Twenty years ago artist and printmaker Leslie Kay spray-painted a stencil spelling out “LFK” and a brand was born. These days, with its sunflower design and slightly subversive message, LFK has become a pitch-perfect representation of the city it describes. But LFK merchandise is just a small portion of the work Kay (aka Leslie Kuluva) creates.
This year, the Arts Center’s Summer Catalog features Kay’s print, “Lake Swimmin’.” The screenprint was from a 2015 series called “Lawrence Feral Kansas” that featured some of the artist’s favorite Lawrence locales. This piece in particular, she said, was inspired by nostalgia, small pleasures and stopping to appreciate a moment. Like many of Kay’s pieces, this print also illustrates her attachment to Lawrence and the region.
“I am a lifelong Kansan, and a Lawrencian since 1999,” she said. “I can’t imagine leaving. I love the seasons, the abundance of wilderness, and that you can drive in any direction and find a body of water.”
Kay says that printmaking satisfies her desire to create work that is handmade yet reproducible, giving her the ability to reach a greater number of people. With this unique ability, Kay frequently uses her work to highlight not only scenes from life in the Midwest, but also causes that move her.
“I was hugely inspired by the Latin American political printmakers of the 1940s,” she said. “I’m in a unique position as a printmaker in that I have the ability to produce and distribute whatever I want to. I think it’s a responsibility to find ways to use that position for positive change.”
Kay’s art prints feature a variety of subject matter, from Quonset hut cats and a corner bar to a pickup truck and a sunflower field. She also specializes in gig posters hand-printed on reclaimed beer boxes. Two are featured in the Arts Center’s 2020 Benefit Art Auction. And while she never loses sight of the bigger issues, she also celebrates the joys of daily life in prints featuring houseplants and cats. She explains that the broad spectrum of subject matter is a good way to satisfy interests and also reconcile the different aspects of daily life.
“We are complex creatures living in complicated times,” Kay said. “It’s important to stay focused on social justice and the things that really matter; it’s also important to give ourselves some moments of peace if we are able. Sometimes there’s a message, sometimes it’s just about trying to feel good.”