And having moved to Lethbridge and thinking about a future here, my long-term dream is to open a print studio that focuses on etching and screen printing.

Having the chance to speak to other people who have been involved with that type of studio abroad and seeing some studios in person in Spain affirmed my interest in doing that. It makes it more tangible when you can see other people working successfully in the same field. It was inspiring to see and speak to other people in that environment.

Short travel experiences can be just as valuable as entire semesters or years of school at home.

AUArts: Why is the Mobility and Exchange Program so important to students?

Spencer: I think scholarships that support travel are really important because students often rely on opportunities through scholarships or exchange programs in order to spend time away during their studies in other locations. In my experience, even short travel experiences can be just as valuable as entire semesters or years of school at home. You can’t really take that for granted because it allows you to, very simply, see and experience things you wouldn’t otherwise in your home country.

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