A Q+A WITH ODA + KING
Art and design duo Oda + King, comprised of partners Cor Oda and Kit King, have created their own dream world. At least that’s how it appears at first glance (see below). The couple, who met while they were both working as tattoo artists, create seamlessly together across a multitude of mediums from painting to sculpture and have recently expanded their practice into furniture, lighting, and home design. One could argue their best work is the slow creation and curation of their own home. While Oda is Japanese-American, and King is Bahamian Canadian, they have just purchased 76 acres in Nova Scotia where they plan to build their dream home and environment. We spoke with them about creating new mediums, their symbiotic relationship, and their commitment to the endless improvement of their craft.
Tell us a bit of your background and how you came to the world of art and design.
Kit King: I came into this world surrounded by [art and design]. I’ve not known a world outside of it. Both my parents were artists, who also both had interests in architecture and design. I grew up surrounded by their art as well as other artists they collected. They also revamped my childhood home, rebuilding it to their unique tastes. I was exposed to living through one’s creative vision very young.
My parents nurtured my own creative spirit by making sure I always had a multitude of media to create from, and it came without restriction. They allowed me to color all over the walls, which began as a toddler and lasted up until the very day I left home. They encouraged me to design my own room - to create a place I could retreat and feel inspired and recharged. My mother would help me with the materials I needed and my father would build what was required to bring it to life.
When it came time to make my own way in the world, I never actually thought being an artist or designer was a career path for me. It didn’t seem like a job to me, it was just a part of life that you infuse into everything you do. As I pursued alternative paths, art kept finding me - despite my efforts to get a job in a completely different field, I always wound up in creative ones. The universe would always align with some opportunity that guided me to the creative path. A face painter, a muralist, selling my drawings I had doodled that someone had seen over my shoulder and asked if they could buy it, selling furniture I had designed and made for myself - seen and purchased by guests that came in and out of my home. Then landing an unexpected career in tattooing, while simultaneously selling the paintings I made on my days off until my artwork became my full-time focus. I found myself a full-time exhibiting artist, all without any intentional pursuit, just as though I had been guided my whole life by events that brought me to each moment. I always assumed it was temporary, but when a gallery asked if they could exhibit my work I couldn’t say no, I eventually couldn’t paint quick enough to meet the demand and found myself doing fifty-plus exhibits a year including solo shows. It took about seven years for it to dawn on me that “wow… I guess I’m an artist”.
I would go on to make a name for myself in the fine art world, with shows in galleries, museums, and art fairs all over the world, until the pandemic came and canceled all shows. I took that time to focus on creating a sanctuary at home - tapping back into those childhood moments of creating a space that inspired and recharged me. Together with my incredibly talented artist-designer husband, Cor Oda, we rebuilt our home - creating an escape from the goings-on of the world, where we could just unfurl and unleash that creative spirit that wasn’t being fed since the cancellation of our shows. During this time, more people began to take notice of the design side of this creative spirit, and we began to work alongside designers we have tremendous admiration for. And here we are - living life through art and design, that came as naturally as breathing.
Cor Oda: Just as with my wife, both my parents were creatives as well. My mother being a seamstress, taught me to sew, and my father a skilled craftsman whom I worked alongside, both provided me with skills across many media. They both helped me to see the creative potential of various materials, to create things that didn’t before exist. That fascinated me. I was also very interested in how and why things work. I was always the kid taking things apart and reconstructing them. But when asked what I wanted to be when I got older, my answer was always “artist”. Unlike Kit, I always knew I wanted to manifest ideas into physical existence in some form or another.
Around 21, I found one way of being able to use that creativity as a career was tattooing. I tattooed for about 7 years before meeting Kit. After falling madly in love with her while discussing a collaboration, and sharing our passion for art and the creative, I made the move from Florida to Canada. She taught me to oil paint - not only showing me an incredible medium but a whole new career path where creativity could flourish in a way I had yet to explore. Since then, we shared a studio, painting alongside each other - independently and collaboratively exhibiting our work worldwide.
As we began to explore ideas and other mediums, we were always trying new things. With our parents working in different materials and passing along those skills, we were able to pass that knowledge to one another. Having such a wide range of materials and mediums we worked in allowed us to explore an array of ideas with very few limitations on what we could create. Like Kit mentioned, we were exhibiting artists at the time the pandemic hit. When it caused all our exhibits to be canceled, we began to explore further what we could create since we had this newfound time to explore. We used it as an opportunity to create sculptural lighting and furniture, and even fusing creative ways to make the more utilitarian items, like sinks. We’ve gone about it with a “no-holds-barred” approach - creating whatever we want and really stretching out our legs and seeing where our skills and creative minds take us.
I have always been particularly drawn to the intersection of fine art and design. You bridge that gap so beautifully with a successful fine art practice along with a budding design studio. How do you navigate the differences? Does one inform the other?
