Potentially Not Safe For Work (if your work frowns on sexuality in art.)
Artist Keith P. Rein manipulates the viewers expectations of sex and nudity. Some of his compositions could be pornographic. Women with mouths full, faces glazed in bliss. But instead of the expected — in their face is a hotdog. An ice cream cone.
His beautiful ladies bold, colored with the patina of summer cheer. What you find in Rein’s work are delightful fables of summer barbecues and candy treats. Sex is implied, of course — the hardcore sort. But there is a playfulness to it all, a healthy dose of whimsy and humor that keeps the viewer smiling.
Keith P. Rein is an artist out of Athens, GA and with his work through the P is for penis he’s stepped into the territory of R. Crumb, wonderfully obsessed with the female form, dousing it in food and candy. His digitally painted pieces are sugar-coated drops of eroticism. I was happy to be able to have a few minutes of Keith’s time to talk about his work, both with the P is for Penis as well as his more mainstream work with Paper Thin Design.
“Sexuality should be playful and sex should be as well. It gives each flavor balance, like salty and sweet. Which happens to be my favorite flavor combination as well.”
– Keith P. Rein
The sexuality in your work is quite playful. There’s a classic Playboy pin-up quality to it that I love. Even your more ‘hardcore’ designs like ‘Life’s a Picnic, Bring Your Friend’ and ‘Bombs Away’ have a sense of fun to it. It’s a great balance of the erotic and the whimsical. How aware are you of keeping that balance?
Oh, completely. That is the essential thought between every piece of mine, whimsical erotica. Sexuality should be playful and sex should be as well. It gives each flavor balance, like salty and sweet. Which happens to be my favorite flavor combination as well.
One of my favorite pieces of yours is ‘Self Portrait as a Lady, Revisited.’ It’s just a great design that’s both funny and interesting. From the title it puts the image in my head of what happened moments before this event took place – you became a lady and immediately struck this pose.
Like that’s what you would do if you were a woman. In that, there’s a liberating quality to it too. A man confident to explore a feminine sexuality from a woman’s perspective. How true of a self-portrait is it? Is it just a title?
It’s close enough to true that my close friends jokingly tell me I drew my sister… Which, for the record, I didn’t, and she was furthest from my mind when I made this.
I’ve always enjoyed artists’ self portraits, and for a moment you can see from their eyes and perspective on themselves. So I wanted to make one as well with my own take on it. The glasses, tattoos, and underwear are all mine.
I use humor, beauty, and sexuality to draw the viewer in closer to my artwork, but there is almost always a subtext. You are spot on with your description. Confidence is very much a part of my work – that is why most of my subjects are staring back at the viewer.
The bulk of your work is of women, but there are a handful of men in your pieces. You give both sexes similar treatment – in ‘The Hug’ your male figure is given the same coy and casually sexual appearance as the female in ‘Just Put It In Your Mouth.’
You give both genders equal footing to be erotic without demeaning them. That’s so refreshing, especially from a male artist. Do you see yourself doing something like a ‘Slaughterhouse Starlets’ but with male stars? What inspires you to begin a drawing?
That’s funny, because at this moment, on Facebook, there is a person telling me how degrading to women my artwork is. That couldn’t any be further from my vision. But to get to your question, I started out wanting to give equal spotlight to the men and women.
In my earlier pieces from the Wood series, you’ll find a larger percentage of men than in my newer pieces. That’s due in part to my own fascination with the female form and early difficulties capturing men with the same balance I was focusing on with women. But also, because the public doesn’t seem to want to buy artworks featuring men.
There are no plans to date, to do a Slaughterhouse Starlets version featuring men. That’s not to say it won’t happen, but it would be different enough from the SS series. I don’t see myself drawing Hollywood Hunks holding weapons – that’s just a trip to the movies for a summer blockbuster.
Yeah, I guess a male version wouldn’t work as well. You’d have to have them holding puppies or something like that.
Do you use photo reference material for your pieces? Is most of it from pre-existing photos or do you use live models?
I always use photo references for my people. I actually studied photography in art school and typically set up my own photo shoots for my drawings. Yes, some of my references are pre-existing, like the celebrity drawings and others are submitted from a friend, photographer, or model when they don’t live nearby.
When collaborating with other photographers I send them sketches of the idea in my head and the pose I am looking for, but I always ask them to send something of their own as well.
That’s really great to hear. I always think of Norman Rockwell, perfecting his scenes with live models to photograph and then paint. I love that.
How much of your work is done digitally? Are they hand drawn and traced in Photoshop or Illustrator? What’s your process like?
My work is primarily digital. When I started out I had a 4×6 tablet to draw on, so I would scan in my sketches and refine them in PS with the pen and tablet. Now I sketch, draw, and paint directly into Photoshop on my Wacom Tablet. I also scan in watercolors and blend them in with the piece I’m working on.
Are you currently working 100% freelance? Have you spent time working for a design company?
I solely work freelance. The only design company I’ve worked for is my own! I had one interview as a designer at a t-shirt company that designed, printed, and leased those ridiculous collegiate mascot rivalry shirts and other fraternity and sorority items. I didn’t get the job, probably because my design skills at the time, weren’t up to par.
How long have you been doing business as Paper Thin Design?
I started Paper Thin as soon as I didn’t get the design gig, in 2005. I never went to school for graphic design, but had the interest and a good eye – so I started teaching myself and taking on any job that came my way. There weren’t many, but each one gave me a paid (even though cheap) opportunity to learn something new.
