California: an interview with Kelly-Lynn Jones
Kelly-Lynn Jones has been making a name for herself in San Francisco as the founder of internationally renowned creative platform and store, Little Paper Planes. Despite worldwide recognition amongst lovers of handcrafted art and design, Kelly has admirably maintained a neighbourhood store ethos and local identity. We meet in her beautifully curated space, unassuming amongst the bustling and vibrant district of Mission, where LPP offers a moment of stillness and contemplation.
LPP initially began life as an online shop for Kelly and friends to present their works to a wider audience. Now it supports curatorial projects, sells self-published journals, jewellery, homeware, and runs print editions by guest artists. Recently it launched its exclusive clothing line, ‘Uniforma’, designed by Kelly and LPP store manager, Hannah Tatar.
With the huge successes the shop has had since it was established, providing a supportive community for creatives where artists and designers have a place for dialogue as well as a platform to share and sell work, Kelly is clear to point out she is an artist first and shop owner second. During an increasingly busy time for LPP, Kelly’s own practice has by necessity, had to take a temporary back seat. However the end goal to achieve a shift in priorities to allow Kelly more time in the studio, leaving the store running in the hands of her trusted assistants, is always in mind.
Originally from Los Angeles Kelly initially came to San Francisco at eighteen, twenty years ago. Since then she has moved to Boston, returned to San Francisco to finish school, moved back to LA, then finally returned to the city she currently calls home for grad school. Since graduating she has remained settled in Northern California but recently the pull of her home city has been calling her back.
“Right now LA is having its moment, for all sorts of different reasons and it’s exciting down there. When I left in 2008 things began to change, it’s when LA got cool. You know forever people hated it, whereas now so many people like it. There’s a lot of galleries opening up, a lot of artist-run spaces as well because you can have more space and that means you can work through more projects. Also in the design world too, you know making clothing, a lot of clothing lines are there and having big studios means more things you can do. Space is pretty key. LA has so much to offer in many different industries, I have always loved the hustle and meeting other people trying to create something for themselves. I feel that creative spirit is more alive right now in LA.”
It’s undeniable that LA is currently enjoying a widely recognised status as the city pioneering and supporting creativity. It has a special traction for artists of all industries, and like many others Kelly is tempted by its opportunities and freedoms.
In contrast, San Francisco is much shorter on space and is comparatively offering fewer opportunities to artists right now, but Kelly doesn’t necessarily see this as a totally negative quality. Despite the buzz of creative energy Kelly describes in LA, she is also quick to point out that the people still living in the Bay Area of San Francisco are doing really interesting things in the arts. Forever artists have used their limitations to their advantage in order to create, and Kelly believes San Francisco at the moment is no different.
“The lack of space and high cost of living creates obstacles in how to navigate the culture of art and design. I think it creates an opportunity for people to think outside of what is easy and come up with some interesting ways of creating and showing work. There are some really great alternative art spaces here, whether in basements, apartments or just a one night temporary event. There are people working with little and creating some amazing work.”
Although artists are using these restrictions to positive effects, the expense of living is a very real and present challenge for local artists. Kelly has likewise found, despite her optimism, that living in San Francisco has presented her with unwelcome limitations, so much so she finds herself frequently daydreaming about moving to a place where she can have endless amounts of space.
California’s present and future reality cannot be considered without acknowledging the presence of the tech industry. It has been a significant part of the identity of the state, in particular the Bay Area over the last two decades. I’m interested in the reality of how this relatively new part of San Francisco’s history operates alongside the creative communities.
“I really don’t see the tech world engaging with the arts,” Kelly says “at least not on a large scale. Some of the larger companies are trying to work with artists, like Facebook and Adobe; both have residency programs. I think people within the arts have been trying to figure out ways to involve tech but I do think there is a divide and it will be interesting to see how it unfolds. I think it’s important for the tech community to support the arts since having a diverse culture in a city is important – a city cannot just consist of start ups.”
Kelly’s immediate community of artists and designers are a close-knit bunch and she has noticed the work being made by her peers is moving more towards a socially engaged art making process, rooted in a conceptual groundwork. More traditional art forms such as painting and sculpture have also been developing a more conceptual approach. This shift towards ideas-based social art comes at a time where the constraints of funds and space as well as materials, storage and room to exhibit, are more prominently felt. Ultimately for Kelly, anyone in the city still making art is a success in her eyes by virtue of the tough nature of surviving in the city.