KK: For me, it’s quite a strange notion to have all these creative tendrils as separate entities. To me they are all part of the same creative beast - both create a world within a world, manufacture an atmosphere, tell a story, guide the observer in one way or another. They both have the power to manipulate one’s emotional state. The difference for me is design is taking that art off of a one-dimensional plane in front of me, and the whole space then becomes the canvas. Just as with a painting, I think: how do I want this to make me feel? What kind of emotional response am I seeking to create? Am I looking for it to be a contemplative design? Something that breathes serenity? Perhaps I want to tap into something more nostalgic and create something that has the ability to transport me to a different time that I may be romanticizing in my mind. Perhaps I want it to elicit a response that sparks creativity or stir whimsy. Sometimes I even want to create something that gives a subtle little laugh. Both on the canvas and off, I love the notion of being able to manipulate and manufacture emotion, as well as manipulating perception. I love making things that appear one way and are really something else entirely.
There’s a lot of crossover from each practice. My approach to both seems to be quite similar- it’s rooted in the act of creation that goes beyond the physical product being made and tapping into why we create anything in the first place. For me, both art and design are about exploring the veiled world that exists behind the physical world - the metaphysical plane which taps into the emotion and passion from which creativity is born, and creates a way for these two realms to exist in harmony.
CO: Similarly, yet also quite polarizing to Kit’s views, for me, I think that art, or rather creating a representational piece of art, is first about getting something out - needing to see it in front of you, what’s first in your mind. This can look vastly different in many different ways. While bridging into the design world, I feel as though it’s first based on being aesthetically pleasing. Even if you’re trying to create an emotion, you’re doing so with aesthetics in mind. And not just in mind, but at the forefront. Now, having done both art and design, design 100% informs art for me. Because I can no longer create art without first knowing how I aesthetically want it to look or feel. I need to enjoy seeing it when I get done, Instead of simply enjoying the process of making it. I need to see it in a space, not only in my mind. It needs to look a certain way first, all while creating an emotion or a dialogue about what I want to convey next.
KK: We seldom differ in art or design, but this is one area we have opposing views - I’m not afraid to make ugly art. Sometimes I think it’s required to get out the thing I’m trying to get out. In design, there isn’t much room for “ugly”….But it’s also not just about selecting the prettiest things and cramming them in a space together. I find sometimes you need to select the piece that isn’t as poised as another option because you recognize it is necessary for the overall feel of the space. You may select a chair that isn’t as nice as another chair on its own, but when all the pieces come together it perfectly supports the collective and supports the puzzle. Not too dissimilar to my painting - I may obscure the details of a hand and not paint it as perfectly as one could so it doesn’t pull focus from the face. See - inseparable for me. Art and design are intrinsically linked in my mind.
What is it like to work with your husband? How are your styles similar and different?
KK: We met because we painted the same thing and I thought he was copying me. I publicly called him out for it, only to realize that he had made it just before I had. If it weren’t for time stamps I never would have believed it. It was the EXACT same thing. Thankfully Cor is an incredible person and didn’t hold the call-out against me, and instead went on to suggest we collaborate since we are clearly on the same artistic wavelength. We began to chat and found out the similarities didn’t end there - we had also both been tattooers for seven years and had near-identical artistic styles. While discussing a collaboration we fell madly in love and came to find we were incredibly compatible as partners in life and not just art.
We got married in our studio in paint-covered clothes, and we’ve spent every day for the last seven years creating together. I’m notoriously bad at working with others. I love to operate on my own - until Cor.
When we work together it’s so fluid, it’s as though he’s an extension of me. We dance around the canvas together as though we exist as one entity. We work on design projects as though we are one mind in two physical forms each with different skills and strengths. We may have differing opinions on the best way to build something, and will often spitball the making of the design, but we’re always on the same page about what the design is. We even come up with the same ideas and laugh as we show each other and it’s the same damn thing. It’s incredibly surreal. I can’t think of a time our creative opinions have diverged. Even as we have grown, and our taste and style have evolved, it’s always been in complete synchronicity.
Of course, being married we want to rip one another’s heads off at times - we’ve had our tribulations. But I couldn’t imagine living this life without him. We have built our world around the act of creation. We create every part of it. How is it to work with my husband? It’s surreal. Beautifully and magically surreal.
CO: We work together BECAUSE our styles are so similar. We met because we drew the same thing and it was thought that one of us copied the other. We fell in love talking about collaborating. We are so similar in so many ways that it works amazing as an art and design duo. We like to see the same things in and around the house that give us joy. As synced up as we are in most things, we do have our differences. But I think just the right amount so that those differences help make each other see new perspectives and grow in style and artistic capabilities. I can get very stuck in my ways, while Kit always pushes me to expand how I see things, forever finding new and innovative ways to create. I think of myself as an out-of-the-box thinker, but for Kit, there never even was a box. And that’s so refreshing to share a life and a studio with.
Your work has such a raw organic quality to it. Where do you find inspiration?
KK: Inspiration for anything for me comes from an emotional place first. I always create pieces that I want to make me feel a certain way when I’m seeing or using them. Perhaps it’s that raw emotion in combination with my connection to nature. I’m constantly being pulled to these mundane parts of the world - the beauty found in a simple pebble, the lichen build up on the damp stone, the texture of the gnawed bark. I’ll find a piece of trash, a remnant of a bonfire, and I pluck it out of the charred pit as though I’ve just found some valuable treasure. When demoing the exterior stairs of our home I saw this interestingly shaped broken paver that instantly became a sculptural marvel in my mind. Cor thought I was joking when I brought it into the house and put it on a plinth.