I feel stupid asking, but I figured if we were having beers at a bar I’d ask you, so here it goes – with the sexual nature of your personal work, does it scare off any clients who may have shown interest in hiring Paper Thin Design? Is that something you take into consideration?
That was a big issue when I started The P is for Penis. I didn’t want my design clients to be scared off from my illustrations. I work with small businesses, families, brides, grooms, and mothers-in-law…in the South! So that was a big issue – none of it that ever came to bite me in the ass, that I know of.
Now, it isn’t an issue, I’m more known for (if known at all) for the P is or Penis work, which I enjoy doing a lot more. And it is currently supporting me, so no complaints!
You sell most of your work through your Society6 store and on Etsy. I bought stuff of yours (bottle openers! Beers never tasted so good) and I was wondering what’s the advantage of using those storefronts rather than on your site thepisforpenis.com?
I love bottle openers! I collect them and starting to put my work on a bar key was very exciting. I’ve been using Etsy because it was the only option at the time. My web design knowledge doesn’t extend far enough to make my own store front. And the cookie cutter store apps weren’t going to do it for me. I stick with Etsy because people know where to find me there.
Society 6 was interesting because of the traffic. I had no idea what I was missing out on. I’ve now been on the site for a year and a few months and it’s the sole reason I can support myself by doing this. I’ve reached so many new fans and friends and it gives me more time to create than deal with the business side. It’s also pushed some more folks to buy from my Etsy store for limited editions and the knowledge of me creating everything in the studio from concept, execution, printing, and packing.
I don’t feel a need to sell on my own site until one of these sites deems my work too sexy!
How do you decide which designs to offer as a print only and which to offer as t-shirts? I guess it comes down to this — where do you see your belonging? On a wall? In a gallery?
I want my work on a wall, on your wall, a friend’s wall, a stranger’s wall. In a home somewhere. I don’t do too many gallery shows, I’m just not very interested in showing in that atmosphere. However, I must, sometimes show in places like that. However, I am very excited for my first solo show in San Francisco at DSF Clothing Company and Art Gallery in May 2014.
I don’t wear graphic tees very often, I don’t mind them, but they aren’t for me. That’s one reason I don’t think of my work in that capacity. Also, it’s expensive – my work can’t be screen printed without being broken down to a point that it only resembles my initial efforts, and other methods are out of my budget. The profit from a tee from S6 is no more than a few crumbs of stale bread – it’s not a high priority for me.
That being said, on my to do list is updating the available shirts and moving them to Red Bubble. Including putting the #foodporn series on shirts for the first time.
Your series of ‘Slaughterhouse Starlets’ are pretty dang great. The combinations seem so perfect – Christina Hendricks and the poison. Zooey Deschanel and the fireman’s axe. The mode of murder fits the sort of collective thought of how you’d assume the ‘starlets’ would kill someone. Did you have a method for how you chose your starlets and what their weapon would be? Was it pretty spontaneous?
If I am sitting down to draw, say, Emma Roberts, I will think about a ton of interesting weapons and then see which one I think fits the best with her. Due to her recent headlines, I would have drawn her with brass knuckles – but I already did that with Patricia Clarkson – so I’d continue down that train of thought until I have that aha moment. An easier example would be that Aubrey Plaza is a shoe freak and I made her heals into knives.
Is there a typical workday for you? Do you try and keep a 9AM – 5PM work schedule? How do you fit your personal work into the mix?
Definitely not. I work from home and work on and off throughout the day. My girlfriend, Stephanie, works late nights and she is a lovely distraction, so I try and work early mornings and nights, leaving my day open. Unless I have deadlines, then I’m burning away in the studio except for meals.
When I first found your work I immediately loved it. As is my habit, I try to find everything by an artist I can and gorge myself on their work, poring over it like ancient text. I love exploring the back catalogues of illustrators and artists.
It seems like your online existence is relatively new. Are there older works of yours tucked away somewhere that you’ll release later? I guess what I’m asking is this – when will we (me) get to see more of your work? What do you have planned next?
My work under The P is for Penis has been around and on the internet since 2008. It wasn’t until this year that I began seeing feedback from internet exposure and that’s because my work is now finally being credited where it’s posted. The first few years were very frustrating. It was a little bit my fault because I was anti-watermark, I quickly rectified that, but it was too late. I’m afraid, The Wood Series is the earliest you will see.
Next is The 50 Babes Project (that’s a working title) for my show at DSF. It is a series exploring each state in a single portrait of their own. I am looking for participation from friends, fans, followers, and family from each state to have a dialogue on what they think about their home state and using this as inspiration for a unique set of portraits.
I posted the first of the series on my FB pages ‘Sweet Peach.’ It wasn’t initially intended to spawn a series, but I was so happy with the final piece that I wanted to explore this idea more. Also happening very soon is the erotic art show I put on. This October 4th marks the 5th annual Don’t Tell Mommy Show and Party hosted at The World Famous in Athens, GA. It’s a collection of national and international artists and some local favorites as well!
I am still accepting submissions and anyone interested should email me. The opening includes art, music, video, and pin-up housewife hostesses serving donuts and smiles, not to mention the wonderful cocktails!
If you want to see more of Keith’s work, check out the list of links below —
Keith’s site the P is for penis
Keith P. Rein on Instagram
Keith P. Rein on Etsy
Keith P. Rein on Society6
4 thoughts on “Hardcore & Whimsy: An Interview with artist Keith P. Rein”