The Dual Lives of D.C. Dreamers
Often within my coffee shop explorations and meanderings around D.C., I encounter people who describe themselves as living two different lives. Upon meeting them, they often introduce themselves with the line: “Well, I do ____ by day, but my real passion is ___.” These self-described day-time marketers, pharmacists and economists are also full-time rap scene aficionados, underground bike culture connoisseurs and urban arts movement specialists by night. Continually hearing about people’s side passions led me to think about how curious and unique Washington, D.C. is as a city because of the people it attracts.
I was recently invited to attend a private viewing of D.C.-based artist Kari Kant‘s debut show, “Abstraction.” Kant is one of these curious D.C. types; an executive assistant at Goldman Sachs during the day turned abstract expressionist painter after business hours. She’s been in government relations on the Hill, worked for the chairman of a premier lobbying firm and now does finance and privately commissioned art projects on the side. After long stressful (but still rewarding) days at work, Kant would come home unable to unwind. She needed a creative outlet.
Kant previously dabbled in pastels, but never considered herself a creative type with a burning desire to paint. It was only three years ago that Kant’s boyfriend bought her a paint set and a canvas and pushed her to explore her creative side, and Kant’s inner abstract expressionist painter emerged. By this time, Kant was over pastels; she was tired of realistic characters and real-life representations. She wanted something more 3D, something that would pop out. For her, it was abstraction; using globs of paint and colors to create textured scenes.
With her new found paint set and pent up emotions, Kant taught herself how to express herself through layered paint. I overheard her speaking about her process to a guest. She starts with a blank canvas and blank mind and lets her emotions and subconscious take over from there — no plan, no agenda. The results are massive, colorful paintings; abstract expressions of the inner workings of Kant herself.
It’s easy to get caught in the grind of daily living, and it’s easy for those irreplaceable sparks of ingenuity and ambition to go out unnoticed, one by one. I think that’s why Kant’s story struck a chord with me that continues to resonate. How does one just become an abstract painter? How do you live a dually passionate life? She admitted that most of her coworkers have no idea that she paints on the side. A few do, though, and are incredibly excited and supportive.
Her former employer, the BGR Group, commissioned her works to decorate their firm. A few others have bought private paintings for their home. But in the end, Kant attributes her successful parallel artistic career to being carefree. Not aiming to be the world’s next best painter or the next Picasso gave her the freedom to simply have fun with her hobby. There was no pressure and no expectations attached. All she had to do was paint.
There was a young 11-year-old girl, Sabra Murrell Rogers, who was also selling and displaying her abstract paintings. Kant previously worked closely with Rogers’ father and is the one who introduced Rogers to abstract art. Rogers said she always liked art, but found drawing horses and flowers difficult and, most of all, boring. After Kant introduced Rogers to abstract, Rogers never looked back. She now wants to be a painter when she grows up and has already sold several of her paintings.
How do you lead your one wild and precious life?
It’s an inspiring story, a story of living passionately. How many of us are doing what we set out to do when we were Sabra Rogers’ age? Probably not many, and probably for good reason, too! But we are multi-dimensional people, we contain multitudes and many passions, and it is sad to know that many facets of ourselves are unnecessarily extinguished throughout the days of our one wild and precious life. Herein lies the beauty and treasure of D.C. New York may be the land of opportunity, but D.C. is the land of the dreamer.
As the most powerful political city in the world. D.C. attracts the idealists, the ones looking to change the status quo, those with passions that they’re unwilling to put out. Nonprofit organizers, political campaigners, policy think tank researchers — they’re all dreamers with extensions of themselves as also inner city muralists, night time bike riders and underground club dancers. And Kari Kant is just one of them, and paint is her medium of choice. We live in a city brewing with passionate people, and it emerges in many different ways. Every time I walk around D.C. or glance around a crowded coffee shop, I can’t help but wonder at the lives behind the laptop screens, the secrets that lie within their black tailored suits or beaten leather messenger bags. What passions do they have burning bright — or fading fast?
(A portion of proceeds from the event’s sales were donated to Tracy’s Kids, a non-profit organization providing art therapy to children with cancer. Special thanks to Jessica Hoy of NeuProfile branding company for the special invitation.)