When Cor is in the process of building a metal structure, I beg him to leave the dirty welds. He’s a perfectionist with his crafts and it pains him to not have clean welds, but I love the character of the undulating unrefined more than I appreciate honed skills. I see the raw potential in everything - to me, it’s how you show something that can turn an object from rubbish to artful. It’s about that willingness to view it through an artful eye - shedding the notion that flawless equals perfection. I find there’s more beauty in the raw and unfussy natural state of things than the overly refined and polished. Perfection for me is the imperfect raw state. There’s something more tangible about the raw - something closer to nature, something closer to the human experience….Does that make sense? Maybe it’s a way to find acceptance, value, and beauty in one’s own flaws. I’m sure I’d have to dive deeper to get to the true crux of why I prefer the raw, but there’s something undeniably alluring about it for me, so that’s the line I tend to toe with my work.
CO: My inspiration comes from the beauty in how things naturally age. Not only do we focus on that in our design, but I was fascinated by it as an oil painter as well. I did one of my paintings with iron shavings in the paint, that will age and develop a patina and rust over time. I wanted it to be appreciated years to come - as it continues to get older, it becomes something new. Maybe, If I’m really lucky, it will even eat away at the substrate and become something almost unrecognizable haha. I feel like not many people set out to hope for that upon starting a new piece. I find that the things I’m most struck and in awe over, are the things that most would say are broken or need refinishing. I like cracks in walls more than pristine paint. I like when metal rusts and begins to deteriorate and flake away - I’d rather see the presence of time on something. I want to see a handle that hands have worn down from hundreds of years of use into something far from what it once was. As a creator, the only thing I can’t create is time, so perhaps that's why I find the presence of time on an object so inspiring.
What are your favorite materials to work with?
KK: I work in so many mediums because I don’t have a preferred one. There is, however, a preferred medium for a piece, so I’ll alternate what I work with to align with each individual piece. Otherwise, I wake up and I just get the itch to paint, or draw, or sew, or sculpt, and that’s what I end up using for the day. There are times I am enamored with a medium and other days I loath it. Each medium has its strengths and limitations. I push each medium as best I can to find where that tipping point is. I love to blur the lines and even do a piece in one material that emulates another. I often mix mediums in extremely unconventional ways as a means of creating some new Frankenstein-type medium altogether. If I had to pick, I’d say one of my weird Franken-medias which don’t yet have a name would be my preferred.
CO: I don’t think I can answer simply. I like to use too many different things to narrow it down to favorites. I love using metal, perhaps because my father is a skilled metal worker as well, but I find using something so hard and difficult to maneuver to be extra rewarding when I can manipulate it in ways that metal isn’t known for. I like that it can be textural and aged, or polished and new. I like to use wood for its earthy, grounded natural state. It IS nature. It IS age. But part of me feels an unworthiness to use wood, as how could I ever improve upon it? It’s always the best it can be, and I cannot do anything to it that would ever enhance its existence. So I find myself using materials that are just ingredients by themselves but create something new when used together. I enjoy plasters, stone, and textural fabrics. It’s too hard, I won’t do it, I can’t pick a favorite.
How do you see your practice evolving? What is your "dream" project?
KK: It’s strange to think about what’s to come, I’ve always just let the universe guide me - doing the work along the way while flowing through that naturally carved out passage. I can see so many potential paths, one being forking more into interior architecture as we build our next home from scratch this year. Or circling back to my art career as galleries open back up. Or continuing to build design-based works with Cor. Or, a combination of all of it. I do have some hopes, but not necessarily dream projects. People I’d love to work with, or designs I’d love to see realized. But honestly, as a perfectionist who struggles to like their own work, I’m really just hoping one day I can create a body of work I’m truly proud of. I feel like every piece I create or design can always be improved upon, and maybe it’s just the curse of the artist, but that haunts me in a way. I’m caught in an impossible pursuit: to create the perfect piece. And I’m not sure if that exists, but feel I’ll spend my life trying to capture it. Even though it haunts me, I’d rather no other pursuit in life than one spent chasing that creativity, passion, and beauty to the end.
CO: There’s not enough time in a life to scratch the surface of things I’d like to see and create. Some things I see myself exploring are the scale of things. As we expand our business and lives, we have more room to expand ideas as well. I want to create large, sculptural pieces that make you want to walk up to them and stand in their presence. I want to continue to find ways to manufacture time-cracking the code on the one intangible elusive medium. I’m already living my dream project. I get to wake up every day and create things that didn’t exist the day before. I get to explore mediums in new ways and expand my skillset and views on art and design. This year we are taking it one step further as we start the dream of building our own home we designed from scratch. I can see ten years from now - our home we built, on rolling hills peppered with large sculptures, collecting patina as we live with art as our nature. I want to always keep exploring mediums, ideas, and environments, whichever path that takes me down is what my future holds.