It’s obvious in talking to Kelly that although she’s proud of LPP she is eager to get her working focus back on making art but somehow, and seemingly with surprise for Kelly, LPP took off and is leading her by the hand.
“The store was never part of my long term plan, I kind of fell into this”, she says humbly detracting from the hard work and efforts that have gone into establishing LPP as a highly regarded creative platform in the state. “When I started in 2004 I had just graduated, it was a couple of years after the kind of DIY movement started to happen and there were small craft fairs, and the internet was still really weird with things like Friendster. I was making lots of stuff, and so were my friends, to support our painting practices – like zines, prints and silk screening, and making T-shirts. Everyone was just making all these things. My boyfriend at the time was like, ‘You should start an online store’. I was like, ‘Woah, what’s that? An online store?’ because there was no Etsy yet, there were no real platforms yet. If you think about it, platforms for people to make their own websites have only really happened in the last couple of years. So I paid some kid about two hundred bucks to make a store. I took a few things from friends and said I was going to put them on a website, and that’s how it began.”
With the growth of LPP has come a residency program pioneered by Kelly under the name LPP+. The residency offers artists, curators, collectives, writers and more the opportunity to cultivate ideas and make work for a month. It is open to the public so visitors can stop by and interact with the artists working on projects. At the moment this is where Kelly is concentrating her energies with eagerness to support a focus on the time in which making happens rather than solely acknowledging just the end product.
“When I got the store front I knew it would be important to use some of the space as a place where it could foster ideas, where an artist could create something new, whether that be tangible or intangible. I really never had an interest in running a gallery but I think having space for artists to start the creative process is crucial. The residency has been so inspiring for my own practice as well. As artists we love seeing another artist’s ideas take shape and each month we see a new artist develop new projects.”
Despite the demands of running a store like LPP and the frustrations she has in temporarily putting on hold her art practice, Kelly has managed to squeeze in the odd personal project over the last twelve months in an attempt to keep her creative ideas rolling. This endeavour has been made a little bit easier due to the nature of her object-orientated conceptual sensibilities when approaching her own practice.
“I often work with our relationships with objects, whether they are bought, given as gifts, made or found. I am interested in the aura of an object when it is in our possession and what kind of stories it holds. Since I have been running LPP for over eleven years it has influenced me in how I look at objects,” Kelly explains. “Once I got the physical store two and a half years ago I realised that my job became even more of an influence. I started becoming fascinated with the role of interiors and what lives within them. The arrangement of things has become something of a ritual for me whether it is in the shop, home or studio. I like constantly changing things around so I can create new moments and dialogues with the objects, the structures they live on and the room that houses them all. There become these narratives about the spaces and the people around them.”
“We have a window gallery here and people have to think about so many different things, like the sunlight for example, and it’s a small kind of awkward space.”
In store Kelly also has a video monitor on the wall playing out studio visits LPP do with Bay Area artists to add an element of enquiry and a context for visitors.
“We’ll ask things like, ‘What do you think about why you work?’ ‘What are those things that make you think about making work?’ There’s always something that drives us and I find that way more interesting than the work itself. The ‘why’, rather than the end project, is important to me.”
This ethos has been carried through all the projects LPP has supported over the years both online, in their physical store and now as part of their residency. The items available to buy don’t simply sit in anticipation of being sold; they exist as part of a collective of handpicked objects, thoughtfully made with craft and care. The reasons as to why they exist are shared on the LPP blog or softly spoken about out of the in-store monitor. They have a life and a dialogue with the other objects they share the space with and not by coincidence but by a continual addressing of how objects relate. Kelly’s enthusiasm for the life of an object allows for LPP to exist as a legitimate and genuine addition to her personal curiosities and object-related conceptual preoccupations.
“It’s nice to know that what I do as my job, my practice is an extension of that. Truly, we’re all informed by whatever it is that we do, not even meaning to [be], but we have no choice – this is what we live in.”
Kelly-Lynn Jones was interviewed by Amy Moffat for her article in issue one of Junko, Junko California. This is an edited version of the original article. Issue two, Junko Iceland, will be out in spring 2017. Follow Junko on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.